Many, many moons ago, I severely injured my knee. With only 20 percent of my knee remaining and all of the cartilage removed, my doctors advised me to avoid incline hills, running, jumping, high heels (really?) or any type of physical activity unless I wanted to have knee replacement surgery. For years I have been intimidated to get back into real physical activity – that is up until about a year and a half ago.
Sean, my boyfriend and hiking addict, challenged me to explore Red Rock. Having lived 5 minutes from the beautiful mountains for the past 2.5 years, I was embarrassed to say I had yet to get out there. After my first outing in Red Rock I was amazed at the scenery and the obstacles; I was instantly hooked.
This time last year, we went scrambling – a type of hiking but you pretty much climb up the side of a mountain using your hands and feet – around Turtle Head Jr. It is a highly traveled peak in Red Rock Canyon that is shaped like a turtle’s head if you look hard enough. I hadn’t climbed this one yet and was really excited and nervous at the same time. It even has a much bigger brother called Turtle Head. Everything was going well and I was impressed with myself that I conquered a lot of fun obstacles such as the “slab of pain” – an incline that never seems to end. I felt like I was the master of the mountain.
It was the final leg of the hike in completing the route lowest to highest when I hit a slot – basically a narrow crack/split in the side of the mountain that you either climb up or down – that put me to a halt. Sometimes you find a slot that has a rope to help you but this one did not. After watching Sean climb up, I stood at the bottom feeling my anxiety level rise. The only thing going through my head: If I fall, I am going straight down… what did I get myself into? Shaky legs, sweaty palms and a pounding heart later – I ended up making it up the slot but it definitely left a mark on me.
Since then, I have been hiking and scrambling all over Las Vegas and beyond, including Zion National Park in Utah and the Dunes in the Mojave Desert. But last weekend, I questioned my sanity again, when I found myself doing a Tier 5 (level of difficulty on a scale 1-5) scramble called the Triple Bypass – I think the name gives you an idea that it won’t be easy. It included climbing not one, not two but three peaks…
In the back of my mind I was praying my knee would hold up but overall, I was pumped and ready to do this. However, mid-route I was in for a big wakeup call.
This beautiful and challenging climb included:
– Time: 6.5 Hours
– High Point: 5,200 ft
– Difficulty: Tier 5
– Distance: 5.2 miles (I have done 13 mile hikes before so I was feeling good about this one)
I have climbed some of these famous and well-traveled peaks with Sean a few times from different approaches, but never all together. The lighting, rock, views, altitude, exposure and sheer beauty always surprise me. We hit the trail head a little after sunrise, and there was a golden light casting over the valley. The morning light bounced off of the gold and red tones inside of Red Rock, lighting up the canyon.
This was my first time doing the Triple Bypass, but not my first Tier 5. I attacked the first peak at a moderate pace: in the middle of the group, swift and quiet. I wanted to make sure I was keeping a good balance and not exhaust myself too early in the hike. After we hit the first peak, I felt good. And confident.
That is when the unexpected happened…
• Mistake #1: Looking down over and over again for the next peak
• Mistake #2: Looking over and seeing Turtle Head Jr. and hearing its name come up…one too many times.
That’s when it dawned on me that we were doing Turtle Head Jr. The anxiety rushed through my body and my brain froze. I couldn’t think of anything but that slot from last year.
My body was panicking and I was not mentally ready. Caught unprepared, fear had taken over. Sean could sense my anxiety and mentally walked me through the route we were taking and told me to inject logic into my thought process. Only moments later it dawned on me that we wouldn’t be taking the route that used the slot that I battled last year – which soon disappointed me. I was now upset that the one obstacle I was afraid of and didn’t want to face – we weren’t facing. It’s funny how your mind processes things and can play games on you.
Don’t you worry though; we had multiple other obstacles to play with that were much more challenging. I scrambled up the side of a cliff with high exposure – my father would have had a heart attack if he knew.
I even climbed over a ledge to make it down another slot that was narrow, steep and long. I had to use a “chimney” technique where your back is against one side of the crack/slot and your feet on the other side, and then you shimmy your way down. Lots of leg and arm strength needed. I can still feel the burn.
As the afternoon went on, things got better. I focused on touching the mountain one step at a time, concentrating on my technique, thinking positive, planning new trips, and visualizing getting to one peak at a time. The rest of the day was met with celebration, thankfulness and a feeling of accomplishment as we climbed to the top of the final peak.
Fear does crazy and dangerous things to our bodies and minds. I think Eleanor Roosevelt was on the right track when she said:
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
Submitted by: Jaclyn Dadas