I’ll let you into a secret – I’m afraid of heights. Usually it manifests itself as the kind of fear that makes my mind race and my legs go rigid and unable to move. Sometimes I get full on vertigo and the ground below rushes up to meet me in waves that leave me dizzy and unsure of where the path really is. But luckily, that doesn’t happen too often.
I didn’t even discover it until I was 32, so in some ways I’d got away with it for years. But it still came as a shock, especially as I was at the top of a long descent, looking all the way down to our destination in the valley floor. Luckily, I twisted my ankle and had to bail out, heading back upwards to the safety of a hilltop car park.
So though I love mountains, you won’t be surprised to learn that summits aren’t really my thing. The man on the left of the photo had just returned from the summit of the Matterhorn, while all I did was make it up to base camp.
I do love mountaineering but it’s the wide expanse of snow covered alpine passes that appeal to me. I don’t get why people climb big mountains like the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc – I spend enough of my time queueing, and the Matterhorn is one big queue all the way to the top. Not exactly my ideal of a wide open space.
Though people dismiss it as easy, the walk up to the Hörnli hut has its moments. The path is wide, and there are fixed ropes to pull on if you get into trouble – which on a good day you shouldn’t. But now and then the path drops away on either side and all you have is a metre or so of rock and a lot of thin air, all the way down.
In the past I’d have stopped at those sections, afraid to take the next step. It’s not hard to stay on the path, more a matter of self belief but when I’m confronted with all that thin air all I can see is me falling into it.
But this time something was different.
I’ve spent so much of the past year stepping out onto shaky ground with nothing more to support me than a vague belief that it will turn out allright in the end, that it’s become a habit. As long as you can take the next step forward the difficulty will pass. Things move on faster than you think. Change happens anyway, whether you wait, afraid of the next step, or plunge right into it.
And what I’ve been finding out this year is that even the scary bits feel good if you take them for what they are. Plough through them and there’s a reward at the end, be it some work, a new home, or just something that comes in a tin marked Heineken.