A relentless trek of switchback after switchback, the Four Mile Trail from Yosemite Valley to Glacier point isn’t actually 4 miles at all—it’s 4.6 miles to the summit…and another 4.6 miles back down to the valley, climbing 3200 feet along the way.
My 11-year old, Isaac, asked me how long the trail was going to be, and, not wanting to hear him groan I simply replied, “It’s called Four Mile Trail.”
A trick, of course, but one well worth the mild chicanery.
I will tell you right now, with the utmost certainty, that I have never before seen beauty as I did on that trail. Cascades of granite cliffs and pine forests for miles—every minute on this trail was absolutely breathtaking. I found myself stopping regularly just to take in the grandeur, in constant disbelief that after hours on the trail,l I never tired of her majestic landscape.
It was worth every single of the 7 hours spent on the trail, calves screaming, heart pounding…anxiety soaring.
Because the unfortunate truth is, I’m terribly afraid of heights—to an almost debilitating degree. This isn’t just a “oh, high places scare me” situation; what happens when I’m driving up a winding canyon road, or hiking a high elevation, narrow path is nothing short of panic.
I’m beginning to think I died in a previous life by way of mountainous catastrophe—and this past life theory feels more and more plausible as I age, the phobia growing from a mere irritation to a downright crippling malady.
There were moments on the Four Mile Trail when I gripped Isaac tightly by the arm, guiding him at a snails pace along the innermost edge of the mountain. The decomposed granite offered a slippery climb, while the mountain herself shared a myriad steep drop-offs into the valley below. I felt nauseous, at points. Dizzy. Trepidatious beyond what most people feel when hiking the very same trail.
The problem with this, as you might imagine, is that hiking is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I feel most alive when I’m in the mountains, surrounded by ancient trees; the only thing that comes close is the way I feel when I’m in the ocean.
What this means is that every single time I’m in the mountains, I’m simultaneously invigorated and afraid. I’m forced to confront my deep-rooted fear while answering the mountain’s call to my soul. The dichotomy of that isn’t lost on me. The fact that my soul refuses to accept this phobia as a barrier to bliss is something that I’m learning to unpack and explore, albeit, slowly.
Processing this fear is strange and beautiful. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. Little by little I challenge myself to face these heights—to drive alone up to Topanga Canyon State Park and hike miles up to Eagle Rock, despite the manner in which the winding roads and steep cliffs send me into anxious throes.
This, my darlings, is what every day growth and expansion looks like—it’s rarely an aha or an explosive epiphany, rather a slow and gradual chipping away at the rough exterior that stands between us and our truest selves. It’s tempting to think that we aren’t growing because the fruits of our labor seem infinitesimal, but that’s more often the way growth occurs.
Slow and steady. One mountain, one fear, one gauntlet at a time.