How to get high(er)

TLDR: Going for that thing you want probably won’t kill you and the view is better from the top.

You know that sketchy part near the top of Camelback Mountain? Cholla Trail.

The sketchy part where, when you first moved here ten years ago, you were sure you’d simply slip off the sheer side of the mountain. Mid-scramble. Just: dead.

For y’all out of towners; 1. I say y’all now, and 2. Allow me to set the scene. You’re cruising along, and by “cruising” I mean you’re hoping your hiking buddy keeps talking so you can focus on your heart not exploding; meaning: you’re able to keep a quick clip because it’s smooth sailing, only a handful of ankle-turney dangers in the first, ziggy-zaggy 80% of the trail. And then you’re like, “oh! I’m at the end, because this is impassible.”

Hikers reroute around you, swiftly picking sure footing out of the city-skyscraper to which you cling. Fat guys and children deftly wing their way up. Someone in a weight vest passes you twice.

And then a friend, one of your first Phoenix friends, who happens to be half spider monkey, half mountain goat, half cannabis, half physics textbook, and all legs, suggests that you, too, can defy gravity. The trick is two-fold: Increase up, decrease down.


Regarding the up, the reach, the progress: he taught me that the ledges above me, the ones I can grab or place a foot on, to pull or push myself up, needn’t be that big. The length of a finger pad or width of a toe, sufficient.

(Experience beyond comfort zones yields discernment, improving heuristics and workable opportunities. I’m still so fond of a nice, big hand hold and it’s nice to know I don’t need it.)

Regarding the down, the backslide, the risk mitigation: when stressed, considering new risk, my mountain goat advised that I determine what below would catch my fall if I tried and failed. Maybe 8 feet down there’s a big, flat landing or at least a tangle of womping willows.

So, that’s nice. We learn we need less than we think. We learn to more accurately (less emotionally) weigh risk.


We hear, “leap and the net will appear.” Cool. Totally. And. It’s “easier,” dare I say, more enjoyable, to make comfort-busting choices when we have a low expectation of them destroying us; i.e., an acceptance of how far we’d fall in worst-case failure.

I love hindsighting on these weak (and bloodied) kneed days. Soon after I determined I probably wasn’t going to die on Camelback (except for maybe from bees. wtf.), I realized, 1. it wasn’t just me; that most beginners are frightened, shaking over the same illusions of unsafety, and 2. how fun and easy it is to coach a new initiate around the sketchiest part where they’re bear hugging the rock like a cartoon character and maybe they cry and then they’re on the other side of it, accomplished, upleveled and hungry for more mountain. 

Until we remember that mountains are grey, green jungle gyms, these “problems” are unappealing, like “dropping back” over a yoga teacher’s forearms for the first time, aiming to place your hands on the floor behind you. And once we remember to play, to delight in reaching further while deepening trust in and expanding our understanding of our foundation… well, I think that’s why we’re here. As the universe seeking to experience itself, it’s in our marching orders to peer around corners and see-what-happens-if.

Knowing where we’d hope to halt a free-fall is useful. And: we’ve got to be okay with moving on, upward, and away from that particular stabby bush, cactus, felled tree, or rock. In lieu of a safety net, it’s tempting to fascinate on these bastions, pray to these lord-gods of false safety. Huddling humbly in their shadow. Reverent and leashed. This is where I want to be because this is where I have to be because this is safe and fine enough and why don’t we just picnic lunch here and give up on our dreams and go home and get day-drunk.

“It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.”

It’s also fun to try the hard things, the really scary things which are extra scary because you want them so. 

And if you want to get to the top?

Hands up, kid. Eyes up. Onward. 

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