Huayna Picchu: Conquering Fears

This is less a story of climbing a mountain and more a story of conquering fears. This post is about facing anxiety and pushing through. You see that mountain behind Machu? Yeah, that really tall one? That’s Huayna Picchu. Guess who climbed to the tippy-top of that yesterday??!? šŸ™‚

You may not know it from this post, but I actually have a fear of heights. It gets bad around ledges without a railing, in small airplanes, and see-thru elevators. When I was planning this trip to Peru, I had zero intention of climbing Huayna. I mean, LOOK AT THAT BEAST! I got shaky legs just looking it at. Then my travel buddy started talking about it and it got me thinking…

How often will I be in Peru?

I may uncover more secrets of the Incas if I continue on the trail…

If they could do it, I could too.

I really want to see the Temple of the Moon and find the arrow stone (if it exists).

It’s one thing to want to climb it, but another to put yourself in the situation. They only allow 400 people up each day. One group of 200 at 7am and another group at 10am. I was secretly hoping that tickets were sold out and I wouldn’t have to make the decision. Nope. We spent the first day at Machu and the whole second day was left to Huayna. From the moment we bought the tickets I had this anxiety pit in my stomach. It was something I desperately wanted to push through and say that I had done. Yet I felt my normal defense mechanisms kicking in: I got extremely short and angry toward my friend. I couldn’t sleep well. I was ‘zoned out’ on the bus up to Machu/the base point for Huayna.

Then came our turn. We had to sign in with our full name, country of residence, show our passports, time in, etc. In the back of my head I was thinking “great…they are accounting for people in case they don’t make it back”. Ay yi yi.

Then we started. We had to cross over a small part of a neighboring mountain before starting the trek. Luckily the Incans left a nice little trail for me:

The climb was very steep and demanding. The stairs were taller than my normal stride. Most of them I had to put both feet on before I could proceed to the next. When the trek got tough and I started getting scared, I literally had to tell myself to put one foot in front of the other. I kept looking up, hugging the side of the mountain, and moving forward.

I wanted to climb this mountain for many reasons. But mostly, I thought if I could conquer this, I could conquer just about ANYTHING. Finding the courage to leave my corporate job? No problem, I climbed Huayna! Needing inner strength to change major life situations? I scaled a f@#$ing mountain!!! I knew it could be done and I was on my way.

This was definitely a case of something that was worse in my head than it was while I was going through it. I think the hardest part was getting through the first entrance and starting. After a while I even began to enjoy myself. The Incans built in several ‘break points’ along the way with astonishing views of Machu:

Don’t mind the heavy breathing in this video… šŸ˜‰

Some of the most trying moments:

The key was definitely baby steps and forward momentum. It looks terrifying, but when you are there, taking it piece by piece, it’s quite manageable. The fear was more of a temporary rush but I kept reminding myself how far I had come. It was enough to get me to the top! As we got higher, the views kept getting better. The whole time I was thinking…How could the Incans build this in the first place? A trail on a mountain so steep? It blows my mind!

Another view of Machu, with the scary side stairs (The Incans obviously had no fear):

I started getting used to the height after a while and really started enjoying the history of it all. The top of the mountain was not flat but a series of giant rocks at angles…that I was terrified I would slide off of! I had to sit down during this video, but here is proof we were at the very top! (notice the cloud line…)

We rested a bit and I took a few rocks from the top of Huayna for a little souv. On the way down there is a little house with two doorways and windows. Yep, right smack on the side of the mountain. I will explain my theory on this and the entire Machu Picchu site when I have the time to blog about our exploration in more detail. For now, here’s a pic of me in the doorway:

And here is the awesome view looking down from the little house:

The climb down was just as challenging as the way up. There was less a sense of security when you were looking down and seeing how far you could fall. But overall, I already had this amazing sense of accomplishment. I did something major that I didn’t want to do. It’s obviously important to stretch yourself. For someone like me, who is generally risk-averse, I was very proud of myself for doing something uncomfortable and coming out beaming on the other side.

Once we got back we had the BEST celebratory drink and meal ever. It was like when you go camping and food astonishingly tastes better than ever. I had never felt like I earned something so much in my life! Here I am drinking my purple corn sour:

Cheers to a great hike, conquering the deepest of fears, and having grown stronger (and wiser!) because of this whole experience.