Daring to Climb the Mountain

Nurturing Growth: Part I

Why or Why Not?

Angels Landing—aptly named for the nearly 5,790-foot-elevated outcrop rock goliath daunting the Zion National Park scene.

As a youth, I visited the national parks of Southern Utah regularly, especially Zion National Park. Long before the park instituted the shuttle to carry people up Zion Canyon Road, I would join my father on his motorcycle for a spectacular ride. We sped through the magnificent canyon in the early morning hours when the sun illuminated the rocky crowns, but the base of the canyon remained cool and shaded by the giant stone temples. During the entire drive to the mouth of the Narrows and parking by the Temple of Sinawava, we would take in the grandeur of these vibrant red and white rocks. I learned to see and respect the park through his grateful eyes.

Yet, as my siblings and I grew older and more adventurous with the various hikes, Dad would always ask us specifically not to climb Angels Landing. He had served in the army during the Korean War years; he had seen his fair share of dangerous events and circumstances. For some reason, the idea of us being up on a mountain top with no guardrails where he couldn’t protect us, should we accidentally slip and fall to our deaths, gave him greater angst than anything he had previously experienced. Out of love, he begged us to stay off the precipices and select the safer paths where the chance of getting harmed greatly reduced.

Thus, Angels Landing remained the mystique of Zion to my mind, ever-present year after year, taunting me to dare to climb the mountain. Of course, out of my respect for my father, I resisted and encouraged my hiking companions to choose a different hike instead. I put the fear in them by telling them that people had died, that only the fittest of hikers could make the trek successfully.

A few years ago, almost ten years after my father had passed away, five of my children—teenagers at the time—my spouse, and I decided to visit Zion National Park with a church youth expedition. The leaders planned many hikes and activities with the ultimate goal to hike Angels Landing. All my fears surfaced, and I weighed my opinion in the planning session to explain the dangers. Most of the leaders had hiked the ominous mountain without a problem. So, they asked me the inevitable question: Why not climb it?

Why NOT climb it?

For the first time, I took the inquiry personally and asked myself the same question. I held a belief that surmounting Angels Landing became tantamount to walking boldface off a cliff. However, these individuals who had the experience made me reflect upon my reasons. I had an opinion, but did I understand the overarching why?

I met this decision like a juried courtroom trial. Defending one side, I had the reality of my own teenagers choosing eagerly, despite my concerns, to hike to the top. On the other perspective, I had to decide if I would assert control over the situation and restrain their desires or permit them to decide for themselves regarding the safety or precariousness of the climb. My husband heard the opening and closing arguments of my case. In the end, he voted that the final decision really belonged to each person who desired to climb. I could force, I could hope, I could plead, then I could accept that people have the agency to choose. And they had chosen.

Decisions, Decisions, and More Decisions

Early in the morning, we gathered outside of the Zion Lodge on the lawn. Some people chose to remain at this location while the others amassed at the trailhead in The Grotto. I remained with the group willing to at least hike to Scout Lookout about halfway up the mountain. Admittedly, I kept hoping that many of the youth would just say, “Oh, I only want to go to the Lookout, not any further.”

The morning hike commenced, the weather already warm before the sun began to peak and burst through the mountain slots. As we crossed the bridge over the Virgin River and started on the West Rim Trail toward the sheer face of the imposing rock, the soft, red sand trail undulated pleasantly. More rocks and tree debris littered the path, sparking ingenuity to get around the impediments. Gradually, we began to ascend, arriving at Walter’s Wiggles (where no one giggles), comprising twenty-one steep switchbacks guaranteed to torture the knee and calf muscles.

Toward the top of the switchbacks, we began to pass descending, equipped hikers, praising us for attempting the climb. Others dressed more like me, the occasional hiker hoping she brought enough water and the right shoes, suggested we stay at Scout Lookout because the trail became really scary. Yet, the advice from one man stuck in my mind: “It’s cool you’re going to the top with your family.”

Would family solidarity—the family who plays together stays together—sway my decision? Would it become the deciding factor? To go as a family to the top, would it bring closure to a great obstacle, which daunted my entire life?

Honestly, I love to hike and explore. However, unvaryingly, I will be the last person to arrive at the destination. More than just being slow, I observe what surrounds me, not allowing my experience to go unperceived. My parents taught me to use all of my senses, especially to see everything around me. Hiking provides me a sense of grounding, or earthing, where I connect with the energy of the natural world.

My oldest son and some of his friends ran pretty much up the mountain, being like agile mountain goats with no fear. Yet, he would stop, turn around, and meander back casually to walk alongside me for a time. I felt grateful for my son. He pretended he had stopped to take photographs and teach me about metering. As we hiked together, we talked about perspectives on life since he had just graduated high school and prepared to go out into the world. I sensed this would become one of the last times that he and I would hike together before his adult life whisked him toward school, marriage, and more.

Last up the Wiggles, I rendezvoused with the group at Scout Lookout on the flat rock plateau. The stunning view from all sides granted a full experience with all Zion’s canyon offered. All the way on the trail, the Great White Throne rose with its sovereign status, flanked by the Patriarchs and the rest of the stalwart rims. The road followed the graceful bend of the Virgin River around the base of Angels Landing. With this glorious overlook, what enticed me to continue up the precarious rocks?

I studied the hefty chain linked to deeply driven metal stakes, providing assistance up the slickrock mountainside. In 1926, the National Park Service (NPS) cut the trail and drilled the stakes into the rock that led to the top of the monument. I contemplated that I had already come the two miles with only a half mile to go. But, that last half mile would prove the most challenging with its narrow corridors, sheer drop-offs, and bouldering, all thousands of feet into the sky.

At this point, I knew I must make a decision. I had already chosen to attain Scout Lookout, my desired stopping point. I wanted to use an excuse that several youth afraid to climb needed me to stay with them. However, my husband and youngest daughter declared they would stay back. Moreover, I knew that most of my children wanted to go up the mountain to the grand summit. In fact, three of them had already commenced scrambling the slick rock without holding onto the chains.

In the depths of my brain, I could hear Dad counseling me to avoid the summit. In my ears, I heard my children calling to me to come: “You can do it, Mom!”  Yet, I didn’t believe 100% that I could do it.

Would I disappoint my dad if I climbed the mountain? Would I put my life at risk and leave my family with no mother if I lost my footing and fell off? Did I need to demonstrate something to myself?

What incentive motivated me to dare to climb the mountain?

My fear of falling and heights persuaded me profoundly that maybe boundaries existed to what I could personally endure. To this point, I had never allowed anything to stop me. If I wanted to do something, anything, I found a way to learn a skill needed to accomplish any task, solve any issue, or surmount any challenge. Even though I gained efficiency in many areas, sometimes I discovered that being able to do something didn’t always mean I enjoyed it.

 The decision: 
I found myself agreeing to climb to the top.

 The incentive: 
My son, who had walked the other two miles with me, promised to stay with me for the last half mile.

 The greater motivation: 
He told me, “Mom, you’ve always helped me through hard times, so it’s my turn to help you.” 

Daring to Decide

I kissed my husband. Then, I clung to the chain like I required it for life support. Literally, I forced my feet weighted with fear to lift and plant trudgingly. Every step felt labor some. Yet, I moved forward. As promised, my children stayed nearby to make sure I progressed well, asking if I desired their support.

The journey altered its dependable path of chains at the razor edge. Suddenly, the security of mountain walls departed, leaving us with the sensation of walking a tightrope to attain the final slope. My fearless daughter scurried across the precariously thin saddle, accustomed to gracefully walking 4-inch-wide balance beams in gymnastics. However, my lack of balance dubbed me queen of falling down the stairs or tripping over my own feet on the flattest sidewalk. For a moment, I considered my decision to climb the mountain to be the stupidest thing I could do with my life and wondered why I had placed myself in such a perilous position.

When the chains ended, I found my son’s hand stretched toward me. When I felt like I couldn’t boulder another impasse of rocks, he was in front of me to pull me up. I trusted that hand, knowing that he faced the same hazardous situations as he reached down with everything, including me, relying on his balance. Yet, I soon realized that often another person would reach down and hold him secure as he pulled me up the rocks. With help, we focused on conquering the present hurdle of the moment, not contemplating the overall jeopardy descending inches off the cliffs of the razorback trail.

At one point, I paused and bravely glanced to my left for a perspective of just how high I had climbed. Without leaning forward like many people suffering from vertigo, I recognized the unquestionable height but also the glorious expansiveness of the canyon’s domain.

On we ventured to the point I nearly crawled on my hands and knees only to hear a cheer rise up. “Mom, you made it!” I had arrived at the top, almost afraid to stand straight up on my feet. I saw the youth gathered, joyfully laughing and hugging, and I determined to join them. After all, I had arrived. Of course, I stayed centered on the mountain top, refusing to let me or my children near the unguarded edges. I couldn’t even look at the people sitting with dangling legs at the front of the mountain.

I can’t say fear left me at the top. I won’t say I became dauntless. However, a new emotion impressed upon my mind and heart—a little like exercising courage in the face of extreme difficulty, attaining the hero-quest perspective, and quietly celebrating personal victory. I have yet to find the perfect word to describe this unique, incommunicable emotion. They praised my effort and my accomplishment, but their applause didn’t validate my conquest. The confirmation of triumph for facing my fears and moving forward arose from within me. I didn’t need the 360-degree view because I remained too afraid to go where I could capture it with my camera. No, I felt satisfied with the inner perspectives enhanced as I sat musing in nature’s unbridled beauty.

Gratefully, I keep myself ever on my guard and cautious about going up and coming back down. In truth, going down seemed just as traumatic as climbing up except for one detail: my son’s hand. Down each of the boulders and steps, I could depend on his arm stretched up for me to grasp. He had figured out which rocks I could securely place my feet to avoid slipping. My tiny entourage started to sing, discuss movies, and tell funny stories to distract from fear in the descent. As per usual, fate slated me to exit the mountain last, still clinging with my wobbly legs and weak arms to the silver chains. Yet, just as we arrived at the awaiting group at Scout Lookout, my son held back a few feet so he could claim to be the last one off the mountain. I knew his ploy. He just winked.

Half-excited and half-relieved, my husband embraced me, congratulated me, then expressed his gratitude that I had returned in one piece. I understood the scope of his unuttered fears. Together once more, the group descended the Wiggles, the sandy trail, crossed the bridge, and found the others at the Zion Lodge.

The Power of Choice

Many of us contemplated the experience, the individual successes, the decisions made. Because we can’t read the mind’s thoughts or accurately interpret the heart’s feelings belonging to others, we don’t always recognize or know why each person chooses what they do in their understood environment, in their own space inside or outside of the comfort-zone box. Upon reuniting, the lack of victory laps and verbally touting accomplishments from a group of youth really stamped an impression of awe in my mind. No matter to what level or degree people chose to make the journey, they felt accepted for their decision.

Choice brings a powerful instrument to our lives. Truthfully, this free gift becomes the one thing that we solely possess that nothing and no one can remove unless we grant them that liberty by giving it away. Granted, consequences befalling ill choices by ourselves or others may limit our ability to make additional uninhibited choices in a direction we desire. But, even in moments that incarcerate or prevent us from moving forward for a time, the choices we continue to make determine the freedoms we will enjoy further along life’s journey.

In fact, the potency of choice on every heartbeat of our lives merits an entire psychological study called Decision Theory, or the theory of choice. Combining decision theory with system theory offers a life-changing approach to life. Decision theory, dissected into two methods analyzes the whys and hows that a person comes to make a decision and the patterns and effects of their choice making with events, circumstances, beliefs, and overall mindsets.

Looking back at several experiences on the mountain, I realize we all have a point where we must come to a decision. Big or small, we must decide. In each of those choices, we can branch in several directions, which resembles writing a pros and cons list. One mindset branch allows us to try something new, to make a mistake, to take a risk. The other may elect to venture safely, to avoid failure, to stay grounded and secure. Is either branch bad or good? No.

Creating a tree graph pattern, from the ends of each of these main branches derive at least two subsequent branches. At Scout Lookout, I met a weighty decision with two branches:

Do I stay safely at the flat surface, or do I climb the ominous mountain?

Do I stay where I am, or do I climb to the top?

My husband chose to stay at Scout Lookout. From the fork of going or staying, his choice branched toward the motivators of trepidation and safety. Satisfied that his concerns allowed him to stay grounded at that position, he fulfilled his decision to remain safe for himself. Could his choice to remain at Scout Lookout still result in a precarious outcome? Sure. Sheer drop-offs surrounded the slickrock lookout with little to no barriers. Yet, he had already made the choice not to go to the edge, even at the Lookout, where he could fall the tremendous depth to the canyon floor. Others have made that very same decision, choosing from the start to visit the Lookout then, content with the view, turn around and return to the base. Perhaps uncomfortable with taking an extreme risk, they chose the greater probability for safety.

I asked my husband what would have motived him to climb the remaining mountain incline. He replied, “If someone had been in need, I would’ve figured out how to get myself up there—even though I would be very frightened climbing up.” Then, he reminded me that we, being often unprepared, never know what we will choose to do when we confront those emergent decisions. Also, he reminded me that as one of the leaders he chose to stay to comfort others’ fears and yearning for security in an uncertain situation. His choice permitted him to make a difference for the adults and youth who likewise stayed at Scout Lookout. Their experience augmented their lives in a parallel manner to those venturing up the slope. Many of the individuals at the Lookout had climbed higher and traveled further than they had ever dared, making their journeys life-changing.

The Road Not Taken

People travel through life making simple decisions, not realizing the myriad of paths, sometimes with a roundhouse of options, sometimes only two. Robert Frost alludes to this deliberating dilemma in The Road Not Taken, which places the poet in a quandary over which road to travel. He has two choices, neither wrong nor right, thinking he would assuredly venture back one day to experience the other one. Yet, he remarks,

 “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
 And sorry I could not travel both
 And be one traveler, long I stood
 And looked down one as far as I could
 To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 Then took the other, as just as fair,
 And having perhaps the better claim,
 Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
 Though as for that the passing there
 Had worn them really about the same,

 And both that morning equally lay
 In leaves no step had trodden black.
 Oh, I kept the first for another day!
 Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
 I doubted if I should ever come back.

 I shall be telling this with a sigh
 Somewhere ages and ages hence:
 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
 I took the one less traveled by,
 And that has made all the difference.” 

Two roads diverged at Scout Lookout that summer morning for me, for others. Some climbed, feeling pressured or with bravado to prove their salt. Peers prompted some choices, others clung to their desires for unspoken reasons. At first, I didn’t feel the pressure to climb to the top to prove I could do it, already believing that I can do anything I set my mind to learning. I started with the pressure of fearing that I could die and worrying that I would disappoint my dad, all presentiments instilled in me from a young age and modeled with thought distortions over the decades. Examining my cultural upbringing and environment, my decision stemmed from determining what in that moment offered me the better experience without worrying about the other road. I learned later that my younger daughter, who stayed behind at Scout Lookout with her dad, wanted to climb with us but chose because she believed I didn’t want her to make the perilous journey. In that moment, the system became complex in that many decisions weighed against each other and branched off in many directions. Despite it all, choices happened. And people made decisions for their reasons. Whether good, bad, or indifferent, they chose their road to travel.

If I had not climbed to the top of Angels Landing that day, no one would accuse me of being a bad person. I would not have missed out on the greatest moment of my life. I would not have felt less of a person in any aspect or form. Why? I had nothing to prove. I may have lived my whole life never wondering what it would have been like to climb to the top. However, I chose to try. I had an experience. I returned safely. Yes, the experience affected me and altered some of the ways I approach new challenges. Recently, I declined the opportunity to zipline. My family who chose to go enjoyed their adventure and richly blessed me with their narratives.

The Life-Lesson Takeaway

I worry sometimes that we feel we must all do or have something better. Perhaps we make decisions based on individuals claiming, “You have to have this experience. You don’t want to miss out or your life will be incomplete.” I dare to travel the world, exploring new cultures, foods, customs. Does that diminish any person who never leaves their hometown? No. While each person commences in their cultural environment, everything we learn, everything we sense, everything we attempt, everything we fail, everything we taste, hear, smell, see, these alter and augment us and our situations. They influence many of the choices we make, but the knowledge and life experiences also give us the freedom to make better choices.

  1. We have each received the gift of choice. Our choices are in our control.
  2. We NEVER need to sideline others for their choices. They chose what they chose for a reason. We do not think with their minds, feel with their hearts, or live their influential experiences. So, how can we know or determine their choices?
  3. Everyone’s unique thoughts, experiences, and wisdom bring a feast to the decision table. We can teach and learn from one another without intimidation, overpowering bias, untoward coercion, or pesky agendas.
  4. No matter where we are in the journey, we make choices for our needs and desires at that time, in that location, and for those reasons. Not everyone feels prepared to attack the razorbacks and cliffs. Not everyone has equal support systems.
  5. No matter where we are, we can decide where we want to be. We can decide who we want to become. We can decide how we want to get there.
  6. Some journeys full of fear, uncertainty, setbacks, and obstacles take longer. No matter the duration, length, or level, we can choose to reach the end we choose.
  7. The more we work to help one another, the more individuals traverse the fearful pathways and may achieve the summit in becoming what they desire for their lives.

What Matters Most

Most importantly, you matter. Every decision you make matters.

Take a moment to think about, even map out, some of the decisions that you’ve made recently. Ask yourself if you feel open to the daring possibilities where those decisions can transport you. No matter what you decide, sit with the decision until you find peace with the things that you choose to do in your life.

Not every day must be a risk-taking day. Maybe it will take a year before you are ready to choose the daring branch. Nonetheless, you will grow. With the right mindset and determination, you will grow steadily and beautifully toward what you can potentially become. Each person holds so much potential at every point in the journey. If you feel planted for a time, then bloom wholeheartedly. Flourish in your environment so that you can help others and yourself to live a beautiful life.

Nurture the choice that is yours to make.

Join the Growth Journey

Part II of our growth series examines the fixed and growth mindset that Dr. Carol Dweck teaches in her book Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfill Your Potential. Over the last decade or so, this proven concept has helped millions of people change the way they think about themselves and their ability to live a beautiful life.

Written by Robyn J. Mock

Photography by Tayne Mock  & Robyn J. Mock


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