Mount Timpanogos


I’m terrified of heights. For nearly all of my life this instinctive fear has kept me far, far away from yawning chasms, precipitous drops, and freaky precipices. But somehow, in recent years, I’ve found myself called by the allure of high places—their very horror makes them weirdly attractive, and they’ve become a challenge, a quest.

That’s how I found myself yesterday morning on a narrow, washed out trail hundreds of feet above Timpanogos Basin, pinned against the crumbling rock wall and fearing for my life. Along with my friends Daniel and Becky, I was climbing Mount Timpanogos, the massive 11,572 ft. ultra-prominent peak that looms over Utah County. (I didn’t know what that meant before so I looked it up and it’s really cool. End of brag.) The sun had not yet risen; my trusty headlamp illuminated the way before me. Daniel and Becky had just crossed over a completely washed out section of trail that so completely unnerved me that I would not follow:

The "trail"

The “trail.” Somehow it wasn’t helping me feel secure in my footing.

It didn’t matter that I had spent five hours hours climbing 3,000 feet of elevation gain over six miles. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t get the magnificent sunrise view from the summit, or even the saddle. I was terrified, and I was turning back. In the Inside Out-style emotional headquarters within me, this guy was calling the shots:


Just doing his one job: keeping me alive!

And so I turned back. I’ve done this many times. After my self-preservation instinct screams at me for long enough that my life is at risk, it becomes impossible to ignore. So I turn around. I leave the situation that so terrifies me.

It is the lot of the perpetually anxious to be overwhelmed by things that have little or no impact on other people. It’s our lot to turn around when the danger signals are too intense, but when nobody else is turning around. And it’s our lot to feel cowardly for doing so, to wonder if we’ve done the right thing.

But I believe it is the right thing. Because the agony of ignoring the self-preservation instinct is real. And because turning around and giving up are not the same thing.

I retreated down the trail a ways while Daniel and Becky pressed on without me. I felt beaten, but relieved. I took pictures. I watched a mouse scurry about looking for fallen bits of trail mix. I sat by myself in the dark and watched the stars. I felt the wind and enjoyed the night solitude.

It was peaceful. I felt serene. But somewhere within me a voice began calling. I realized I wanted to try again.

So I returned to the washed out section of trail. I took it at my own pace, in my own way, for my own reasons. And I crossed it, no problem.

I continued up the path a ways, but soon found myself confronted by yet another disintegrating trail segment that I could not stomach. So again I stopped. Again I turned around.

I went down to the basin. I watched the dawn first simmer on the horizon and then roll over the valley:


I explored. I saw what seemed to be moose, but which turned out to be a hunter’s horses. I talked with him about mountain goats and the whereabouts of Emerald Lake. I watched a noisy squirrel drop pine cones from from the tree tops down to the ground. I saw this:

Timpanogos Basin

It was marvelous.

But in full light of day a voice seemed once again to be calling to me. I had to try again.

Back up the trail I went, back up toward the saddle. In the darkness my fears had filled the information vacuum, making everything seem more dangerous than in reality. But in light of day, my fears had less power over me. I could see that the slope beside me wasn’t completely shear, but often was somewhat gradual. With this encouraging observation I was able to advance up the trail much farther than previously. But again, at some point I encountered the limit of my appetite for risk, and I turned around.

I’ll say it once more: turning around and giving up are not the same thing. Sometimes we need to retreat and regroup. I turned around because my anxiety level was intolerable, and I would not have been a safe, surefooted hiker. But I returned again and again because the challenge remained, and it beckoned to me. I’m proud of that fact.

Ascent to saddle

My progress can be seen here. The red indicates my best estimate of the trail route as it climbs up to the ridge. The numbers 1, 2, and 3 indicate my three turnaround points.

Each time I returned I made it farther than before. I didn’t reach the summit, but I achieved what for me were great things. I believe that the following helped me:

  1. Familiarity. Some things are frightening largely because they’re unfamiliar. It’s easy to overestimate the risks of things unknown. The first time I faced the washed out section I couldn’t pass it, but the second time I did so easily.
  2. Going at my own pace. Knowing that nobody was waiting on me to make that daring leap ratcheted down my anxiety level.
  3. Knowing more. When the sun came out, true information about the lay of the land replaced fearful speculations about what might lie in the dark.

Though I’ve previously blamed my childhood anxiety on my family environment, further reflection leads me to believe that mostly I’m just an anxious person, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Anxiety is natural—everybody has it, and it helps to protect us against dangers. People’s sensitivities to anxiety vary widely, from the stupidly reckless who really have no fear, to the anxious overwhelmed whose lives are dominated by it. We’re all on the same spectrum, and one person’s shameful cowardice is another’s prudent caution. I’m not sure how much we can change our temperament, but I believe we can learn to work better with how we’re built, whether by reining in our dangerous risk-taking or by finding ways to dare things we never believed we could.

Hiking Timpanogos was incredible. For me it was a truly intense experience. Magnificent. Terrifying. Beautiful. I’m so glad I made the attempt. I’m grateful for the patience of my friends, who helped me to achieve far more than I would have on my own. Which leads me to:

  1. People. You don’t have to face your fears alone. And that makes all the difference.

I found myself thinking about courage tonight, and found a quote that I liked a good deal:

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

I guess I related to it since I’ve gone through periods in life where just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward seems to require immense courage. However, I’m not satisfied with a quotation until I have a solid reference to the original—unless I can convince myself that someone, somewhere is actually being quoted, rather than the quotation just being made up by some dude on the interwebs. Seneca’s “Letters to Lucilius” was a good start, but we can do better than that.

I was able to get a longer version of the quote from this American Scholar article. It runs:

I saw not my own courage in dying, but his courage broken by the loss of me. So I said to myself, “You must live.” Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.

But the article gave no more information about the source. Yet somehow I was eventually able to discover the following:

The full name of the source is “Moral Letters to Lucilius” (“Epistulae morales ad Lucilium”) and the quote comes from Epistle LXXVIII (78). Here it is with some context, from the 1920 G. P. Putnam’s Sons version translated by Richard Mott Grummere (also available on Wikisource here):

That you are frequently troubled by the sniffling of catarrh and by short attacks of fever which follow after long and chronic catarrhal seizures, I am sorry to hear; particularly because I have experienced this sort of illness myself, and scorned it in its early stages. For when I was still young, I could put up with hardships and show a bold front to illness. But I finally succumbed, and arrived at such a state that I could do nothing but snuffle, reduced as I was to the extremity of thinness. I often entertained the impulse of ending my life then and there; but the thought of my kind old father kept me back. For I reflected, not how bravely I had the power to die, but how little power he had to bear bravely the loss of me. And so I commanded myself to live. For sometimes it is an act of bravery even to live. (Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, transl. Richard M. Grummere, 1920 ed., Epistle LXXVIII, pp. 181-182)

So young Seneca had once been so ill that he contemplated suicide, yet the thought of his elderly father and the grief it would cause him led the adolescent philosopher-to-be to press on and find a way through his darkness.

Here it is in Latin for good measure and for the fond memories of my Latin 101 class that transcribing a few lines will bring back:

Vexari te destillationibus crebris ac febriculis, quae longas destillationes et in consuetudinem adductas secuntur, eo molestius mihi est, quia expertus sum hoc genus valetudinis, quod inter initia contempsi; poterat adhuc adulescentia iniurias ferre et se adversus morbos contumaciter gerere. Deinde succubui et eo perductus sum, ut ipse destillarem ad summam maciem deductus. Saepe impetum cepi abrumpendae vitae; patris me indulgentissimi senectus retinuit. Cogitavi enim non quam fortiter ego mori possem, sed quam ille fortiter desiderare non posset. Itaque imperavi mihi, ut viverem. Aliquando enim et vivere fortiter facere est.

There. My bogus quotations detector is now satisfied. And hopefully this post makes it easier for future searchers to determine the validity of the quote.

My Beautiful Mother

Not long before she died, Mom took a trip to California. While there, she had this picture taken. It's one of my favorites.

One of my favorite photos of Mom, taken during her trip to California not long before she died.

Just after Mom died, her friend, Diann Macbeth, wrote a remembrance of her based on decades of church service together, which my family has treasured ever since. I now share it in full:

Janet, My Friend

Occasionally someone enters our life so softly and gently that at first we scarcely notice they are there. Like a soft breeze on a hot summer day that cools and refreshes, they become balm for our frenzied lives, asking little but giving much. Janet was such a person. Our lives have crossed and crisscrossed for nearly 20 years. I was privileged to watch her work in the various church organizations to which she was called. She quietly did all that she was asked and a little bit more. Always desirous to learn from others she had no idea that she was also a great teacher of humility, love, and compassion. As she was never aggressive and was always content to stay in the background I could easily have missed her sweet and loving spirit, except one day I witnessed one of her truly beautiful smiles. It lit up her eyes and seemed to envelope me in such heartfelt warmth. I determined that I was foolish for having missed knowing her better and set about to rectify that. The Lord granted me my wish and we were called to work in the Young Womens together. I was in awe of the sensitivity and love she had towards the girls. She approached every lesson and assignment with 110 percent preparation and we were rewarded with not only that work, but also the inspiration from the Lord as He guided her in her desire to serve. She was one of my most cherished visiting teachers, and I delighted in the insights she gave to the monthly messages. Our children also extended our love towards each other as they interacted together. As a friend she was a real treasure—never judgmental or too busy for a word of praise or encouragement. My heart and soul will surely miss her presence as will so many others, but I know as sure as I breathe that someday we will get to exchange a loving embrace and be together again.

Dianne Macbeth
March 3, 2003

My mother, Janet Patricia Watson Hansen, was a beautiful person. She struggled in life—oh, how she struggled! At times, each day was a challenge, and she couldn’t even get out of bed. But she was a good person. She was kind. She habitually sacrificed her own welfare for the benefit of others. She was non-judgmental almost to a fault, going far out of her way to try to imagine how another’s seemingly ridiculous or outrageous behavior might actually make sense from their point of view.

Mom experienced life with an inward intensity that one would not suspect from her meek outward demeanor. She was highly sensitive and exposure to sights, smells, sounds, crowds, and other stimuli often overwhelmed her. The smallest slight could put her in tears. And yet the same sensitivity that made each day a struggle was also the source of her tenderness and kindness, her thoughtfulness, her love of animals, and so many of the sweet and wonderful things about her.

In some of the old family photos and videos, you can catch Mom with a sort of pained and haunted look in her eyes, as here:

Family Picture at Zinser HouseThose were the times when her demons tormented her, when the upsets of the world around her were too much for her sensitive soul and she drew inward in self defense.

In other photos, you can see that she’s happy. Demons at bay, she felt safe and free to love and to take joy in life, as here:

Impromptu familiy photo on a windy day at church.

Mom suffered much, but she loved much. She needed much, but she gave much. She was, in her heart, just a sweet and peaceful girl from southern California who did the best she knew how to make the world a better place in spite of abuses suffered and a life that overwhelmed her. I wish things had been different. I wish she had found a better way past what haunted her. But she is gone, and this world that didn’t deserve her has been deprived of her gentle beauty these twelve years. I mourn her still.

Mom's senior class picture for Marlborough High School in Los Angeles.

Mom’s senior class picture for Marlborough High School in Los Angeles.