get out of your head and onto that mountain

Originally posted May 13, 2013 – edited

The mountains were calling.

Mr. Enthusiasm suggested we check out an area just outside the Red Rock Canyon state park, an area called Calico Basin. I cautioned that my hiking guidebook didn’t list any trails for that area, so we’d be going in blind. He shrugged and told me to live a little.

We parked along the side of the road and made our way towards the Basin. A trailhead appeared not too from the road, so I knew we weren’t too far off a beaten path.  This gave me comfort. A pretty clear gravel trail snaked it’s way up towards the mountains. All good. There were even a few signs indicating we were indeed on an actual trail.

About a quarter-mile in, we got to a rocky area of flats with no discernible trail. Just rocks. Everywhere.


This was taken from above, but you can hopefully get a sense of what I had to deal with to get to “above”. Just mad scrambles over big boulders. And the hopes that I was headed in the right direction and was still on “the trail”.

Eventually I clued in to the fact that there was no more trail. That the goal was simply to get to the top of that giant pile of rocks. And to do that I’d have to scramble. A lot.

I had that moment of “…do I really want to do this?”, followed by “…Can I do this?”, followed by the inevitable, “I could really get hurt doing this.”.  All valid questions and concerns.

I don’t ever want to fully quiet (or disrespect) that voice inside my head that serves to sniff out the potential dangers in any given situation. It’s that gut instinct and voice that has kept me safe from some very real threats in the past.

But, what I know I must do, to truly grow, is to acknowledge those fears and questions, and then rationally consider the severity of the threat (risk) and the potential for success (reward). Once I can make peace with the risk/reward I can make a healthy and smart decision as to whether I should soldier on or pull the chute, so to speak.

Just as I was having this inner dialogue, I looked to my right and saw a guy taking rock climbing lessons from a pro.


The student is in white at the bottom of the shot. The instructor is way up there on the rock face, showing him how easy it is. Uh-huh.

I actually took this shot on my way back down the mountain. When I first encountered the student, he was about 8-10 ft up, on the ropes, and the instructor was encouraging him.

As I scrambled up the rocks, I would look back down periodically to see the student still hovering at that same spot, not very far above the ground; his instructor shouting up words of encouragement. But there he hung, unmoving, for what seemed like forever. He seemed to be paralyzed by fear. A feeling I knew all to well.

And I started thinking about the mind’s ability to control us physically.

For the rock climbing novice, it had frozen him in that spot so close to the ground. For me it manifested every time I had to climb on unstable terrain. Or more so, whenever I’m climbing back down a mountain.  Yes, you read that right. As difficult as climbing up is, in terms of the cardio strain of ascent upwards, for me, the real fear and challenge exists in the descent back down the mountain.

I have an unfounded, some could say irrational, fear of falling.

Why? I don’t know.

It’s just a crazy, stupid, irrational fear. And yet my mind has the ability to freeze my feet to the spot they’re on. Or make me look like a 90-year-old, inching forward as though I’m balancing raw eggs on tiny spoons, while sliding down a sheer icy surface.

Ridiculous. Why am I not sure-footed, knowing I have balance, strength and the ability to climb and descend capably? Because I do.

And what about my rock-climbing friend? Sure, what he was doing was a LOT harder and significantly more mentally challenging, but at the end of the day was it all that different? He was securely fastened by ropes. He was mere feet off the ground. And yet his mind was preventing him from going up on even one more foot on that rock face.


As I made my way to the top of this pile of rocks, and was rewarded with this beautiful view of the famous Vegas Strip, I took a moment to think about risk and reward.


And how good it felt to have made it to the top. On my own two feet. (Plus a whole lot of lunges, squats and pull-ups.)

But then I was able to take in the magnificence of this planet.

img_20130510_152937I felt strong. Capable. Competent. Happy. Grounded. Centered. And very, very connected to the universe.

The reward was worth the risk.

It was on the way down that I captured that shot of the climbing guide way up there on that rock face, with the student gazing up at him. And I wished there was some way for me to send him a message telepathically. To tell him it would be okay. To tell him to just believe he was capable of doing it. Willing him to try again, and to go just a few feet higher.

Just as we were wrapping up the hike, and I was congratulating myself on having done so much better on both the scrambles up and during my descent, Mr. Enthusiasm commented on the rock climbing guy, “It’s too bad he’s so stuck in his own head..”

I can relate, I responded, I used to freeze with fear over falling 2-3 feet. He nodded in agreement. But look at me now, I continued, I’m building my confidence and pushing myself further each time.

It’s not that my body is more capable. It’s that my mind now believes it.

Get moving!

xoxo nancy

67 thoughts on “get out of your head and onto that mountain

    • Trust me, I know that feeling well. There was that hike in early January of this year that I wrote about, the one where I froze in my tracks on that narrow shelf on the rock face. I seriously thought I would just grow old and die up there because I couldn’t take another step, I was that scared.

    • I’m so glad it resonated with you Lynne! It’s crazy how much our bodies are slaves to our minds. Recognizing that is the first step, but even then it’s not so easy to fight past those feelings of fear and lack of confidence. Best of luck to you in believing in yourself! xoxo

  1. TO be honest…I can completely understand that student’s fear!
    It takes a long time to trust the ropes and believe they will catch you and not let you plummet to certain death…
    actually i am slightly lying…it took me no time at all to trust the ropes when I first started…then it took a long time to retrust them.

    I am so pleased you started to believe what you are capable of…it is generally true that we are capable of so much more than our brains / fears allow is to believe…

    I was just starting to believe that… then I fell down…and now I am starting to believe it all over again 😀

    • Of course a bad fall/accident will really mess with our heads; how could it not?

      My fear of falling stems from two falls I’ve taken in my life; one resulted in a broken wrist, the other in a broken tailbone. Neither was much fun – so now I’m always tentative. Like I said in the post, for me the challenge is sorting through which fears are rational (because those protect me from real danger) and which ones are just in my head/irrational – because those just hold me back. Recognizing the difference between the two is not always easy for me.

      • I don’t think it is easy for anyone!

        mind you people who are not me seem to have a much better instinct for these things…
        my brain seems to manufacture worst case scenarios for everything and feed them to my conscious mind with no discrimination between possible real danger and total irrational craziness!

        It is finding the way to tell the difference that is definitely the hard part!

      • I think the more I do things that don’t kill me, the more comfortable I am with quieting that crazy voice. No doubt it’s a process though…

      • I think doing things that don’t kill you is a good plan 😀

        I know what you mean though, it gives your rational brain some ammunition against the crazy self sabotaging brain!

  2. I love that expression – the body achieves what the mind believes. That simple sentences sums up my own inner battle. My coach once said that she wished she could just unplug my head because it was preventing me from achieving … and I knew she was right.
    The worry-birds never really leave us, do they? With practice and experience, we just might get better at harnessing them for positive results instead of failure … or we stop trying.
    Thanks for the reminder that I need to work more on my mental game because I think that’s where my breakthrough is going to happen.

    • The worry-birds have never completely left me, although I will admit that they are becoming fewer and fewer 18 months later. As a girlfriend of mine told me, “Nancy, it’s not easy to reprogram those tapes playing in your head. The ones that we’ve been listening to since we were young.” And she’s right. That’s exactly what this feels like for me sometimes; it’s as though I need to un-brainwash myself from previously ingrained beliefs that hold me back so much.

      It’s a process… but, you’re right, Joanne, that’s where the breakthroughs happen, I think.

  3. Good stuff again Nancy! It’s nice to read some of these posts that you put up before I found you. Fear is a tricky thing huh? Most of my fears tend to be the mental kind (like FOMO!) rather than the physical kind but I think they all keep us for doing things and living the kind of life we want. Thanks for the reminders! ~Kathy

    • My fear stems from the mental kind, too, Kathy. My mind tells me I can’t – so I believe it. I’m working hard to reprogram those tapes though. 🙂

      Hope you’re doing well and keeping cool!

  4. Our own thoughts can be our worst enemy…I know this enemy well. Thanks for this throw back Nancy! It is a good reminder that we can overcome our difficulties. I saw only one problem, “beautiful view of the famous Vegas Strip”. For whatever reason, I just cannot see any beauty in the Las Vegas Strip except in this case where it is far off in the distance. I guess this is a perfect example of “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

    • I find the view beautiful from afar. No different than when I’m on a highway at night approaching the city, there’s something magical about that stretch, all lit up and twinkling.

      I have an appreciation for nature’s beauty and man-made beauty.

      • I can relate to that. I recently went for a walk with Maggie along the West shore of Alameda. It provided a spectacular view of San Francisco, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge.

  5. You got that right, Nancy! We need to take risks and come out of our comfort zones. Often times, I walk like a 90 year old but I will have to try balancing raw eggs on tiny spoons – that sounds like fun! 🙂

  6. I’ve experienced that type of fear as well. When you’re utterly immobilized by fear. I have a fear of heights, although I worked for years atop poles with only a leather strap and metal hooks keeping me attached.

  7. Yeah, falling. I’m afraid of it, too, especially in planes. My every orifice clamps shut for a week. Thing is, enough people fall / crash that the fear is, well, um, maybe irrational, but not insane. Ha! John

  8. Nancy, as much as I loved the adventure story–the keen ability you have of inviting the reader to come alongside you for the tale and experience the physical-ness of the trek–I wholly adore the penultimate sentence. It is worthy of bumper stickers, t-shirts and tattoos. I will remember it always, for I’ve posted it by my computer. Brilliant!

  9. Hi Nancy, long time no see…I am back, sort of! 😉 This post resonated with me in an interesting way…it applies to me in certain instances when riding. Specifically, when I encounter a need to move my 600 pound bike in a slow-speed maneuver, such as a tight u-turn. My mind knows that I have the knowledge and skill to do it, but my fear keeps me frozen in time till I use sheer will to power through it. So very strange. I too am working on believing. It’s a process.

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