The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, several of my friends and I got on a chartered bus and headed out west to Frontier Ranch. This Young Life camp is located in Buena Vista, Colorado and was built 14,197 ft. up on the side of Mt. Princeton.
I had never seen the Rockies, and they did not disappoint.
One afternoon our cabin along with two others had a scheduled afternoon of beginner repelling. As we walked up to the activity, trying to go unnoticed, we realized that we were going to pay for our tardiness. My friends and I were at the very end of the repelling line behind 40 other campers. They were all looking up at a mountain face that was at least two stories high to try and take in the demonstration. I was so far back that I could not even hear what was being said.
We sat down and settled in for a very long wait. About 20 minutes into our stint, a young guy walked up. He asked our little group if anyone had been repelling before. We looked at each other, not saying anything. Then as if on cue, two of my friends and I raised our hands. He looked at us and said, “Great! Follow me.”
Thus began our hike further up the mountain.
As we tried to keep up with our long, legged guide, I asked my friend if she had ever repelled before.
“Nope,” she said.
“You?” she asked.
“No, and now we’ve teamed up with Grizzly Adams,” I said, getting very nervous.
“It’ll be fine,” she said, “besides how much higher can he possibly climb?”
Much higher in fact. I think all in all, we hiked up the mountain for about 30 minutes giving me plenty of time to assess the situation. My inner monologue went something like this….
“How hard could repelling be, really? I may have never repelled, but I have seen someone repel before. That’s almost the same thing. Besides I drive past the fireman’s training center all the time which has a practice climbing tower on the grounds.”
By the time we reached the top, I was practically an expert.
He parked us at the peak and asked who wanted to go first. Though I was now a professional, I did not want to be the first professional.
One of my friends volunteered and began putting on her gear. I took notes. My other friend went next. Watching her my confidence grew, because she was not really an athlete like myself. What I did not realize at the time but found out once I looked over the cliff was that she may have not been an athlete, but she also was not afraid of heights. I on the other hand am terrified of heights.
I started to panic. I remained composed externally, because if they could do it surely, I could. The guy helped me with my harness and gave me a helmet. He clipped me in and asked me if I was ready.
I began to shake as I backed up to the edge of the cliff. I bent my knees, looked over my shoulder, and then at the young man. I could not move.
He was kind and said, “All you have to do is lean back.”
“Lean back,” I repeated.
“Just so we are clear, are you aware that you’re asking me to lean back off a mountain?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “completely aware.”
I started to tear up.
He said, “What is your name?”
Now, I got really scared. I was afraid to be outed for lying about my non repelling history on a Young Life retreat. I feared I had inconvenienced him, and he was going to have to accompany me on my walk of shame back down the mountain.
“Carrie. My name is Carrie,” I said.
“Look at me,” he said very seriously.
I looked him in the eye waiting for my reprimand.
Then he said, “My name is Chris. It will catch, Carrie I promise you.”
Then He said, “You can do this. Just trust the rope.”
I leaned back and for two very long seconds, I free fell. My eyes got so big with shock and terror, I was sure they were going to shoot out of their sockets and hit Chris square in the face.
Then it caught, and the rope pulled tight.
“See,” he smiled. “You did it.”
I sat back for a moment gathering myself and catching my breath as I hung off the side of Mt. Princeton.
I thanked him and started to make my way down. I was actaully repelling which felt very natural and fluid. It took me a lot longer to get down than I thought it would, and I remember thinking “Wow. I really hate this.” I wasn’t grumpy about it; it was just a statement of fact.
It surprised me when my feet planted firmly on solid ground. I unhooked myself and had never felt happier or taller. A small portion of me felt really empowered, as if I could do anything.