Hyner View State Park: The Time I Had a Panic Attack On A Mountain

In January, I was on a weekend road trip and Hyner View State Park was one of the first stops of the trip. This park is just northeast of Lock Haven. It’s known as a great spot for hang gliding and has a scenic overlook at the top. We were headed there for the overlook.

Getting to the park isn’t complicated. Once you get off of the main road, Route 44, you’ll turn onto Hyner Mountain Road and travel on it for around a mile. Then on your right is the sign for Hyner View State Park and the five mile road, Hyner View Road, that will take you up the mountain to the overlook.

These directions sound pretty simple, right? I thought so too. But what I didn’t realize is that visiting in January has it’s risks and I had no idea what I was signing up for. We were there not only when temperatures were below freezing, but also the morning after an overnight snow. The roads from Lock Haven north weren’t bad, but they were maintained, and what we quickly realized was that Hyner View Road was not.

Let me set the scene for you.

The road we were traveling is not maintained in the winter so was covered in ice, and snow, and more ice. There was a guard rail at some spots which was just a metal post with some wire between. It was five miles from the bottom to the top of the mountain and you gain about 1300 feet of altitude on the drive. And, very important to know, I’m afraid of heights. Especially those where I’m in the passenger seat of a vehicle and there’s a drop off on the side down. So combining ice, very little safety precautions, switchback roads, and my fear of heights was a recipe for a rough ride up to the overlook.

Anyway, back to the story. So we turn onto Hyner Mountain Road and the first section is dry. Great. Then, we saw snow. And drove much more slowly.. About a mile or so in, I consider requesting we turn around. But the road was so narrow, it could only fit about one car safely without snow, let alone two in snow. So I silently prayed, held onto the handle in the car, and just kept my eyes forward rather than looking at the drop over the side of the mountain.

We inched along about 10-20 miles per hour up the mountain. Some spots were very slow due to the corners or the ice under the snow. Others were a bit faster if we hit a dry spot on the side where the sun melted the snow. It took us about 30 or so minutes to get to the top and I was in a panic the entire time. I felt like I could cry and get sick and just curl into a ball all at once. I realized later what I was experiencing was a panic attack. I was terrified but knew that turning around and then going down these steep hills would be worse for me than going up. So we continued on and my prayers for a safe arrival became even more urgent.

Did I mention my co-pilot and driver was my boyfriend? This was our first weekend trip together and about 2 hours into the first morning I’ve now had a panic attack in his truck while he drives us up this dang mountain. He’s a trooper for putting up with me as we increased in altitude. All I could think about was getting to the top of the mountain and getting my heart rate back to normal. He tried to distract me by talking about something related to snow or driving but I couldn’t focus. I just wanted to pretend we had made it to the top. Luckily for me, we finally did. He was stoked to get out of the car and get pictures and I was just thankful we weren’t driving up an icy mountain any longer.

We faced the cold and wind at the top to check out the view. We were the only car that had braved the mountain and the only other people at the top were a few hikers. I had a hard time enjoying the view as much as I wanted as I was now trying to figure out how we were going to get back down the mountain. Because going down on ice was about to be a whole lot harder than coming up.

After taking some time for me to literally catch my breath, I found that on the map there was a side road partway down the mountain that it looked like we could take. It was less windy and seemed to run along the peak of the mountain and down the back side so we decided we might as well try that one to get back down.

While yes, it didn’t have as many sharp turns, there were ditches on both sides and pretty large drop offs at points throughout. Thankfully Teddy is a cautiously confident driver in the snow, and prevented us from getting into a ditch in one section and got us up the hill as we were sliding toward the edge in another section. It took about 45 minutes or so to get back down the mountain, but this side road was a much better option than the way we came up. I prayed the Lord’s prayer over and over again in my head on the way down. One, because we needed prayer, but also because it gave me something to focus on that wasn’t us crashing in the winter on a mountain.

We (mostly me) said a big Hallelujah when we finally got back down the mountain to the main road. I was so relieved and my heart rate started to return to something normal. (I checked my Apple watch later and had 17 “active minutes” when we were driving because my heart rate was just that high.)

Would I recommend Hyner View State Park? Sure. Basically in any season except winter. Do not go in winter. Go in spring, or summer, or fall. Winter is not worth it.