The other day I was reminded of how exhilarating it can be to take on an intense and scary challenge and achieve it.  What made it even better was that I saw my kids take on the challenge and master it, too.

On the last day of Zoe and Alexander’s spring vacation (the week after Easter), friends called to ask if we wanted to “hike the ladders” at Grandfather Mountain.  Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge (elev. 5946 ft.).  Although I’ve hiked the Profile Trail and “the backside” of the mountain, in almost 20 years of living in the North Carolina High Country, I had never hiked the stretch of ridge from the Swinging Bridge to MacRae Peak.  As stated on the mountain’s website, “Grandfather’s backcountry is very different from other areas in the South”.  “Trails take you through forests usually found in Canadian climates.”  And, most ominously, “Many of the trails use ladders and cables to climb sheer cliff faces”

I’ve had bouts of acrophobia since I was a little kid.  No, I’m not afraid of flying in an airplane or being high up in any place that’s enclosed (like an office building).  It’s high open places that frighten me — walking across bridges, scrambling over rocks, being on any kind of wide-open exposed surface (even one that’s not extremely high). The fear is not always predictable.  At times, it arrives unexpectedly.  On occasion, it has literally knocked me to my knees.  The sensation is hard to describe; it’s an intense physical anxiety that threatens to immobilize.  My general sense is that my acrophobia has gotten more manageable as I’ve gotten older, but I haven’t tested that theory out much in recent years.

Needless to say, I had mixed feeling about the proposed hike.  I also wondered if it would be too scary and rigorous for the kids.  But it was a beautiful day, and the last day of vacation — so we decided to go for it.

And it was great!  Challenging, scary, spectacular; all that and more.  The worst (and best) part was the ladders.  Taking pictures of my own would have been far too terrifying, but here is one I borrowed from “South Carolina Jack” ; check out his blog for more spectacular photos of Grandfather’s back country hiking trails.

When we got to this particular ladder (actually a set of two long ladders, as you may be able to see), there was a man spread-eagled and quaking against the rock at the very top while his wife talked him off the ladder and onto the small stony precipice just above it.  This did not bode well.  When our group made its way up, I waited to go last.  I watched from below while Alexander navigated the climb with no problem.  But I could see Zoe’s arms shaking as she neared the top and struggled to make the transition onto the exposed rock pinnacle.  I was already on the lower ladder, myself, at that point, and not feeling so good.  Right then, I came close to feeling that I could not go any further. The panic was kicking in, and all alternatives — up, down, or sideways — seemed untenable.  (Later, my friend and I agreed that if her husband hadn’t been there, we probably would have turned back.  Neither of us felt confident navigating the ladders while also making sure the kids were safe and OK.  Luckily, he was very comfortable with the situation and was able to help us all feel more secure.)

I guess the ending to the story is pretty obvious.  I did not freeze forever on the side of the rock.  I overcame my fear, made it to the top, and up several more dicey climbs to MacRae Peak, where we ate a triumphant lunch.

View of the Blue Ridge Parkway from our lunch spot:

On the way back down, I was giddy with relief and satisfaction over having conquered the ladders!  I was also very proud of the kids and how well they had handled all the challenges of the hike.  I remembered why I used to do more things like this when I was younger– and how empowering and inspiring it is to get out into the natural world and have adventures.

It was a good reminder.  It’s easy to fall into patterns, let my time and energy be taken up by daily tasks and chores, do the usual things.  Planning something different seems like too much work.  But it’s well worth it!  So, note to self: devote time and energy to having adventures, going to beautiful places, being outside more, being challenged.  It will benefit me and my family, too.

That was my reminder.  What do you need to remind yourself of?

The next peak along the ridge, which we will climb on the next hike: