Climbing Higher, or How I Almost Died Doing Something Worth Doing

Peter and I hiked in the Glass House Mountains the other day. Spending ANZAC day (the Australian equivalent of Veteran’s Day) in the great outdoors seemed like an appropriate way to spend a work-free Thursday. 

After a leisurely 3-mile jaunt, we were about to head back to the car and wrap things up when we noticed this sign:

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Experienced climbers only, eh? How experienced are we talking here?

Every single person coming off the summit track was dripping with sweat, red-faced and exhausted, but the view was highly recommended, even from the locals. We decided to do it. “It takes about an hour to get to the top,” they said. 

We bounded up a steep trail and arrived at what I assumed to be the top in ten minutes. I gave myself a mental pat on the back. An hour? Who needs an hour? That took us ten minutes!

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Yeah, we were not at the top. Not even close. After looking around, I realized we’d only just arrived at a steep plateau, after which the rock face became incredibly steep and flat, continuing up for a distance impossible to determine. There were numerous people above us spidering their way down from the summit. Some were stuck. Most were swearing. One poor exhausted climber had become stuck at a particularly gritty part of the rock face and was crying in desperation. 

Note: One of the arguably awesome things about Australia is that things that should probably be off-limits to the public.. aren’t. This includes cliffs, waterfalls, beaches, pretty much most natural areas. Where something would be roped off in the U.S. with a warning sign, it’s completely open here. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the litigious nature of things in the U.S. This probably makes for more accidents here, but a helluva memorable experience. There is no way this rock face would’ve been open to amateur public use had I found it in an American national park.

Peter, being the fearless mountain goat that he is, took off without a second thought. I pawed at the rocks for a few moments, decided it wasn’t worth it, and told him I’d just wait for him. I figured I’d made it 90% of the way up, anyway. That extra 10% just wasn’t worth the risk. Too far, too high, too risky. 

Just looking around and realizing exactly how high we already were made my knees quiver. I wasn’t really keen on climbing a slippery rock face in New Balance sneakers with no ropes, no one to spot me, and no safety plan whatsoever with hundreds of rocky mountainous feet below me. 

I sat, defeated, on the plateau for about twenty minutes waiting for my mountain man to return. I was being passed by climbers left and right, all eagerly making their way to the top- some more gingerly than others. 

As I sat and tried not to look down, every single motivational catchphrase I’ve ever heard began to echo in my head. 

Just do it. Fear is a choice. You either can or you  can’t- whatever you believe is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we did all we were capable of doing, we would astonish ourselves. The only thing holding you back is you. Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance. 

I tried to bat them away, but the catchphrases just would not quit. 

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. Never give up. Fear is only as deep as the mind allows. 

It was getting pretty damn annoying. By this point I had seen probably twenty people come down from the summit, and it was starting to irritate me that I was just sitting there while they had experienced a spectacular view, pushed their limits and not given up. The real kicker was that I knew how pissed I would later be at myself for not embracing an opportunity, especially one that old mountain goat Pete had just taken without a second thought. 

I started to climb. I had to do it. The motivational phrases got to me. One foothold, one handhold at a time, and trying to stop as little as possible. When I stopped, fear crept in, my brain would freeze up and my legs would start to shake.

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Once I’d decided I was really going to do this thing, really going to own it,  it became easier. A few really steep faces, then some challenging rocky bits, then some more slippery faces where I just ignored the plunging distance below me and thought about all those other people who made it back alive, just like I was going to. 

After a few minutes of intense climbing, I realized I had not previously made it 90% of the way up like I had thought. Everyone coming down kept saying how close I was getting, but every turn in the rock led to another turn. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. More rocks, more slippery ledges. The muscles in my knees were starting to hurt. 

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(I should probably add that I am in no way a climber. I am not super coordinated, have lamentable depth perception and heights are not my friend. My knees are bad. Where most people would jump, I prefer to crouch on my hands and knees and attempt some sort of jerky crabwalk maneuver. It’s just not really my thang.)

I was getting passed left, right and center by people climbing behind me, but I kept going, ignoring the judgments in my head. By this time Peter had met me on his descent and elected to go back up with me. Even on his second ascent, he was still faster. %^&*%$#. 

After the most physically challenging half hour of my life, we finally made it to the top. The view was spectacular, and the silence at the top felt like that of a cathedral. Everyone was quiet, just reverently respectful. At 1100 ft above sea level, we could sit on the jutting cliff and see to the bays and oceans. .

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We sat, quietly enjoying the view and reveling in what we just achieved. I was internally ecstatic.

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I tried not to think about the hike down. I hate climbing down things even more than I hate climbing up them. Since I’d made it to the top though, there wasn’t really a lot of choice as to what my next move had to be.

But I did it. Peter coached me and guided me through some really embarrassing situations in which I looked like a grimy twisted pretzel while crabwalking backwards over boulders. Together, we made it to the bottom. 

When we got home, I looked up the statistics on Mt. Tibrogargan. Height: 1,194 feet. Fatalities: 5 since 1962. View: Over 80km on a clear day. 

Was it safe? Definitely not. Am I even advocating doing what I did? Not really. Should we have been more prepared to know what we were getting into? Absolutely. 

For me though, Mt. Tibrogargan represents owning fear, conquering my own doubts and overcoming an artificial boundary. The motivational phrases had it right, and I’m so glad they got to me in the end. 

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