Facing Fear At Nearly 9,000 Feet

4,000 feet up and we almost didn’t make it.

You know the famous view of Machu Picchu? The one that is used in all the postcards and travel books? Well the giant, emerald green, cone-like peak in the background of all of those photos is a mountain called Huayna Picchu. Almost exactly two years ago today, my wife and I decided we would attempt to ascend all 8,924 feet of that mountain. There was only one problem: both of us have an immense fear not of heights, but of falling from a great height. Our decision to scale that mountain would take this fear to the brink and back.

“4,000 feet up and we almost didn’t make it.”

In November of 2011, my wife and I took a trip to Peru, a place we had long desired to explore. While on the trip, we of course wanted to tour one of the world’s great historical sights, Machu Picchu. That’s when we were presented with the idea by fellow travelers that we couldn’t leave Peru without seeing the breathtaking view over the ancient Inca city from the peak of Huayna Picchu.

My wife and I didn’t go to Peru with the plan that we’d take on our fear of falling, it was just an opportunity that happened to present itself to us. We figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we couldn’t leave Peru without summiting Huayna Picchu.

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It would be a three-hour climb to the peak, and another three hours down or, in layman’s terms, an exhausting day physically and, for us, mentally. We knew it wouldn’t be dangerous if we took the right precautions, but the specter of potential death would be following us all the way up and back. It was only a year prior—mind you I didn’t inform my wife of this fact until after the journey—that four people had died on the trail. But with the right care, precautions, and respect for the mountain, it was said to be a remarkable adventure.

The journey began at 7:00 a.m., so we had to rise with the sun to make it with the tour group. We had it in our minds that no matter what, this was going to be a step-by-step journey; we could make it to the top if we just put one foot in front of the other all the way up. It wasn’t a technical climb involving ropes and carabiners, it was more of a hike. But far from your ordinary, run-of-the-mill nature park hike with paths and railings. The paths had simply been carved out by so many people walking the trail over the years. Even with giant car-sized boulders every few hundred feet, the first 30 or 40 minutes were, well, easy. It was beautiful, the air clean and the nature remarkable, and we were loving it. Then the real treachery began: paths got narrow, and I mean really narrow with a shear cliff wall to your back, three feet of walking space, and a 1,000-foot drop on the other side. The path was getting progressively more difficult, and halfway up we had to stop and collect ourselves. My wife was ready to give up and turn back. But the path being the way it was made it nearly impossible to do so. We would have had to wait for our group to make it to the peak and come back down before we could begin our descent. We took a minute, collected ourselves, and decided we’d come too far to give up now.

“We had it in our minds that no matter what, this was going to be a step-by-step journey; we could make it to the top if we just put one foot in front of the other all the way up.”

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We persevered. An hour and a half later the view from the top was worth all the anxiety and fear of falling. We made it!

I can’t say that I overcame my Goliath; I’m not sure something like this is even truly possible to overcome. But I did defy it, and I was able to, along with my wife, muster the perseverance and confidence needed to reach my goal. That day we mastered our Goliaths.

“We persevered. An hour and a half later the view from the top was worth all the anxiety and fear of falling. We made it!”

To me, that’s exactly what defying a Goliath of this nature is all about, mastering the power that fear has over me.  Standing up and winning against a Goliath on an adventure like that shows that you are capable, with the right attitude, of doing anything you couldn’t even imagine yourself doing. Being able to proclaim the success of climbing to the peak of Huayna Picchu gives me a huge sense of confidence. And on the journey of my relationship with this Goliath, I’ll have that much more courage to take on the next step when the opportunity presents itself.

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