Years ago, when I still lived in Banff, a couple of well-meaning friends invited me to hike the Yamnuska loop with them.
I have to pause here to insert a little-known fact about me (well, except anyone who really knows me knows this): I am terrified of exposure. As in, I have frozen on hikes and needed to be talked through awkward crab-walking descents amidst much shaking, anxiety and inner swearing (in high anxiety I cannot vocalize anything). I recognize the irony of this fear given my love of mountains, hiking and standing atop of summits. Over the years, I’ve grown more comfortable but I still know my limits and avoid testing them with obviously terrifying (for me) exposure.
That was a long-winded way to get to the fact that, when invited to hike Yamnuska, my first question was “will it scare me?”. These friends knew me. They had hiked with me and actually witnessed my panic while descending trails. And so, I trusted them when they said “Oh yeah, there’s nothing too bad. You’ll be fine.”
The day started fine enough with a delightful stroll through tree-lined path. We progressed to some cool climbing up through hollowed out rock and onto narrower, steeper terrain. Still, I was fine.
And then, then we encountered this:
There is a very small section of “trail” that is basically a narrow ledge with a sharp drop on one side and a flimsy cable to supposedly provide you with comfort and stability. I am wise enough to know that my feeble upper body strength wouldn’t help me hold onto a cable for long in the altogether too likely event of a slip. And so, I was in a bit of a predicament. To turn around at this point would involve a lengthy solo hike going against the grain of other hikers, and I was already super close to the summit. To keep going, I would have to stop my knees from shaking and somehow keep my wits about me long enough to avoid plunging to my death. These are tough choices, friends.
Mostly at the insistence of those lying liar friends, who kept telling me “it’s really not that bad”, and definitely against my better judgment, I decided (ahem, felt peer pressured) to continue. I’d also like to add, for those of you who attempt this type of cajoling, the more you say something’s ‘really not that bad’, the worse the person you’re cajoling starts to believe it is. Translation: your overly confident reassurance creates exponentially higher anxiety.
I cannot recall anything about my trip across that (what turns out to be only a 30m) terrifying ledge. Supposedly, I swore a lot and cursed my friends. All I know is that, on the other side, it took my knees a solid five minutes to stop shaking and for my breathing to return to normal. I have never been so certain of my impending death as on that hike.
Another important side note: I am not-so-secretly convinced that, when I do die, it will be on a mountain. Thus, when I feel hyper anxious on a scary part of trail, I believe it is the universe’s way of warning me that this could be the very moment it decides I’ve spent enough time on this fair planet.
Alas, I survived the hike and realized I’m capable of more than I thought and all that “lessons learned” sort of jazz. But my real learning was beyond the hike itself. After that fateful day, I learned two important things:
- Those friends could no longer be trusted to accurately assess my suitability for a hike. Only the internet could be trusted from that point forward. And that is, in itself, a sad realization.
- The cable on the trail was replaced by a far sturdier chain just about a month after hiking this trail, leading me to (obviously) conclude that I put my life in the hands of a worn-down and likely faulty cable. I was staring death right in the face, I tell you.