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Lessons Learned While Hiking in Chugach State Park, Alaska: A Journey of Self-Discovery

Updated: Apr 27

I gripped my hiking sticks, took a deep breath, and began to climb up a steep rocky mountain. I glanced up to see the top of the mountain, “That’s where I need to get to”, I said to myself. My eyes traced down the mountain to land on a field of hundreds of sharp rocks with no clear path in sight. Those rocks were the only thing that stood between me and completing this hike. I turned back only to see more rocks and a steep slope. In an instant, I became paralyzed with fear and thought to myself, “ I won’t make it up this mountain, there is no clear path”. I thought “ I’m going to slip and fall down this mountain”.

My husband Steven, and I were finally in Alaska, a place that we had talked about visiting for over 9 years and we finally made it! It was day 6 out of our 8-day trip and we decided to go on a hike in Chugach State Park. During the Summer months, Alaska experiences extremely long hours of daylight and even at 2 a.m. it will still be light outside. We took advantage of this opportunity and made our way to Chugach at 8:30 p.m. to hike a popular trail called Flattop Mountain. Flattop Mountain is a 2.8-mile difficult trail with about 1,325 ft of elevation gain. I should probably mention that I am not a beginner hiker, but not an advanced hiker either so a trail labeled as difficult didn’t scare me.

We arrived at the parking lot, I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my backpack, and placed my water bottle inside. Next, I grabbed my hiking sticks and we made our way to the trailhead. The trail started pretty flat, “Right, left, right, left”, I thought as I walked along the trail. I stopped at different moments to take in the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, ocean, and snow-covered peaks.

After about 20 minutes, the elevation began to change and suddenly I understood why the trail was labeled as “difficult”. I took a wide step forward, using the wood steps that were built by the park rangers to assist hikers with the steep parts of the trail. I climbed and with each step gained more elevation each time. We got to a little flat section of the trail, “Whew, time for a quick break” I said to myself. Within less than a few minutes we were back at it and continued our climb.

We made it to a clearing and we saw other hikers starting their journey back down the trail. I looked up at the mountain “ Yes! We are almost there, this has been a great hike”, I said to myself. I glanced at the steep mountain with those sharp rocks and scanned from left to right looking for the trail. I looked for wood steps like we saw earlier on the trail. Surely the park placed some here too, but they were nowhere in sight. I saw another hiker, “Hey!”, I said. “How do you get to the top of the mountain?”, I asked. The hiker responded, “You can follow the path that the other hikers have made. It’s kind of hard to see so just take your time climbing up”. “Wait, what?” I thought to myself. “You mean there is no clear path, to get to the top of the mountain?” Steven said, “Just follow me up, I’ll find the way”. I gripped my hiking sticks, attached them to my backpack, took a deep breath, and began to climb. I glanced up to see the top of the mountain, “That’s where I need to get to”, I said to myself. Very slowly, I took my first step, and then the second, and then the third. I was going to make it up this mountain one way or another, but then suddenly the makeshift trail started to disappear and the higher I climbed the more terrified I became. I couldn't see a path, “Where am I going”, I said. I looked back and became more terrified because I could see myself tumbling down this mountain. I stopped, and tears filled my eyes. I couldn't do it. I couldn't climb the rest of the way. I told Steven I had to stop and turn back.

I made my way back down the mountain, crouched down and practically sliding down the rocks. A thought occurred to me, “ How will you ever conquer your fears and accomplish your dreams if you give up when you can’t see the path to get there”. “ Wow,” I said out loud. At that moment, I realized that many times in life I have a dream and a goal of what I want to accomplish but I quit, give up, and get scared because I don’t see a path to get there. Sometimes I see a path but it's filled with sharp rocks and steep mountains and I am too afraid to walk it. If I just keep going, keep climbing, face the adversity, and conquer my fears I will be able to reach my goals. It’s easier said than done, but one thing I learned on this mountain is that in life, even if you are scared sometimes you have to climb that mountain.



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