Climbing above terror

Personal Journeys

A memorable placeIt happened on a...

July 05, 1998|By Rene McDonald

Climbing above terror; A memorable place

It happened on a trip to the Canadian Rockies. Our destination was Emerald Lake, bucolic and rugged, small and comfortable. The lodge was hospitable, the food wholesome, homey and abundant. Aside from the magnificent landscape, the most desirable feature of the lodge was the hot tub with a view of the snow-capped mountains above us. Our ultimate goal on the path to relaxation was to bask there uninterrupted for a whole afternoon. To earn this gift of repose, we felt obligated to take a memorable hike. The lodge guide told us about Hamilton Lake and how to get there. "Not too strenuous," he said. Right. He grew up there. We did not. We like to walk, and actually get to do some -- but not much -- in our hectic races to the office, to restaurants, to visit friends and families in our suburban Maryland home.

Anyway, this is not about being out of shape. It is about my fear of heights. I do not know the origin of this phobia; I simply accepted it until the challenge of Hamilton Lake appeared.

The morning of our intended hike dawned clear and crisp. Armed with a can of lemonade from the little store at the lodge and the sketch of the trail to Hamilton Lake, we took off in our jeans and windbreakers, eager to rough it.

We hiked for two hours, going ever upward. Trees thinned out. A short, freezing rain (in July) did not deter us. About two-thirds of -- the way up the mountain, the trail narrowed to an 18-inch ledge skirting an evergreen valley far below to the left. To the right, the sheer rock of the mountain loomed. Strewn with rocks from a landslide, the ledge stopped me in my tracks. By then, my long-legged, fearless husband was out of sight ahead of me. My immediate reaction was to retreat -- fast. But then my rational self kicked in. I debated with myself: How much did I want to see Hamilton Lake? What about the descent, when I would have to look straight down to negotiate the trail?

I was alone, with panic counterbalanced by desire to see that lake -- a perfect dilemma dangling for resolution. Finally, after what seemed an eon of indecision, Hamilton Lake -- nestled at the base of a glacier, stunning, silent, still, perfect -- won. I'd worry about the way down later. Palms sweating, heart pounding, I took that first step. No calamity befell me. The next step was a bit easier. I remembered to breathe.

NTC The terror was left behind that noon. I saw Hamilton Lake, and won the hot-tub afternoon. Negotiating that trail was a release for me. No matter that my fears seem petty to those more adventuresome, like husbands. To me, fears are real and debilitating unless they are faced down and tackled.

Travel is not only broadening, it can also be liberating. This I contemplated as the swirling waters of the hot tub soothed my happily aching body.

Rene McDonald does most of her walking around University Park.


Terry Berg, Arnold

"Dahlonega is a little gem just west of Atlanta. A generation before anyone cried 'Eureka!' in California, Dahlonega was tapping into so much gold that the U.S. Mint opened a branch office in the town. The story unfolds in the Dahlonega Gold Museum."


Mary Jane Mitchell, Ellicott City

"L'Auberge Resort and Spa in Del Mar, Calif., is an old haunt of movie stars circa Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante that combines glamour with tranquillity. Landscaped gardens, Pacific views and great restaurants. Pass up the main pool for the secluded lap pool and enjoy a private oasis surrounded by flowers."

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Pub Date: 7/05/98

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