It never ceases to amaze me how nature can awe-inspire, astound, and entertain us in ways that man-made entertainment just can not match. I love setting off on a hike and anticipating not only what lies at the end but also the journey that leads me to that destination. I love the conversations that will play out, the memories that will be made and even the mishaps that happen along the way.
A month or so ago, I went on a weekend trip to Joshua Tree where I got to enjoy nature via hikes, photography, and a very interesting and fun experience.
Apparently, there is a passage through a gorge that is littered with wedged boulders and rocks that is accurately named “The Chasm of Doom.”
It is an interesting adventure for multiple reasons:
Firstly, it isn’t an official hike so there are no trailheads or paved roads for accessing the gorge. We literally based finding the entrance upon a few youtube videos of enthusiasts that had found the entrance and had hiked the entirety of the gorge. The entrance was also not at a normally accessible level. We had to scramble up increasingly larger boulders to access the entrance after which we had to rely on flashlights to traverse a practically light-free environment.
Secondly, the gorge tricks your mind into thinking that certain areas are simply untraversable. There is a section that is literally called the “birth canal” in which you have to get onto your back, and shimmy horizontally in between two slabs of rock to a gap at the rear of the sliver of space you just shimmied through. At this point, you have to sit up and then somehow finesse your way vertically about ten feet all while barely having enough room to breathe. This combined with some ten-foot “dropoffs” in which you have to strategically downclimb make for quite the mind over matter experience.
Lastly, Joshua Tree is literally in the middle of nowhere. There is no cell reception of any kind within this park. If for some reason a boulder shifts and squashes you or if someone falls and breaks their leg, your group is quite literally hosed because help will probably never get to you in time.
This is the context for the story I’m about to tell.
Every group has a leader.
Our group’s leader, Crystal, has an unmatched thirst for adventure. She’s the kind of person who wakes up with plans to live another normal day of life and by 10:30 am has decided to climb to the top of a mountain and paraglide to the valley below.
It was her idea to embark on this adventure into unmapped territory… an hour and a half before sunset.
The rest of us, for the most part, figured this was probably another typical hike. Walk a few miles, maybe scramble up a boulder or two, see some view of some sort and then get back to the airbnb for a well-deserved dinner. Just another normal outdoorsy activity, right?
Before our trip into the chasm, half of us had been bouldering (rock climbing with no harnesses or ropes) and the other half of us had been hiking. We had eaten 4-5 hours earlier in the day and we were all pretty tired from the events of the day already.
So just imagine eight hangry and tired individuals with a very incorrect perception of what is about to happen getting ready to scramble into a dark gorge wearing tennis shoes lacking treads, sustaining knee injuries, or rocking a torn wrist tendon.
The first part of the trip was more strenuous than anticipated as we had to hop from boulder to boulder to access the entrance and it was here that the seeds of perceived incompetence were planted. Mumblings of grumbling dissent could be heard as questions about what this hike was actually going to be like were asked. More than one “I’m starving” could be heard as we descended into darkness.
Once inside, the project managers in some of us came out as we dashed ahead and scouted the best paths for those coming behind us. Like a well trained Olympic relay team we passed our few flashlights from the rear of the caravan to the front in order to better assess the paths ahead. Despite the group being composed of individuals who did not all know each other previously, teamwork became the theme as backpacks and drawstring bags were passed and shuffled as the caravan made it’s way deeper into the gorge.
Upon reaching the birth canal, we faced our greatest challenge yet. Our group of eight had to compete with two or three other groups that were either trying to go the same or the opposite way. Combine that with the extremely tight space that was the birth canal, you could sense the tension building.
Upon emerging from the birth canal we faced a challenge of a different sort.
A man with his group that was attempting to descend into the birth canal was growing impatient due to the high number of groups that were coming out of the canal thusly preventing his group from being able to enter the canal. More on this guy a little later.
As some of my group searched the area for where to go next, we realized that the only way out was actually through some very challenging areas with very steep drops.
One of our friends, Brian actually left the main group to scout ahead. After struggling with the first dropoff for a good ten minutes, he yelled to me to toss him a bag. He then proceeded to venture out of view and eventually out of earshot but not without informing me that the path he had just traveled was traversable but that he didn’t recommend it. He then yelled that he’d meet us at the car and disappeared.
I returned to the main atrium where the last of my group was emerging from the birth canal and pondered what the next step should be.
As we discussed amongst ourselves on how to proceed, the man from before very emphatically said these words to us when he heard us debating the plausibility of following Brian:
“You can’t get down that way. You went the wrong way. There are fifteen foot drops the way we came that we were able to climb up but that are impossible to downclimb. That’s why we are going into the canal this way because this is the right way. You should turn around because there is no where to go if you keep going in the direction you are travelling. You are going the wrong way“
The ever-building tension came to a head as our group’s morale fell apart.
“shit, how were we supposed to know which way was the right way to enter?”
“we should turn around now”
‘We have to go back down the way we came?!”
Another duo of guys came back from the way Brian had gone and corroborated that the way was too steep to safely traverse:
“There’s like twelve foot drops with no handholds. It just isn’t possible to go that way”
It was at this moment where the remainder of our group came to a crossroads: we either had to turn around and receive this man’s viewpoint as fact while admitting that we had gone the wrong way if there was, in fact, a right and wrong way to go, or we could choose to follow our friend Brian through this treacherous looking path against the better judgment of all of the people who had corroborated the impossible nature of downclimbing through the chasm.
We deliberated for a solid ten minutes.
“Do you think we can do it?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think we can,” Crystal responded.
Our leader believed that we could make it.
So we set off to do the allegedly impossible.
The next half an hour was composed of a couple of us going ahead and guiding the rest of the group through trial and error through the downclimbing sections. It was a beautiful picture of teamwork and determination.
I remember thinking to myself that a certain section would not be possible for all members in our group and then catching myself before I said anything. I remember distinctly realizing that just like the man’s words were strong enough to nearly convince us that we could not accomplish the last stretch of the chasm, my words could have the power to either encourage the group that we could make it or to discourage some of them to the point of giving up.
Step by step and handhold by handhold we made it out of the Chasm of Doom.
Us after emerging victorious minus the trailblazer Brian.
Many times in life we happen upon challenges that seem insurmountable with our current skills and equipment. A lot of the time we are debating on which way to go when some extra in the movie that is our life, starts mouthing off and filling our mind with all the reasons why we are unfit to proceed on a given path.
So many times we blindly believe people who have no idea what they are talking about and who they are talking to. We give these people and their words such power over the trajectory of our lives when they have no right to possess this control.
Assess the challenges ahead of you, but don’t underestimate yourself and most certainly don’t allow anyone else to tell you what you are capable of.
Other times in life we are tasked with leading those around us. Maybe not directly or as romanticized in media, but we are often tasked with guiding those around us to reach a certain goal or objective.
Sometimes, we aren’t even sure if we can achieve what we have set out to do. And yet sometimes, voicing our doubts won’t actually aid those around us when we really only have one option.
Don’t underestimate the power of your own voice and use it to inspire those around you to become the best that they can be even when you aren’t so sure yourself.