Daring to Dream, Daring to Fail in the Tetons

I failed yesterday. Sean Meissner and I had planned to climb both the Middle and South Tetons. I did not summit either peak. I climbed from 6,800′ to within 500′ of the 12,800′ summit when I succumbed to a fear of heights. I was on loose rocky trail when I looked over at the neighboring chute which spilled into a glacial moraine lake seemingly half a mile below. I paused and contemplated whether I could face down climbing so close to the chute if I climbed any higher. I couldn’t. I don’t regret the decision to turn back. Here’s why…

Middle Teton’s summit, the top of which I didn’t reach

I knew going into the climb that I had a fear of heights and, more specifically, of “exposure,” that is having a lot of open space in plain sight in a high location. On the day, I pushed through multiple exposed sections, including some on snow. I even made a push up the exposed final climb before calling it quits. While this challenge wasn’t running-focused, I pushed myself to my very limit and fought until I couldn’t fight any more. Since the attempt, I’ve been thinking about a post I wrote back in February 2007 entitled Daring to Dream, Daring to Fail. In that post, I discussed how I hoped to drop my conservative, fail-safe approach to running races that coming season. (For the record, that did not and still has not happened.) In re-reading the post tonight, my favorite line is: “It’s time for me to dream of what might be, rather than plan for what I know I can do.”

Today, I wasn’t sure that I could summit either of the lesser Tetons, but I dreamt I could and tried to make it happen. That was enough to make me pleased with my effort even though I failed.

Call for Comments
I’d love to know when and where you’ve attempted a run, a race, or any other venture in a manner that was beyond what you knew you could do. Did you succeed in achieving your dream? Did you fail? Either way, how did you feel and what did you learn?

Is it really failure, if you get to enjoy views like this?

There are 17 comments

  1. Derrick

    Congrats on the attempt Bryon! It sounds like you made it past some challenging moments, so will be a big help to draw on that for next time. Dream big!

  2. Anonymous

    Bryon, I ran my first 50K 7months after a 3 week stay in the hospital and 2 brain surgeries. Getting from the hospital bed to the bathroom was a huge deal. A month after getting out of the hospital I decided to run an Ultra. My wife thought I had lost my mind but she did support me in the effort.Adam

  3. Chris

    Bryon,Nice post, thanks for sharing. Looks like a beautiful day in the mountains.Monday I completed a 24 mile loop over two 14ers. The route I took involved some exposure and scrambling up rock faces. Going into it, I was a little intimidated – solo, ~10 hours, 80 oz water, etc.For me it came down to having confidence in my capabilities – and then not exceeding those limits. As I was alone, I was extremely careful – but I had a great time.The steps you took on this climb to go past where you would have been comfortable, or content are the confidence builders that will be added to your foundation for pursuits in the future – when you will begin to realize that you CAN make the summits.Again, great job in knowing your limits, and in pushing just far enough past them to get some good experience, but still staying safe.Good luck!Chris

  4. Danni

    Somehow I'm getting better without trying, but I have a fear of heights too (not so much exposure). I have found that getting myself into situations where I'm pushing deep into my fear zone paralyzes me, makes me cry, makes me embarass myself and at worse makes me endanger myself and everyone else. (Just imagine how much fun it is skiing with me.)

  5. aerojust

    Sometimes knowing what lies ahead is a bad thing. This was the case at Massanutten this past May. In 2008 I completed Laurel Highlands 70 miler. I had no clue what I was getting into and just kept pushing to the finish. I had run almost all of the Massanutten course and knew exactly what lied ahead. I did not know if I could finish the race and had no confidence in doing it. My wife later commented to me that she knew I would not finish because I did not have the normal tone and certainty of my ability before the race. In the end she was right and I dropped out.

  6. Brett

    You didn't fail. You just decided not to do it. Some things just aren't worth the risk in pursuing once you get an up close and personal look.

  7. Anonymous

    Hi Bryon! Not a failure at all. I tried running some of Cayambe in the Andes at around 16,000. Needless to say, I went short of a mile (definite flatlander!). But, as you know, the view can be spectacular and worth all the *perceived* failures. Motor on!!!Paula :-)

  8. Paige

    You ARE human! :) I think it's friggin' great that you made it as high as you did…just looking at that picture made me feel dizzy! I have an intense fear of heights, too, but I continue to challenge it. Maybe one day it will disappear :) My first time skiing was two years ago, in Breckenridge, CO. I don't like fast, and I don't like downhill. I somehow found myself on a black diamond run (how the hell does THAT happen?!) and looking down the side of the mountain I immediately started crying (for the record, I had only been down green routes prior to this). I snowplowed down a couple hundred feet, but succumbed to my fear of falling and not being able to stop until I hit a tree, and slid down the far side of the run on my butt until I got to the bottom. It took me about and hour to get there, but I felt better about it :) Ever since then, I've found myself on more and more difficult runs just to see if I can do it. But still no black diamonds. Maybe one day. Then again, maybe not. It just doesn't appeal to me :)Great job, Bryon!

  9. TrailClown

    If you were being chased by a predator, your body would've scrambled up that rocky path without a thought. So your mind defeated you. Big deal. It happens every day countless times to all of us. It's being human. You have a good attitude about it, as you do about your fear of darkness, cougars, etc. This is the "I'm ok, you're ok" blog of ultra adventures. You kicked butt at Leadville, so I don't know what you're talking about in terms of not pushing that extreme either. May you always have the "live another day" motto. Discretion rules!

  10. robert.blair

    Bryon,Great, supportive comments by all. Loved Trail Clown's comment.Was in Baxter State Park, NY, in 2002 and wanted to climb to the top of Mt. Katahdin. I drove all the way up there just to do that.That morning I did not choose the quick easier route. Wanted to "challenge" myself.I chose the route that included going across the "knife's edge" for the last 1.1 miles before getting to the official top. Was hiking up the mountain great for many many hours and doing bouldering in some parts, but I too am afraid of falling, and I got to a place where I would have had to climb strait up a rocky mountain face about 50 feet with no ropes, then walk along this 1.1 mile "knife's edge" for 1.1 miles (the trail only 2-3 feet wide, with huge drops below on each side).By the time I got the the 50 foot climb, and a lot of exposure with thousands of foot drops on both sides of the mountain, I had already hiked like 8 hours and was pretty tired with a big backpack on my back. The weather was starting to turn as well, a storm on the horizon, and the "knife's edge" is totally exposed. Helloooo lightning!!I didn't do it. I just did not have to confidence to continue on that one.Even though I had met up with and been hiking with a group of about 9 others of varying athletic ability who all went on, and who I am sure would have helped me, I turned around and went down. I assume they all made it.I knew then I would absolutely have regrets, and that until I came back and did it, I would always see it as unfinished business, but still was glad that on that day, at that moment, I made the decision.I hope to do that hike again someday with my son and make it there together. We are going to do it! He's only 4 now (little does he know the plans I have for us; and little do I know what the future holds ), but I figure in about 13-14 years when he's 17-18 and I am 57-58 we'll be ready to go. My fear of falling will still be there. But something just tells me that me and my son are going to do it together, and return victorious…Thanks for your post. Take care.

  11. saschasdad

    Dude, sorry for making you face your fears. I seriously didn't think it was going to be an issue. Meghan was right…she's a smart one. Although I was bummed that you weren't on the summit of both peaks with me, like I said on the trail, it's much better to get to the bottom than to the top.I missed you running up Static Peak yesterday. Another spectacular day!

  12. Dane

    Bryon,Proud of you. We share many of the same basic tenets in life (as we both already know.) Excellent work on pushing yourself to the limit on that day.

  13. Bryon Powell

    Derrick, I'll definitely be drawing on the successful parts of the attempt in the future.Adam, that's an awesome accomplishment. Makes me feel silly for talking about my dreams and fears. :) Way to go!Thanks, Chris. I took steps toward future summits in failing to make these. I'll have lots of exposure to play with in Yosemite this autumn.Danni, I was paralyzed for a bit up on the push to the summit. That's when I knew it was time to turn around. As for skiiing… there's probably a reason I've never done it!Aerojust, I've rarely been turned around by knowledge of what lies ahead… but can see that happening. If I were a hurtin' puppy at mile 75 at Wasatch, it'd be darn tough for me not to drop. I know the pain that lies beyond Brighton all too well!Brett, I kind of see it as a failure.. even if a productive one and the right decision. There's little chance that I actually would have been hurt on those last few 100 feet. Still, I'm glad I tried.

  14. Bryon Powell

    Thanks for the encouragement, Paula!Paige, I'm most definitely human! I've failed plenty of times … and I'm not just talking about Bio 201. As for butt sliding, I did plenty of that coming down from the Middle Teton. We hit some snow and I took it plenty slow.Trailclown, my mind sure did defeat me… eventually. I overcame it a bunch of times before that. I'll keep testing my limits.. no matter how wimpy they may be. As for Leadville, I did push the extreme, but from a conservative race plan based on efforts that I was pretty certain I could maintain.Robert, I look forward to hearing the story of you and your kid knocking off that hike in just a few years. ;-)Xclimber, I seriously thought climbers climbed to test their physical limits, not their mental limits. Shows you what I know about climbing… perhaps I should spend some time chillin in Camp 4 this autumn.Meissner, I need to thank you for getting me to face my fears. It's good stuff. Same thing will happen when I go pace at Wasatch tomorrow evening. Part of my self-prescribed therapy is exposing myself to my fears and I couldn't have had better company while doing it than you.Thanks, Dane.

  15. Missy B.

    Last summer i did a hike/scramble with two climber friends on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park on Mt Conness. My friends chose to down climb a 5.8/5.9 route, while i hiked back down the way we had come up. i hadn't planned on down climbing with them, as they are very adept technical climbers and i am not. Before hiking down, i considered summiting the peak, but partway up, alone and exposed, i decided against it. i wouldn't say that i am afraid of heights or exposure, and the climbing wasn't even that hard (it was rated Class 2), but my legs were going all "jimmy" on my as i like to say. it just wasn't my day to summit that peak.

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