I looked off the precipice and saw nothing but sky and distant cliffs. The bridge of rock I perched upon was three feet wide and would take a dozen agonizing steps to cross. On both sides there was a 1000 foot drop. I gripped the steel chain affixed to metal rods so hard I could feel the metal digging into the bones of my hands.
I kept my own eyes on the rock, on the chain, anything but on the nothingness below me. I took a side step, my eyes locked on the narrow rock. The wind hit me and I swayed a little, felt the chain dig into my palms. The metal links could have been sharpened like razor blades and I still wouldn’t have let go because I didn’t want my name added to the list of people who had died there already.
Fiction? No. The trail is called Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Hiking it was for fun, but the writer in me says it was good research. Either way, we did it and now as a few hours have passed I’m putting into perspective what we actually did. None of it was that physically demanding, but the entire time the mental challenge was extreme.
I told my friends, Lily, Cary, and Glenn—pictured above—“Just look at the rock and your feet. Keep hold of the chain with two hands and keep moving.” As we crossed the fin of red rock, holding in the fear that wanted to paralyze us I wanted to say, “Don’t look over the edge.” But I resisted. I wanted to say not to look down many times as we ascended and descended the trail, but when you say it, people naturally want to do it. So, I kept saying “look at the rock, see the footholds, keep two hands on the chain, lean against the rock” and all manner of other instructions that helped all of us keep going to the top and then back down. I was their guide and functioning as a guide helped keep me calm. As I worried about them, I didn’t worry that much about myself.
We made it and the view was spectacular, but what we all loved was that we did it. We conquered our fears and pushed on. When Glenn got a leg cramp three fourths to the top we hung together and supported him. Lily rubbed out his cramp, I helped him stretch and we all patiently waited for our moment when our strength and courage returned. Ahead of us was a daunting climb that looked nearly vertical. Would we turn back? We were over three quarters there and I saw it in Glenn’s eyes—he wasn’t turning back. None of us were. We were going to the to top together. The four of us were a unit. A team. This was a mountain we were going to summit.
We made it—that’s the photo of the view at the beginning of this blog. I met Cary, Glenn, and Lily on my trip to Greece six months ago. Now we’re traveling buddies and good friends. There’s so much more to tell, but the only way to really get it, is to hike it yourself. Go to the place where angels are supposed to land and pretend you have no fear of heights. “Just look at the rock, see the footholds, keep two hands on the chain, lean against the rock.”