Personal Journeys


January 12, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Uphill climb prepared her for life

By Alisa Stapleton


When you've dangled from the face of a 900-foot-high slab of sandstone -- clinging for life to a bump no bigger than an almond with nothing more than the tips of your sweaty fingers while breathing so hard that you begin to dry heave -- you don't easily forget it.

This was my first outdoor adventure. I had just graduated from college and was seeking a fun physical challenge to cure some boredom before entering the "real world." I never expected that my rock-climbing trip to Seneca Rocks -- one of West Virginia's most well-known landmarks -- would change my life.

Just the hike from the campsite to the base of Seneca Rocks nearly killed me. The path was long, steep and very rocky. Finally, after about an hour, my guide announced our arrival. "We're here," he said. "This is the base of Break Neck."

Break Neck is one of more than 400 routes, all varying in degree of difficulty, that cover Seneca Rocks. I was hoping that the person who named Break Neck had a sense of humor.

With shaky hands, I crammed my feet into a rented pair of yellow and blue climbing shoes, adjusted the strap on my oversized helmet (which was worrisomely covered in scratches) and slipped on a harness.

I could still run, I thought. But my thought was a moment too late: My guide began to tie me to a 180-foot-long safety rope.

I watched him climb the first pitch of the face effortlessly. It was now my turn.

"Climb on, Sunshine," he shouted.

"Climbing," I whimpered back, as I struggled to find somewhere to put my hands and feet.

The surface was flat and smooth, far more smooth than I had ever imagined. But, little by little, I made my way up the rock. The more I climbed, the more difficult it became. In a panic I shrieked, "Oh, my God!"

A mysterious voice in the distance jokingly echoed back: "A lot of people find God on this journey."

The climb was far more than a physical challenge. It was the ultimate man-vs.-himself emotional battle. There were times that I wondered if I was strong enough to endure the physical pain and overcome the emotional angst. There were times that I was tempted to give up and have my guide lower me back down. But each time I had these thoughts, my determination to make it to the top won out, and I persevered up the rock.

Five hours and 18 well-defined bruises later, but feeling no pain, I stood on top of Seneca Rocks in triumph. You can't make it to a summit and not somehow feel different, changed. I felt confident and self-assured, and, most of all, proud that I had faced my fears and not given up.

Alisa Stapleton lives in Reisterstown.

My Best Shot

Marlene A. Lynch, Bel Air

Rare sunshine

This picture was taken in July in the Bergenhus area of Bergen, Norway. Houses dot the side of Floyen Mountain, which rises above this lovely inlet town. It rains approximately 300 days a year in Bergen, so we were blessed to have this beautiful view from our hotel room with the sun shining.

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Margaret M. Wheltle, Ellicott City

The Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque is an exhilarating event held every year in early October. The excitement increases as each balloon prepares for early morning ascension, silhouetted against the sunrise over the Sandia Mountains. There were 750 balloons in this year's festival. It was a sight not to be missed.

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Fredericka Danielus, Bivalve, Md.

For the past 12 years, my friends and I have traveled to the most northern coast of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Scottish, French, English, Irish, Welsh and others maintain their uniqueness in small towns throughout the province, and all are happy to welcome travelers. Cape Breton draws us with its spectacular scenery, such as this view of Aspy Bay. This is a safe, lovely and friendly place.

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