Jesus Fucking Christ

I heard the unmistakable sound of give from the icy rocks. Shoes, crampons, and all – the guy’s grip was gone. He was skidding down the snowy ridge by the time I turned. It was maybe a 40 degree incline, thereabouts. I watched in horror for what seemed like forever. He slid 10-12 meters, his arms flailing, hiking stick out. We were about 1,500 meters up.

The guy skidded past one tree but somehow managed to catch the next. I called down to see if he was okay; he answered in the affirmative. Soon, he planted, shifted to the side, made his way back up onto the trail. He continued his descent without looking back, as if nothing had happened, as if it weren’t my fault he had fallen.

But it was.

It was a ridge section that was the trouble spot. More mountain marked the right side of the trail, but there wasn’t a lot of real estate over there. Instead, the walkable area hugged the edge on the left. It was about a meter wide, with slight dips and turns, comfortable for the most part. But suddenly it narrowed, and considerably so.

For maybe two medium-sized steps, you had to go one foot in front of the other. There was a gentle turn to the right, so you would have to pivot near the edge as well. The section wasn’t narrow enough or long enough to concern most people, I’d imagine. But I’m not most people. I saw it before I got there – that didn’t help matters – and came to a dead halt.

I looked for something to grab onto, something with which I could propel myself forward. But it was a completely exposed area. The lone tree root was to my back right. After standing for what felt like forever, I leaned down, grabbed hold, and swung myself back. I retreated and regrouped in a wider section of the trail.

I set out again to conquer that narrow stretch of trail. But I couldn’t. The snow covering there was light – it was icy rock, basically. I worried about the grip. I was completely psyching myself out, and I knew it. I’d get to the exposed area, near the point of no return, and come to a dead halt. Invariably, I retreated.

A Japanese man descending from the mountain blew through that narrow section. But I had my back turned and didn’t see exactly how he did it. Regardless, I couldn’t do it myself, no matter what mind tricks I used. I don’t know how many times I made that approach and then had to go back. I was genuinely scared to move. In either direction, really.

I spent literally 30 minutes in that section, going back and forth, regrouping, approaching, failing, and repeating. It was the most fucking intense 30 minutes, and I say that with no exaggeration. I was stressed and angry and terrified. I decided I would quit the hike if I couldn’t make it across in the next 20 minutes. It had gotten ridiculous.

It was on another of those stunted approaches when a second Japanese guy neared, again on the descent. I apologized, ostensibly to let him know I would turn around and get out of his way. But I was so scared – I couldn’t even do that quickly. And for whatever reason, he didn’t slow at all, blowing through.

He tried to pass me right near that narrow stretch. I turned my body to my right to create some space. And that was when he fell. Almost immediately, I yelled, “Oh my god. I’m so sorry.” Watching him slide down the ridge was indescribably awful. It was overwhelming. I somehow ended up on my butt – I don’t even remember how – but managed to stay on the ridge.

After his fall, and his save, he went on his way, unharmed. I eventually picked myself up, retreated again. The guilt was immediate. My hesitation, my fear, my shitty hiking had almost seriously injured a complete stranger. Yeah, he might have moved a little recklessly. But all I kept thinking was that I had just watched helplessly as a guy fell off and slide down a fucking ridge.

I made it through the next time around. I don’t remember going one foot over the other, don’t remember planting and pivoting, don’t remember being scared of sliding or falling myself. My mind had just gone utterly numb. I couldn’t really process any of it, except for how real and surreal it felt at the same time. A guy could have died in front of me. And because of me.

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