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Forging your fears to reach a better place
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It was a silly thought.

I was perhaps 40 feet from the summit of Mt. Hoffmann in the center of Yosemite National Park on Saturday. The last part of the hike was a simple scramble up perhaps 400 feet or so of rock to the 10,855-foot summit that John Muir first ascended on July 26, 1869, some six years after Charles Hoffmann for whom the peak is named.

Two women in their 20s that had started up perhaps 15 minutes ahead of me had come to a stop when one of them wasn’t too sure about her first rock scrambling experience. With encouragement from her friend and myself, she eventually started making her way up again while marmots — think super-sized squirrels on steroids — darted in and out of rocky crevices.

Finally she let fear — or self-preservation — take over. No matter how much her friend or I tried to coax her, she wouldn’t budge. She said she had a fear of heights. I told her the truth that I did too but that didn’t seem to help. She kept encouraging me to pass her but I had my eye on the route her friend took that she happened to be blocking. I thought the path to my right was a bit more challenging and possibly pushing it for me. I had slipped on my last trip in Death Valley while ascending a steep portion of Corkscrew Peak in scree — a massive section of loose stones. The more I kept looking at it, the more I was sure it was as bad — if not worse — than what I encountered in November when I slipped perhaps 20 feet while struggling to get a hand hold to avoid a much steeper and dangerous drop perhaps 50 feet below where I ended up stopping.

I started thinking maybe I was pushing my limit as well.

But after contemplating the situation for a minute, I realized I was letting someone else’s fear and assessment of the situation color my judgment. I have no trouble turning back when I think I’m about to get in over my head. When you hike mountains and steep remote canyons on your own it is a cardinal rule you never break.

I then realized the rock was solid as opposed to what I encountered in Death Valley. Also if I did happen to fall, I had a good chance of controlling it. But after that thought entered my mind I reminded myself if I didn’t have a good footing or enough of an angle to pull myself up, I could simply back off and ask the lady to move four steps to her left and go up the way I preferred.

It was a tad precarious as I started moving again, but it soon became clear it was doable. I hugged the rock more than I usually would, lifted myself up and discovered that the final distance was the easiest of the scramble. As I looked back down from the summit the route I originally wanted to take was clearly a bit easier. And why the woman who chose to stay put instead of summiting was a “roadblock” that I opted to go around, I could very easily have asked her to move a bit although I wasn’t comfortable asking someone to do so when they have pushed the envelope for their personal comfort zone.

The summit had an impressive commanding 360-degree view of Yosemite.

But my thoughts weren’t on the scenery or snow-covered 13,061-foot Mt. Dana in the distance that I intend to revisit again in the coming weeks. It was on the last part of the hike that I had gingerly covered.

I do have a fear of heights especially when I’m on a narrow ledge like the spine on Cloud’s Rest or forced to hug rocks in order to clear a steep mountain slope or canyon wall. So why, I asked myself, do I get up and drive on every Saturday that I can up to three hours to Yosemite or a point in the Sierra to hike for six to eight hours to reach some peak and then drive home again just in time to shop Food-4-Less before 9 p.m.?

It was while looking at the back side of Mt. Hoffmann with a sheer 1,000-foot snow-covered drop to a mini-lake that feeds into the mighty Tuolumne River that I realized it wasn’t about the physical aspects of the hike. Nor is it “paying” myself for up to 12 hours a week in a bid to stay healthy and fit.  

No, it is more about the mental aspect.

Last month I got hit with three curve balls — one at work, one involving family, and one with a major project for a non-profit. Serious stress was rearing its head up for the first time in years. It was threatening to knock me off my proverbial game.

But all it took was clearing my mind to focus on one goal such as reaching Mt. Hoffmann to put things in perspective.

Life is a series of challenges. No matter how tedious or precarious they get, if your forge your fears and keep your eye on the ball you can get through them and even reach a place that is even better than where you were comfortable with before life pelted you with curve balls.

And the only way to get there is to keep climbing — or in my case hiking — that mountain whether you are 19 or 59.