My World Was Rocked—A Climber’s Journey
“I am one of those people who jumps in and thinks later.”
Why I started to climb was a direct result of my fear of heights. I didn’t know I had a fear of heights because living in the flat lands of Indiana, I hadn’t encountered any big mountains or cliff walls growing up. I didn’t fear roller coaster rides or peering out of the windows of a skyscraper. My fear didn’t become apparent until I agreed to climb Mt. Russell in the Sierras when I lived in California.
The easiest way up to the summit was via class 3 route. Class 3 climbing involves some scrambling. I loved to hike and scramble around, and I thought to myself, “piece of cake.” I paid no attention to descriptions explaining any exposure on the route. I wouldn’t have understood what that meant because I had never experienced anything of that nature on any of my hikes in Indiana. It probably would not have made a bit of difference since I am one of those people who jumps in and thinks later. Most of the time it works for me and other times it backfires. This was one of those times.
As my friends and I approached the peak, I noticed the ridge we were on got steeper and more exposed, and it was then I became paralyzed with fear and had the effects of vertigo. I remember scrambling along the ridge and looking down at a thousand-foot drop. I freaked! My friends, realizing I was nervous, put me on belay. But soon my fear became overwhelming. Finally, we got to a rock ledge, and I said I couldn’t go on anymore. They wanted to summit, so they tied me off on the ledge and climbed on to tag the summit.
While I was tied off on the ledge, I kept staring down at the thousand-foot drop and wondered if I would get down alive. I kept telling myself that if I get off this peak alive, I would never do this again. I would find something more mundane to do. In addition to the paralyzing fear, I was also ashamed and mad at myself that I had let my fear control me—leaving me feeling powerless. My friends returned, and we slowly made our way back down the ridge to safety. Once we got down off the peak, I made a vow to myself that I would learn to get over my fear of heights. I never wanted my fears to control me again.
Her Monumental Task
It was then that I started climbing. At first, I did a lot of top roping and then moved to multi-pitch, and eventually lead climbing. I learned about gear, setting anchors, route finding, and rope management. My first lead was not pretty. There was a lot of whimpering and grumbling, but when I reached the top, I felt empowered and excited that I had accomplished this monumental task. I found it built upon itself. I would climb harder and realize I was embracing the unknown elements of climbing. My fear of exposure and falling was overwhelming at first, but gradually I learned to control it—even relax while climbing.
Climbing eventually became a place of meditation. Now, no matter how crappy my day, I find that when I climb, all I think about is the rock. Gone are my life stresses; I can just focus on my next move, what piece of gear to use, where does the route go, and of course the beautiful views.
I still have a fear of heights, but it is healthy and controllable. It mostly rears its ugly head on steep, exposed and loose terrain, but I am no longer paralyzed and have learned techniques to manage it. Overcoming this fear has caused a chain reaction, where I am more apt to step outside my comfort zone. I don’t have many things I fear doing. I can thank climbing for that. I love that climbing has expanded what I thought I could do and has taken me to amazing areas. This is how I live my film!
Speaking of facing fears, here’s an awesome article from November 2014 Outside magazine about just that topic. We’d love to hear how you faced a fear. Comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in being a guest blogger.