Pushing personal limits in Havasu Canyon

The mist from Mooney Falls moistened and flattened my hair as it blew in random directions. I couldn’t see the ground 50 feet directly below me, nor could I see my trip companions who had already scaled the nearly vertical wall. I was in the rear, my heart pumping hard and fast. The lacy travertine rock worn smooth by cascading water and the roar of the extraordinary falls gave me something to focus on while I tried to slow my breathing.

The first part of our 80 foot descent had been in two tunnels with steps carved from the stone, the hardest part being watching your head. Two of us had bumped our heads mere seconds after saying to others, “watch your head.”

I was on a trip with REI Adventures that involved a week of hiking and camping in Havasu Canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. I had scheduled the trip on the spur of the moment, and was here to get out of dodge so to speak, the week before my now ex-husband remarried. Our group had set up camp in one spot, and every day explored new areas. This hike to Mooney Falls was the one hike I had been hesitant about when I signed up. Hiking is a huge part of who I am, but ironically, a fear of height has kept me from places I hunger to visit. I can walk along ridgelines without any trouble, but ladders and vertical drops can terrify me. I wanted to challenge my fear while in Havasu.

I had been designated to the rear because I had confided to my guides that I was frightened. But here I was discovering new strengths built on letting go of all beyond my control, and trusting in the distant shadows of my future. Instead of saying, “I can’t,” I found myself saying “I’ll try.” This was unfamiliar and heady stuff. Before I had fallen asleep last night, I had written in my journal: “Terrified, but doing it.” This alone is testament to a new me.

There were a variety of chains, carved hand holds, some rope and protruding pieces of steel on the way down. A place for hand and foot all the way to the bottom, the only obstacle to overcome would be trusting my body to find these places without panicking or moving too quickly in fear. Our tour guide, Ryan, reminded us a number of times, “Always have three points of contact, don’t move both your feet or a foot and a hand at once, take your time, be sure you are on solid footing.” This advice would be my mantra.

When it was time to turn around and back myself down. Ryan coached, “Put your right foot here, now move your left hand,” until I realized I wasn’t listening to him any longer. My foot would find a small indent in the wall, my eyes would quickly scan to see what spot made the most sense to place my hand and like a spider, I crawled, sure footed and connected. I wanted to yelp with the exhilaration of trusting my big toe to keep my footing on a barely visible nub as I reached my hand to the next handhold. There might not appear to be much to trust my feet to, but I realized in delighted surprise, there was enough. Always enough.

I began to hear cheering from my group, and my hands touched the worst part of the descent, the metal ladder. Once on firm ground, I felt weightless and buoyant, ready to soar.

Two days later we returned to our hotel, and when I undressed in front of my mirror before the first hot shower in a week, I inspected the bruises on my knee and thigh with pride. I had small cuts on my arm, and my nails were destroyed; all battle scars from the climb. Filthy, bruised, no make-up and flat hair, and yet I had never felt so beautiful. Stepping into the steamy stream of water, I blessed each part of my body for working together, and for reigniting faith in someone I had begun to think I had lost. Someone who was still discovering what she was capable of. Someone who was intent on redefining herself. Someone who realized her life was beginning, not ending.

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