Opening Letters

COLUMN: Hangin' Onto Courage

when was the last time you did something that scared you?

Dan Lyksett, illustrated by Jake Huffcutt |

The rope is attached to a tree growing out from the cliff edge. The tree leans over the abyss. I am holding the tree in my left hand, leaning out, backward, over my shoulder nothing but air between me and something called “One Bounce Rock” some 100 feet below. I will have to let go of the tree to begin my descent. I am reminded that if I ALSO let go of the rope after letting go of the tree, I will likely discover the meaning of “One Bounce Rock.” And that would not be good.

I am 22 years old, summer of 1974, outside of Boulder, Colorado. I’m at a summit several hundred feet above the valley floor. The person reminding me to not let go of the rope is a young woman I have known for about an hour. My friend and I encountered her and her husband as we hiked a trail at the cliff top. From a distance, we had watched them rappel down the cliff to the ledge below and then climb back up. We stop to chat, and eventually, they ask if we want to try it.

(Gulp) “Now?”

(Enthusiastic response.) “Sure!”

(Gulp. Shrug.) “Why not?”

Her husband rappels down to One Bounce Rock to be “On Belay” for me. The young woman helps me gear up and gives me my instructions: Hold onto the tree, lean backward over the cliff until the rope is taut, and let go of the tree. Lower yourself until you can start walking down the cliff. Once you get the hang of it, she says, push yourself away from the cliff and let yourself slide down the rope for a few feet. It will be fun, she says.

And oh ya, don’t let go of the rope or you’ll find out why they call it “One Bounce Rock.”
Now, if someone tells you to not let go of the rope or you’ll probably die, what are the odds you will freak out and let go of the rope? That’s not really a question you want answered when you’re dangling 100 feet above something called One Bounce Rock.

trust and cooperation were key ingredients each individual had to embrace for the group to successfully complete the course.

Dan Lyksett

But it all went well. It was fun, and it probably qualifies as my most physically challenging “outdoor adventure,” unless you count the time I was winter camping in sub-zero temperatures and woke in the middle of the night to find my beard frozen to the tent floor.

A few years after that I was working as acting recreation director at the now-closed Eau Claire Academy. I’d been qualified to lead groups through the old ropes confidence course at Beaver Creek Reserve. I led Academy kids through the course one living unit at a time, usually numbering 8 to a dozen.

While they lived together, ate meals together, and were about the same age, they all carried different backgrounds, personal strengths, and emotional challenges. Significantly, many of them bore well-earned trust issues, and trust and cooperation were key ingredients each individual had to embrace for the group to successfully complete the course.

This was never more obvious than the first challenge – “The Wall” – really a log hanging some 10 feet above the ground. The challenge involved getting the entire unit over the wall. Once someone was over, they couldn’t help anyone else on the far side. So who goes first? Who stays on top and helps others over? And most challenging, how do you get the last person over?

Once over the wall, we headed for the high ropes and then finished it off with a ride on a handmade zip line that soared between trees down a narrow valley to end with an abrupt “thunk” of the wooden brake block and cheers all around.

There were struggles, but every unit successfully navigated the course, in most cases to their own amazement. They did it by helping and encouraging each other. On the van ride home, it was smiles all around.