Fear Conquering & Climbing My First Mountain on My 52nd Birthday

Climbing Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

We were going to hike up a mountain, The Boy said. Not climb, hike.

Or maybe that’s what I chose to hear. Certainly, The Boy is aware of my age and the limitations thereof.

He wouldn’t be trying to kill me on my birthday, would he? 

We woke to a beautiful day in Anchorage, a bit jet lagged, but nothing serious. The Boy was rarin’ to go; I’d never been to Alaska — his new home — and he was ready to show it off.

The hike to the peak of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

I was excited to spend an idyllic day in nature with my husband and son; walking, talking and reconnecting after a few months of mommy withdrawals.

And that’s exactly how it started out.

Between huffs and puffs, we laughed and caught up on the stories we hadn’t relayed over a long distance phone calls. Every now and then, we paused as The Boy pointed out his favorite views.

Hiking Anchorage, Alaska's Flat Top Mountain

The Boy had made it to the summit of Flat Top Mountain once before with friends (his age) and was going on and on about how great the view was from the top.

It was already getting pretty darned good. As we gained altitude, Anchorage and the mudflats of Cook Inlet spread out before us and we could see the majestic peaks of the Alaska Range and Denali off in the distance.

View of Anchorage from the hike up Flat Top Mountain

People resting and enjoying the view on the way up to the top of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

About halfway up, I noticed that some of the older folks, along with parents with very young in tow, found good reasons to turn back.

For many, a scenic platform marked a reasonable stopping point. Others found a stretch of trail was too steep or they simply lacked the ridiculous competitiveness that doesn’t take into consideration one’s limitations.

A viewing platform on the way up to the top of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

The platforms and steep trail stretches could have given me an easy way out as well.

I was already taking too many breathers-disguised-as-photo-stops – and I wasn’t fooling anyone.

But David and I are highly competitive. Not in a let’s-do-something-incredibly-lofty kind of way, like winning a gold medal for our country. Nor are we particularly competitive with other people (unless trivia games count).

View from Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

It’s just with one another, in an I-dare-you-to eat something gross or do something scary way.

It’s like we’re perpetually stuck in fifth grade. One of us is going to get our tongue frozen to a playground flagpole one day, just watch. All it would take is a triple-dog dare.

So the steepness wasn’t going to stop me, because there was no way I was going to listen to David nana nana boo boo me when he made it to the top and I didn’t.

Near the top of Flat Top Mountain it gets gravely

My first real challenge came when the gravel started making an appearance.

Gravel, steep incline, and an of-a-certain-age novice climber is not a good combo – I kept losing my footing and my bravado was quick to follow.

David was unfazed, he used to climb mountains when he lived in Colorado as a teen, and he seemed right at home.

It also didn’t faze him when the terrain turned into a rock climbing wall.

The top of Flat Top Mountain gets pretty steep

The trail up to the top of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

Me, who had never climbed a rock wall — real or at a kid’s birthday party — was shocked as hell.

Surely The Boy knew that this was coming, and that I was going to freak out.

Or maybe he found it so easy for his twenty-five-year old self to scramble up, that the thought didn’t cross his mind that it would be a daunting challenge for someone (gulp) over twice his age.

View from Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska
Right before things went terribly awry.

I stood, knees knocking, at the base of a straight-up, one-hundred-foot wall and resigned.

“I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can, Mom. We’re almost to the top and it’s so great up there. C’mon, I’ll show you exactly where to put your feet.”

There wasn’t a clear path or trail and climbers were back-tracking areas they had already attempted, asking each other for advice about the best way up.

Climbing Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

David chose a route and headed up, The Boy holding back to give me guidance.

Climbing Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

I made it three quarters of the way before I kicked a piece of loose rock and heard it clatter down the mountain.

It clattered and clattered and clattered. For a long, long time.

It occurred to me I could die (I found out later that people have died and that getting rescued off Flat Top Mountain is a fairly regular occurrence), and what I did next made the possibility greater.

Climbing Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

I froze.

Hanging on the side of a sheer wall in a very unnatural position — harkening a vertical, pigeon-toed murder-scene-chalk-outline drawing — I squeaked out a feeble call for help.

There was nothing The Boy or David could do to move me. I hung there with my hair whipping around my head and my eyes shut tight until my heart stopped racing.

David pointed out a semi-circle of ledge just wide enough for my butt and I made getting there my life’s work.

Please God, just let me sit for a while and figure this out.

Reaching the ledge, I sat down and commenced shaking. I sent the guys on, telling them I’d scoot down on my rear end when I felt safe enough to do so.

Near the peak of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska
The incredible view from my fear ledge.

After much hemming and hawing, they went on. I sat stock still until I found myself enjoying the incredible view again.

Then I upside-down crab walked to the last place I felt safe. The guys were already there.

Climbing Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage

“Mom, you were twenty feet from the top – we found an easier way up for you.”

“Honey, c’mon. It’s fantastic up there. We came down to get you, we want you to see it.”

They hadn’t been reveling in their own achievements as they deserved, they were looking for a way for me to join them.

How do I say no? Did I want to say no? No. I wanted to do this.

I followed The Boy up, put my feet where he put his feet. He lovingly coached me to the top. Through my panicked tears, I felt a mother/son bond I’d never felt before. My son, the man, was taking care of me.

The GypsyNesters climb to the peak of Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

And the reward at the top was phenomenal. There was a flag and everything!

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Alaska!

YOUR TURN: Have you climbed a mountain? Wasn’t it rewarding? Tell me about a time you and your Spawn had a similar bonding experience.

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21 thoughts on “Fear Conquering & Climbing My First Mountain on My 52nd Birthday”

  1. What a fantastic accomplishment! I loved reading the interaction with your husband and son. I’ve climbed a few mountains myself – not Table Top, but Lions Head, Potato Chip, and Mt. Washington. Similar experiences near the top, but the view once you get up is extraordinary. Good for you!

  2. It doesn’t sound like fun but you must have a great sense of accomplishment when you did it! That picture of you on the rock ledge looked really scary. Sounds like you raised a nice “Boy”!

  3. Good for you to have made it to the top of Flat Top Mountain. In between gasping along with you as you made the climb I had to laugh at your one “too many breathers-disguised-as-photo-stops” – that’s my specialty! Kudos to you for making the summit – hopefully the descent was easier! .

  4. I can so relate to this. You gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em. I folded – big time – in Bosnia this summer on a narrow path comprised of slippery shale, 5000 feet up. I could feel the vertigo coming on so strong that I knew I’d probably leap over the side instead of waiting to slip and fall. We turned back and left it to the youngsters. Congrats and what a lovely son you have.

  5. I felt the same way when I climbed Mt Soufriere volcano in Guadeloupe last spring. I was damned if I was going to turn back just because of fear and exhaustion! I was by myself, but I wanted that picture of myself at the top to prove to my husband that I’d done it. Congratulations on making it to the top of Flat Top Mountain!

  6. God, Roni, you never cease to amaze me! I’m so terrified of heights and am always afraid I’ll push myself and then freeze! Which is the worst! Awesome views though! I think I would have really enjoyed the “hiking” part!

  7. I felt the same way when I climbed Cradle Mountain in Tasmania when I was 60. Basically, it took two forms: “I’m too old for this,” and “I never thought I’d die in Australia.”

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