Don’t look down, I keep telling myself as I step across the rock strewn path. I look down and see a clear path, 500 feet (ok maybe only 200 but it might as well have been 500 for how I felt), down a rock strew wash and think it would make for a nice waterfall when it rains.
I look at where I am and where I need to go. I try to guess where the best path will be. How do I get across this patch of loose rocks? I see a mesquite bush along the wash and decide to go above it, telling myself that if I slip it will catch me before I tumble down the rocky slope.
I take a tentative step, and few small rocks slide from under my foot, but my foot feels like it is in a solid spot. I reach up to a large rock to see if it is stable, and start a small avalanche of rocks. It is very misleading, as the large rocks seem to be loose and not anchored, where the small rocks seem to provide better footing. I need to stay aware of this, as instinctively I want to grab onto the large rocks to find a solid handhold. I see another, larger rounded rock the size of a beach ball, and test it out for stability. Unlike the sharp layered rocks that make up the mountain and crumble when you grab them, the rounded rock has clearly been here for a while – with the weather having created its smooth edges. The rock is solid, so I grab onto it with my hands, and tentatively make my next step across the wash, using my arms to reduce the weight I place on my feet, at least until I know that my feet are on solid footing. Slowly, one step at a time, I make my way across the wash and closer to the path down the mountain.
Yesterday I climbed a mountain. OK, maybe it was more like a hill than a mountain, but figuratively it was definitely a mountain – it was steep and rocky and required a fair bit of technical hiking. Climbing up wasn’t so much a problem, although even at 3700 feet I find that the altitude does affect how quickly I run out of breath. I reflect on how it is always easier to climb up a steep path than it is to climb down one.
In reflecting back on 2016, I felt that at this time last year I was in better shape than I am today. In January, I went to Epic Experience. I cross country skied for the first time since cancer/chemotherapy. I was feeling strong. And then I injured myself and ended up in a day-cast and crutches for 8-weeks. It seemed that 2016 was mostly a downhill progression in my fitness level. I don’t feel nearly as strong as I remember feeling at this time last year.
But, as my husband highlighted to me, yesterday I climbed a mountain. That would not have been possible last year. Not that I wasn’t strong enough last year, but that my neuropathy was still really bad. I couldn’t manage a technical hike because after 20 minutes I could no longer feel my feet. I needed hiking poles in order to add a balance point and better know where my feet were. I also had mild lymphedema in my left arm, so I needed to wear a compression garment and had to limit the amount of strain my arms could take.
This vacation I actually climbed two mountains. The first was much less extreme and yet still a major accomplishment for me. It was more a climb to one of the lower peaks of the hills just west of Quartzsite Arizona. Yesterday’s hike was to a lower summit of one of the rocky hills that surround our campsite. My husband continued along to the upper peak while I took rest break and mentally prepared for the trip back down. (Yes that’s me in the photo sitting waiting for my husband).
The Sawtooth Canyon campsite (California not Arizona) is popular among rock climbers, and we passed a group who where learning how to climb and then rappel. The boulders they were climbing were around more than 50 tall. It was impressive to watch, but also reminded us that when we were looking for a path down the mountain, we had to be aware that there are cliffs. Any give path can lead to a cliff rather than a nice transition down the mountain.
It wasn’t Everest or anything that spectacular, but it did give me the courage to do more technical hikes. That sounds like a great way to start 2017!