At the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to go on a short trip with my friend, Beney, to Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah. Overall, this trip was a fun adventure, but it definitely challenged me on many fronts.
I had the opportunity to confront several fears in this short 5 days. As planned, there were heights involved; my fear of heights was at the top of my list to purposely challenge this month. I also ended up directly confronting my fear of weather. I’ve disliked large storms since the condo building across from mine burned due to a lightning strike several years ago.
Beney and I arrived at Bryce Canyon in the evening, and we were treated to a spectacular sunset and a rainbow over the Canyon. I was fascinated by the trees. The above ground roots made them appear to be clinging to the earth to stay in place.
On that first, brief trip, to the canyon I also got a view of the top of the two trails we were preparing to hike the next day, the Navajo loop and Queen’s Garden trails. These trails have wide paths, but include some steep inclines and exposed drops.
My anxiety for the next day set in as soon as I saw the two trailheads, and I was unsure if I was going to be able to complete the hike. Luckily my friend, Beney, is 1) not at all afraid of heights and 2) very patient. The next morning, she helped me through the first few switchbacks going down the Navajo loop trail. I was overly cautious, but otherwise pretty much okay for the rest of the climb down into the canyon.
Our visit to the parks was in the middle of monsoon season, and at around 1PM a large storm rolled in. We were about three quarters of the way back up the Queen’s garden side at that point, and the trails were more exposed. In some spots there were steep drops on both sides of the trail. The storm started quickly with crashing thunder, nearby lightening, wind, and significant hail. With the weather continuing to deteriorate, I focused only on the path ahead and climbed up out of the canyon as quickly as possible. (I likely missed out on some good views from the last bit of trail.) I was able to put aside my fear of heights when it was compounded with the storm. Overall, I really enjoyed this hike, the beautiful views were well worth it, and I would definitely do it again.
The day stayed stormy and the combination of weather and heights started to get the best of me. We decided to do the 18-mile scenic drive through the park. With another storm looming I was extra anxious about the the drop-offs at the side of the road. I wanted to turn back, but Beney wanted to continue – and I didn’t want my fear to hold her back. With Beney driving, we kept going to each of the overlooks – and we slowly made it to Rainbow Point at the end – over 9,000 feet of elevation with a spectacular view.
Next we headed West to Zion National Park. We were planning to do the scenic drive through Zion on Highway 9, stopping at the Canyon Overlook Trail. I was hesitant about the drive because I had read there were mountain switchbacks, and my fear of heights was again kicking in even before we left the hotel that morning. Before reaching the switchbacks, we stopped at the trailhead and set out in 90 degree weather for a short but steep hike up to the overlook. I was anticipating a few tricky spots on this route, but ended up being terrified pretty much the entire duration of this hike. I had read that the trail was short, and I saw photos that showed guardrails, but there were many more areas of exposed drop offs then I had anticipated.
Beney thought the Bryce hike was more challenging from an exposed heights perspective, but I had a much harder time with the hike in Zion. Once the fear of heights kicked in with the first drop off and blind curve, I couldn’t shake it for the entire hike. I held onto Beney for stability through most of this hike, and I really did not want to continue, but I thought that I would later regret it if I didn’t keep going. I stuck it out and was rewarded with an amazing view from the top.
Continuing on Highway 9 after the hike, we reached the switchbacks which ended up not being an issue. Beney drove this portion, which we had predetermined, and it was much easier for me then the ride through Bryce. The road was fairly wide with a lot of pull-offs and the drive was slow and scenic.
On our final day in Zion we hiked The Narrows, a slot canyon that goes on for miles with walls intricately etched away by years of erosion. It was challenging to navigate the river, with the bottom covered in large slippery rocks, but there were no heights on this hike!
Did I conquer my fear of heights and storms on this trip? The answer is a resounding “No”! However, I did succeed in having a great time despite them, and for the most part I did not let them hold me back. I learned a few key things that will stick with me moving forward:
- Spending time with someone who did not share my fears allowed me to see other possibilities, and helped me to keep going on the trails.
- I am capable of more than I think. When the storm rolled into Bryce Canyon, I was able to put aside my fear of heights to make it to the top quickly. Next time I want to accomplish this without the distraction of wind, hail, and lightening.
I am looking forward to planning more adventures that will continue to challenge my fear of heights, and I am hoping that over time I will get more comfortable with navigating more difficult trails.