An Outdoor View: Consequences

An Outdoor View: Consequences

“You’re OK,” I told myself over and over again, a mantra more wish than fact. I was not OK, in fact. I was hanging off the side of a sheer slope with my terrified hands clutching an alder branch, bashing my toes into the crusty snow on my way to the top of a ridge on Mount Marathon. Turning around wasn’t an option, because if I looked down that 50-foot drop, I’d really be done in.

That wasn’t the first time I’d been in that spot. The panic welling in my throat was an old friend, born in the dizzying moments at the edge of a diving board or on a trail overlooking the red-rock walls of the Grand Canyon. It visited again when I drank beers on rooftops in college in Chicago and when I climbed hundreds of stairs to the top balcony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, so far above the safety of knowing there was nowhere to fall.

“You’re OK,” I would tell myself, and after a moment, it would be true. I would turn back and my heart would slow again.

I’ve never been the bravest person in the world, but my approach to adventure has been affectionately described as “reckless.” My friend and I regularly wind up off the map when we hike, resulting in miles of bushwhacking through alders and knee-deep snow. I once decided to hike to Juneau Falls in the winter by myself, realized early that I had taken the wrong trail but assumed if I followed the shape of the mountains, I’d find it eventually. (I did, but only with the help of some friendly skiers.) Those times, the mantra became a prediction, as if I’d always known how it would turn out.

But there are others, too.

“You’re OK,” I remember telling myself as I meandered through the woods as a 12-year-old, completely lost. Out for a group paintball game in the forests surrounding my hometown of Prescott, Arizona, I had been shot and told to head back to camp. Unfortunately, I was born with a sense of adventure, not a sense of direction, and headed exactly the wrong way.

Two hours later, trying to stave off tears, I had managed to find a disused forest service road and began wandering down it. A distant voice filtered through the trees, and soon enough, my wild-eyed father came lumbering toward me. Vividly, I remember the scratch of his cheek on mine and the smell of pine sap as he held me, repeating softly, “Never again, never again.”

Wild adventures are alluring until they have a cost. My own somewhat reckless father learned that at 18 years old, falling from a bridge into an empty Arizona riverbed and breaking nearly every bone in his body. The resulting damage robbed him of nearly every activity he loved — rock climbing, caving, hiking, swimming — and left him with a body he jokingly described as half metal. I knew my father often by the things he could not do. Sometimes when he moved, his smile hid a wince.

And yet, the sense of adventure refused to die. His passion for bicycling inspired a lifelong love of the sport in me. I seem to have inherited his temperament, despite it having been taken long before I was born.

But I’m reminded of the years of pain he endured every time I find myself in a hairy situation, having to hope and wish everything will be fine. I’m reminded of the danger of my temperament every time I read a story about an experienced climber who fell from a cliff to his death, despite his gear, despite the clear weather. I’m reminded of the world’s wild side every time I look down the edge of a cliff and know in my blood and my brain: This could be it for me.

So, as I scrambled my way up into the bowl on Mount Marathon toward my boyfriend, who kept reminding me that I was doing fine, that I was almost there, the mantra came with a measure of humility and a reminder to take care — the consequences of accidents fall on more than just victims.

I reached the top and buried my face in my hands to slow my heart. “You’re OK,” I told myself, and it was true — this time.

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. Reach her at

More in Life

This version of Swedish meatballs features larger meatballs made of all beef instead of the traditional beef/pork combination. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Meatballs and weddings

When my husband and I got married, Swedish meatballs were served as part of our dinner spread

A sign at the Kenai Art Center is seen on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Art center seeking pieces for upcoming auction

The deadline to donate is 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ive. (Photo via
Off the Shelf: A familiar folktale

“The Snow Child” tells a whimsical, yet supremely real tale of heartache on the Last Frontier

People gather in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, for Salmonfest, an annual event that raises awareness about salmon-related causes. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Unhinged Alaska: Bones

Just as we approached Ninilchik, we remembered that the Salmonfest would be in high gear

Minister’s Message: What a Friend we have in Jesus

Can Jesus really be your friend? Jesus said so Himself.

The procedure for this quick kimchi is much less labor-intensive than the traditional whole head method, and takes less time to ferment, making it ideal for first time kimchi-makers. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Garden fail — but kitchen win nonetheless

This quick kimchi technique is less labor-intensive than the traditional method

Kate Lochridge stands by one of her paintings for a pop-up show of her work on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by MIchael Armstrong/Homer News)
Pop-up exhibit shows culmination of art-science residency

The exhibit by Kate Lochridge came about after her internship this summer as a National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Ernest S. Hollings Scholar and Artist in Residence

Minister’s Message: The power of small beginnings

Tiny accomplishments lead to mighty successes in all areas of life

Most Read