A cold rain was pelting me as I cautiously, but quickly, put one foot in front of the other. My eyes glanced downward long enough to ensure I wasn’t stepping on any cracks in the wobbly bridge, but they darted back up again before I could stare down to the raging river far below. It was a tricky balance to maintain. I carried my trekking poles in my left hand, which freed up my right hand to try to grasp what I could of the metal rail running along the side of the bridge. With both side of the bridge angling outwards, they were too far apart for me to hold on with both hands. Add in the fact that the top of the side rail was like barbed wire that scratched and poked at my hands constantly and there wasn’t much I could do to make myself feel safe.
Such was my experience about a dozen times during my trek through the Himalayas.
The first bridge caught me off guard. Appearing out of nowhere as we turned a corner on our first day of trekking, I didn’t have time to mentally prepare myself for the fear of heights that would creep in as soon as I set foot on the bridge. Instead, I nearly panicked and almost started to hyperventilate. My heart was racing long after I made it across.
I was more prepared for the second bridge as I could see it coming. But then, as I was about halfway across, a guy on a horse started coming straight at me, imploring me to step aside to let him through, although I had no place to go but against the side of the bridge. And the side of the bridge was nothing but a thin wire fence that didn’t connect to the bottom in all places, leaving gaping holes that were probably too small for me to slip through, but scared me nonetheless. I shrieked, I got tears in my eyes, I almost started hyperventilating again. I stepped ever so slightly to the side as the horse galloped by, bumping my day pack as it passed. I finally made it across and asked, “how many more of these do we have to cross?”
To my chagrin, the answer was not zero.
It wasn’t long before we hit suspension bridge number three. This one stretched primarily over dry land, which did not scare me nearly as much as being over a river. For a moment, I actually thought it didn’t cross water at all but alas, I was wrong. It didn’t help that as soon as I got to the middle, I saw a group of porters with massive packs on their backs waiting to cross on the other side. As soon as they stepped on the bridge, it swayed and wobbled and shook and I freaked out yet again.
I’ve blocked out numbers four and five, but I can tell you they weren’t any better (or any worse) than the others.
Finally, we came to the last bridge on the way to Namche – and the last suspension bridge that I would encounter for nearly two weeks. This one was higher than the rest but amazingly, it didn’t scare me as much. It was newer (and more sturdy) and it was high enough that I couldn’t see (or hear) the river flowing down below. I realize that was what really scared me – the idea of being so high over water, together with the idea that I might go falling off the bridge and into the river, never to be heard from again.
Two weeks later, there I was, back on a bridge, with the rain pouring down as we made our way from Tengboche to Namche Bazaar. Already soaking wet and exhausted and the bridge more wet and slippery than any we had crossed on the way up, I panicked yet again. Any confidence I gained from the last sturdy bridge on the way up to Namche had completely disappeared and the fear set in instead. And it certainly didn’t help matters that on the way from Pengboche to Tengboche, we passed a bridge that had fallen just a few days earlier. Sure, it wasn’t a suspension bridge, but it was a bridge. That fell. Scary.
But then, two days later, as we retraced our steps from Namche to Phakding and from Phakding to Lukla, I breathed a little easier. With clear skies and dry metal planks to traverse, the remaining suspension bridges didn’t seem quite so scary. By the last one, I was even able to make it across without my palms sweating and pulse racing – which may not seem like much, but to me it was quite an accomplishment!
Have you faced any fears while traveling?