Anxiety is something that I’ve been trying to understand and deal with my entire life. It works behind the scenes, constantly telling me that I can’t do this or I shouldn’t do that, while other people do those exact things seemingly without much grief. I’ve always been so envious of people, like Eric, who aren’t impacted by these constant worries and fears. To be able to do something so freely, is something I’ve always dreamed of my entire life. There are so many opportunities and experiences I’ve missed out on because of debilitating fear.
And that almost happened yesterday.
After enjoying a nice lunch out with my mom and John, Eric and I set out to tackle our next hike on the famous Camelback Mountain. Naïvely, we had no idea just how “strenuous” this climb would be. Still riding yesterday’s hiking high at Pinnacle Peak, we were eager to tackle the next mountain. We set out on the Echo Canyon trail- the most difficult climb of all 4 trails on the Camelback. We didn’t know this at the time though!
A website describes it as the following: “Beyond the first ¼ mile the hike up Camelback becomes physically demanding and potentially hazardous. The slope is quite steep in spots (there are hand rails and chains to steady your ascent) and the hundreds of trampling shoes have produced a fine coating of slippery, pulverized rock. Many hikers are very fit and use the trail for fitness training.” (source)
Right from the get-go we knew this would be a whole other kind of hike, and at first, I was excited.
The start of the trail is a series of large stairs and rocky parts, but nothing that we couldn’t handle. Within minutes, we arrived at a steep part of the mountain and this is exactly when my anxiety started to kick into overdrive.
I had to climb this…without killing myself?
The pictures really don’t do this climb justice, by the way. I took one look at it and told Eric I was turning back. “I can’t do this, I’m scared”. I felt paralyzed, unable to move forward.
“You can do it Ange! We’ll go slow and you can hold onto the railings as much as you need to. Look at all the other people who are doing it just like you can.”
Looking around, he was right; I wanted to be one of those people overcoming this amazing challenge. I took a deep breath and said, “I’ll TRY,” but expecting to fail. I never considered myself to be afraid of heights, but that became apparent as soon as I got half way up this first steep climb.
I stood there in fear once again unable to proceed. My anxiety was so strong I felt a bit panicked as I thought about how the hell I was going to get down. Eric gave me another pep talk.
“Do you want to let your anxiety win again and miss out on this experience? Imagine how proud you will feel when you overcome it.”
He was right.
I was sick and tired of letting my anxiety win. If I turned back, I was accepting defeat to my fears like I have done so many times in the past. I knew physically I was in good enough shape to climb the mountain, but it was my mind that I had to train. In the end, I decided to give my anxiety a big f-you, imagining myself sticking my middle finger up at the anxiety. As silly as it sounds, it was just the visualization I needed to set myself back on track and proceed forward.
If you would’ve told me I’d be hiking in a desert mountain and not worrying about rattlesnakes, I would have said you are crazy, but that was the last thing on my mind yesterday!
As we climbed and climbed, I felt more and more fear about how I was going to get down. I pictured myself getting stuck at the top and having to be rescued out. I told Eric this and we talked about how my anxiety leads me to think too much in the future, constantly worrying about things that probably will never happen.
“How about we take this climb one step at a time?” He asked.
Not only did I think that was a great idea, but I realized that this climb was a metaphor for life. I always worry about the future and I dream up bad outcomes that are “likely” to happen, so instead, I don’t bother doing them many times. This was exactly what I was doing on this mountain: self-defeating by thinking too far into the future.
“That’s a great idea.” I finally admitted. And that’s exactly what I tried to do for the rest of the hike. One step at a time. I wouldn’t think about the heights, falling, getting stuck, or slipping on a big rock and hitting my head. I would just think about which step I had to take next.
We climbed higher and higher and an hour passed. My confidence was growing, but the fear about getting down still lingered in my mind.
We finally reached the top after about an hour and 15 minutes (I’m not really sure as my Garmin lost reception!), and we were blown away by the 360 views.
“You wanted to quit”, Eric reminded me.
I was so glad that I didn’t.
We grabbed our bag and took out the energy balls that I made before leaving. I suspected we’d need some energy on this hike, but I never knew how much!
While standing at the summit and feeling proud, I decided to call them “Reach Your Peak” energy balls. It just seemed so fitting.
We bit into these crispy and chewy balls and suddenly everything seemed right in the world. Our energy lifted and I felt ready to tackle the long, steep descent.
“We better get going. Sundown isn’t far off.”, I worried looking at Eric’s watch reading 4:15pm.
The descent turned out to be fine and we just took it slow. The hardest part I had was not slipping on the rocks with my runners (proper hiking sneakers are highly encouraged!!), but we just took it easy. I was jealous of Eric’s long legs, able to reach the ground without having to stretch and slink downward on a big rock.
We finally reached the bottom of the mountain after about 2.5 hours, with legs like Jell-O and a pride for overcoming such an amazing challenge. This climb taught me so much and I felt myself feeling emotional by the end. I walked away feeling more proud than I felt after my half-marathon races.
I also realized after this hike just how much Eric enjoyed this type of activity. I’d never seen him so eager and excited about any type of “exercise” like this! And I use the term exercise loosely here, because while it’s a KILLER workout, that doesn’t seem to be the main point. It’s much more than that.
Eric kept saying how much he loved it, and I’ll admit, his confidence and enthusiasm was infectious.
I think we are hooked.
Here’s a short video I put together about our experience. Please excuse how tired I am in the video!!! Also, there is a really shaky part in the video that Eric taped, so if you get nauseous easily I would take caution when watching.
Now that I’ve overcome such a strong fear, I find myself asking: What else can I do?
Have you ever overcome a strong fear?
Amazing job! Hang onto those good feelings and remember your accomplishment the next time fears enter your thoughts. It’s hard, I know, but you’ve proved you can do it and have inspired many by sharing your adventure. Way to go! Energy balls look delish too!
What a beautiful story. Thanks for being honest and sharing your journey with us. I too suffer from anxiety in my life. I agree it has kept me from so many things. Although it may never be easy to be carefree about defeating my fears I know I can do it one step at a time.
Congratulations to you on conquering your anxiety, climbing that mountain (eep!) and having such a supportive, encouraging partner at your side!
I loved this post. Anxiety is such a horrible thing to be plagued with – horrible, but possible to overcome! Thanks for the inspiration to keep pushing myself past the edge of anxiety.
I am so glad you kept going. Reaching the top of Camelback is awesome. It’s one of my favorite hikes in Phoenix, I’m so glad you had fun and that you’re hooked :)
I’m absolutely thrilled for you – Camelback is without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding hiking experience I’ve ever had. I’ve lived in Phoenix now for about 10 years and have hiked that trail more times than I can count. I love it. I love that feeling of “Can I do this?” that you get when you see the rails on that steep point. But I love even more the feeling of “I JUST DID THAT!” when you descend those last few steps at the end of the hike. That feeling never goes away.
There is another great hike I did years ago, if you guys are still looking for more hiking you may want to check it out. It’s a long hike, but not particularly strenuous. It’s amazing though because it’s tucked behind the mountain, so the views are primarily the desert, not all of the city. Here is some information http://blog.scottsdalecvb.com/hiking-toms-thumb-trail/
PS I grew up in Ontario (Ottawa) before we moved to Phoenix. Although Phoenix has grown on me, Ontario will always be my home!
Thank you Jaye!
I’m so excited that you finished Camelback. I call it my nemesis. If you get a chance do the Siphon draw trail which takes you to the top of the Superstition mountains, which is unbelievable as well. I’m glad you enjoyed your time in AZ. I love living in Arizona, it’s hard for me to imagine leaving and not having a billion mountains to go climb.
I climbed Camelback Mountain with a hangover and a sinus infection. I thought I was going to die. My friend who took me there run up and down the trail five times every day, so I thought it would be manageable. As I dragged myself up those handrails, I realized I might have entrusted my life to lunatic. Still, I survived, and it was an amazing experience.
PS..If you are ever in the Pacific NW USA, there is a similarly beautiful and daunting hike at Smith Rock in Bend, OR.
I hiked Cambelbak four years ago, and all I remember is how BEAUTIFUL it was! The funny thing is I do not remember at all how difficult it was. It’s amazing how you forget how tough it was and all you remember is being at the summit. :)
We just hiked Camelback today and had the same exact experience as you did. Our legs were shaking after some of those steep climbs, not from exertion but from nerves. Definitely worth the effort!
glad you enjoyed it!!
Hiking is one of the most recommended activity when you want to release some tension and anxiety from your daily stressful routines. Its a great way of exploring nature too. I think Camelback Mountain is one of the beautiful place that needs to be explored and conquered because of its panoramic views of the developed and urban landscape of the valley. :)
Wow – I have to admit that just looking at the picture where it looks like you are climbing an almost vertical portion of the path, I started feeling anxiety.
Good for you for conquering that mountain – the views from the top are amazing.
Thanks Kate! It was so scary to look up at (and down) but once I got going I just focused on the next step and it was much less scary.
Thanks for the terrific post! I found this when Googling “fear of heights” and “Camelback.” I did my first hike of Camelback yesterday, and found your post incredibly helpful (and inspiring!). Like you, I’m fit and have run half-marathons. But, I have a dreadful fear of heights and snakes. The climb was a great adventure, and getting down was scarier than going up. But, I’m soo glad I did it, and am inspired to do more intense hikes as a result.Congrats to you, on your successful hike and your personal triumph over anxiety!
Hey Debby! Congrats!!!! :) I’m so glad my post was helpful for you. Have fun with all your hikes in the future.
I found your website while looking for healthy muffin recipes. Your hiking pictures caught my eye and I had to read your whole story or confirm what I suspected, you hiked Camelback! I grew up with a view of the mountiain from my neighborhood and when you are in top of the mountain you can see the high school I attended. It is definitely a hard climb and congratulations on getting to the top!
I will be going through more of your recipes later :)
Awesome. I loved that hike! Not sure I would love it in the summer though, hah.
we did this exact hike last october and it was one of my favourite days EVER. We loved it there :-) so beautiful :-)
Looking for info on vegan eating, found your site & love it! On it almost daily now. Always finding something new and fun. I was shocked to see your video about Camelback Mountain-great job by the way! I live right next to Pinnacle Peak & was so jazzed to see you out here. The video was fun to see you in “person” as well. You look amazing (glowing?) Id be (and have been) looking like something the cat dragged in after a hike like that. Must be the awesome vegan snacks… Hope you enjoyed Arizona, sooo excited for your cookbook to come out, sign me up!
Thanks Tani, you are so sweet!
Wow, I am reading this at the Phoenix airport as we head back home the day after conquering Camelback. I too had similar fears (and thought way ahead) as we ascended. I knew I had the fitness ability to make it up but didn’t know if I’d have the ability to squash my anxiety about falling on the way down. . . .As we headed down, our guide also gave the advice about one step/section at a time! I felt so accomplished after doing this with my 12 and 16 year old boys in the lead!!