Maybe I’m being a little bit over the top here – but, truly, the right descriptive words could save your life! What does strenuous mean anyway?I recently realized the importance of descriptive words when I tackled a recent hike with a friend.

We decided last week to venture on this particular hike when we next met up. Both of us had heard about Annie’s Canyon. But we were fuzzy on the details. A sign at the beginning of the hike noted that the trail was “strenuous.”

My friend and I do a lot of walking together. I’m training for an upcoming half-marathon. I’ve hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney and back down in one day. I’ve reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. How “strenuous” could this local lagoon hike be???

When I think of strenuous, I think of steep switch backs. I think of a trail of many miles. I think of sweat. I don’t think of threading my way through a shoulder-wide canyon. I don’t think of scrambling up sandstone where the footholds and handholds are dubious. I don’t think of claustrophobic walls looming over me. Maybe you do.

I looked up the word “strenuous” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary afterwards. According to the dictionary, strenuous means: “requiring or showing great energy and effort.” I admit it. The ascent up the canyon could be considered strenuous by the dictionary’s standard!

This got me to thinking as an author about the descriptive words I use when writing a novel. My experience of strenuous and the definition of strenuous line up in so many ways. But they also diverge.

I could describe both Mt. Whitney and Mt. Kilimanjaro as towering mountains. Yet, Mt. Whitney is part of the jagged Eastern Sierras and Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in Africa. The extra description adds a whole other layer of meaning.

I’m going to be more careful in the future when I use descriptive words. And when I read a sign noting a hike is “strenuous”! I could have died out there!