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Scared of Heights?
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Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Scared of Heights? on 12/07/2008 12:59:11 MST Print View

Anyone else here somewhat scared of heights?

I can become very uncomfortable even while on trail. A few days ago I was hiking a trail up a peak and near the summit the trail got steep, exposed, crumbly, etc. My girlfriend was able to keep on moving comfortably, using her hands only a little. But I was freaked out! On the way back down I scooted on my butt for a few hundred feet.

When the trail has a lot of drop off to it, is narrow and poorly maintained, I'm not having fun. The routes in the Grand Canyon have been particularly bad.

My legs are particularly sore today because of my freak out on the last peak. My muscles overflexed out of fear and now I'm hurting. I'm not sure if I'm just putting myself in sketchier situations or if I'm becoming more of a scaredy cat as I get older.

Oh, and a hiking aquaintance of mine died from falling off a trail that had a lot of exposure. I don't want that to happen to me! This summer I tripped on a highly exposed trail and took a full on face plant. Luckily I caught myself, but the trail was only shoulder width, with a few hundred feet of drop off. Usually I can get past sketchy spots on the trail by telling myself how extremely rare it is for me to fall, but then I did it in a bad spot....

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/07/2008 13:39:13 MST Print View

To a point I am. Some examples would be, my friends all wanted a photo of us on the edge of Half Dome. I sat in the middle of that huge rock and would not go near the edge. On Mt. Whitney, once you leave Trailcrest you start a 2 mile or so hike to the summit. Their are a couple of exposed areas called the windows. I would not look at them, even though I have seen pictures and I know that the views would be wonderful. I looked down at the trail and kept moving. One other one was at the Edge of Tenaya Canyon in Yosemite were there is a streep granite drop and you can see Yosemite valley and one of the most scenic looks at Half Dome that I have ever seen. Since it was a sloping cascade I would not even go 10 yards from the slope. I have no problems with class 3 with a pack on but severe drops like the ones that I just mentioned, scare the pants off of me.

Blue _
(lrmblue) - MLife

Locale: Northeast (New England)
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/07/2008 13:47:20 MST Print View

I suspect getting older might have something to do with the deepening fear/caution when around high places--I know it has for me. Places that never used to bother me now sometimes make me feel pretty tense, and when my wife (who is somewhat younger than me) stands on the edge of a drop, where only a decade ago I used to stand myself, I have to struggle with the urge to pull her back.

Also, seeing and/or knowing someone who has died or been seriously injured in a trail fall or making a commonplace steep scramble starts one to thinking a bit differently, too, I think. I realize now, how just a little more caution could have made a big difference.

Nowadays, when I come to a sketchy place and I'm feeling a little on edge (psychologically) I allow myself to stop, take a break and think it through. After a taking a moment to analyze my fear within the context of the actual risk, I usually get things back into proportion. And that usually means moving ahead. I guess the fear is just my brain's way of reminding me not to forget to use it. In any case, the last thing I want is to be part way up, down, or across and then lose my nerve.


Edited by lrmblue on 12/07/2008 13:50:52 MST.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/07/2008 14:05:24 MST Print View

I'm not scared of heights, but I'm deathly afraid of falling. I know that's going to sound like kind of a smartass answer, but thinking about it in those terms is what has gotten me past some exposure that most people would call huge. If you can isolate your perceived world to only include the necessary hand and foot holds to move forward without any risk of falling, then it will be a lot easier for your to face heights. By that I mean, as long as your perceived world is large, it will include the huge exposure that has the potential to scare you. If the edge of your foot is two feet away from a steep 1000 foot drop off, you can bet that you'll be scared. However, if you're on a 2 foot wide flat path with hand holds on one side, it's less terrifying.

Edited by artsandt on 12/07/2008 14:07:28 MST.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/07/2008 14:39:47 MST Print View

In Sequoia N.P., on the trail from Wolverton to Table Land, there is a spot, just east of the watchtower, where the trail is blasted out of the canyon wall. In this very narrow, steep spot there is an overhanging rock which requires you to duck a bit. The drop, on your left is mostly straight down. On the way in, while climbing I just concentrated on my foot placement and ignored the exposure. On the way down you must step down several places while ducking the overhang, and the exposure is much more apparent. This is the only place I've been that I really, really didn't like. I'd like to go to Table Land again and might consider the Horse Trail Bypass, though it's farther and adds 800 feet of gain.

Another place of concern: There is a spot on the PCT, just north of Sonora Pass and before the trail rounds the S.E. shoulder of Sonora Peak, where the trail is narrow with a sandy, slippery surface and a severe cross slope. The slope below the trail drops several hundred feet to a boulder field. I've led groups on that section and had to nurse people along that section. It makes me nervous to walk there.

Gusty wind on exposed trails makes me nervous too.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/08/2008 09:57:58 MST Print View

Yes. And I have no reason to over come it, either!

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
RE:"Scared of Heights?" on 12/08/2008 15:59:04 MST Print View

Yeah,I read you there. I am also scared of heights.
I find it helpful when hiking in a group to walk up (or down)the slope in the middle of the line. Also trekking poles and tightening your waist and shoulder straps will help you feel more balanced.

joseph peterson
(deaagent) - F
yes on 12/09/2008 23:00:10 MST Print View

I can be scared of heights as well.

And I hate it when you are on some sketchy crumbling ledge with 50MPH winds whipping around you.

Makes you pucker a bit. I can get dizzy and get vertigo sometimes. I just have to keep my eyes forward and move slowly and surely.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: RE:"Scared of Heights?" on 12/10/2008 00:00:39 MST Print View

I used to be terrified when I was a kid. Freeze up, screaming sessions on places like the Space Needle or my Aunt's 3rd floor balcony. Strangely enough, I imagine myself throwing myself off the edge when I'm there. Like when I was on a tall building in NYC a couple of years back- I was so freaked out that I would spontaneously lose all control and do a great big running leap over the side that I had to wrap my arms around a wooden post until I calmed down.

But I can usually keep it under control these days. Tackling rock climbing helped and bungee jumping and other sorts of insanity have helped me to confront it. But heights will never be my friend. It's a bummer sometimes- I couldn't get myself to do the scary crossing at Angel's Landing in Zion- but I usually can get pretty far and keep it under control.

One thing that helps me is to lead. When I'm the leader and especially when others are nervous, I seem to rise to the occasion. Poles helps me too, and I also carry an ultralight climbing rope for scrambles- I like the extra security, even when it's sometimes not needed.

But in the end, I think controlling fear is about putting yourself in those situations, learning to control the mind, and building a tolerance. At least for me.

Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
heights on 12/10/2008 02:20:56 MST Print View

I used to be terrified of heights- was even nervous for other people around edges... but agree with Doug that:

"in the end, I think controlling fear is about putting yourself in those situations, learning to control the mind, and building a tolerance. At least for me."

I have been trad climbing for 4 years, and the prior paralyzing fear is entirely gone now. Technical lead climbing for me was an almost entirely mental challenge, and it took a lot of patience and time to overcome my reactionary fear of heights. But it can be done.

As for why you would want to overcome the fear: to a degree, respecting heights is rational and healthy, but not when it paralyzes you and detracts from your pursuits.
A climber named Arno Ilgner conducts workshops about risk assessment and fear in climbing. He makes a good point in that sometimes our fear of heights is entirely legitimate- such as when a fall is both likely and catastrophic in consequence. However, at other times, it is simply irrational fear that keeps us from doing what we wish to accomplish. Overcoming that is both empowering and condusive to our chosen pursuits.

So, for anyone spending time on rock and in the mountains, I'd suggest doing some technical climbing. The exposure to heights in a controlled setting will dull the initial fear, and a good guide or teacher will teach you how to assess risk so you know when you're just scared and when you really should be cautious (and rope up!). Oh, it's also insanely fun.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Scared of Heights? on 12/11/2008 19:03:29 MST Print View

Re: ‘I also carry an ultralight climbing rope for scrambles.” I do too. I think of using it like a horizontal, or uphill rappel, except I don’t double up the rope. I install a piece of pro (nut or small “Friend”) which I retrieve on the way down. I wear a belt strong enough to hold me, and feed out the single rope thru a light descender. At the end of the exposure, I tie off my end of the rope, and contine on. I have to return the same way or lose gear. On the way back, I use it in reverse.

victoria maki
(clt1953) - F

Locale: northern minnesota
re:heights on 12/11/2008 20:04:42 MST Print View

jack. it's not so much heights that scare me. i can go up all day, but having to come down terrifies me. even when i go xcountry skiing, i have to either find mostly flat trails to ski or take off my skis and walk down the hills. you are not alone. i was hiking for the first time on superior hiking trail and made the person i was hiking with go ahead of me on a steep incline. not sure now if i made him go ahead of me because i didn't want to slow him down or that i was hoping he would catch me if i did start to slide. also, knowing a friend who died from a fall would scare anyone into feeling the way you do. so what is my reason?? i have none, except fear itself..

Roman Ryder
(RomanLA) - F

Locale: Southwest Louisiana
Heights on 12/15/2008 10:54:43 MST Print View

I used to be very scared of exposed heights. I can remember crawling up to the edge of a cliff when I was in Boy Scouts. Now it doesn't bother me too much. I work at a power plant, so I'm always walking around 300ft up with nothing but grating between me and the ground. I guess I got used to the view. lol

Joe Geib
(joegeib) - F

Locale: Delaware & Lehigh Valleys
Another One Here on 12/16/2008 10:09:04 MST Print View

I thought I was the only one. I'd love to go to Half Dome, but there is no way I'd make it up (or maybe down) the cables.

I recall several instances where I've been scared senseless:

--I only made it to the 1st level of the Eiffel Tower (and nowhere near the edge).
--Couldn't go near the edge on Skytop in the Gunks.
--Can't step outside of lighthouses.
--Stayed inside of Smith Tower in Seattle.

Despite this, going up in a helicopter with my sister in law is fine. Some balconies don't bother me much either. I was on vacation this past week, and my oceanview balcony was fine, but my friend's resort-view balcony gave me the willies. Maybe it's all perception. If I can see that I'm at canopy height or roof height with other objects, I freak out.

To conquer this, I'm thinking about parasailing on my next beach vacation.

However, with all this talk about fears, there hasn't been much to help me overcome it.

John Haley
(Quoddy) - F

Locale: New York/Vermont Border
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/16/2008 10:45:51 MST Print View

I used to be terrified of heights. Even standing near the edge of a bridge would petrify me. I decided to begin skydiving in the early 70's, and slowly my fear of heights dissapated to a tolerable level. Strangely the fear of jumping out the door of an aircraft never seemed too scary to me. After 2000 jumps, it was like walking through any door opening. Even now, though, there are certain circumstances that make me very nervious while at height.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/16/2008 10:49:58 MST Print View

Hate, hate being on super exposed ledges. For me though the scariest is tiny narrow trails with a long drop off - and the trail is a bed of loose, marble rocks. And it hits me at odd times. For example, in 2006 on a section hike of the PCT I was fine until the last day when I came up to a pass from Park Lakes Basin. All I could see ahead of me was the traverse from there to Snoqualmie Pass under Chimikan (spelling?). That first part was vertigo inducing for me. All I could do was keep walking as fast as I could for 4 miles of never stopping dropoffs/marble rocks. My buddy Steve (Hoosierdaddy) was in front of me and kept stopping to take photos. I was crying and telling him to keep moving, but I was so scared I couldn't pass him on the narrow trail. After that section the trail got wide again for the most part and I was fine till the last 5 1/2 miles when I had to cross Kendall Katwalk (which was odd as I had crossed it a couple times before). The Katwalk was OK, but what bothered me was about 1/2 mile down the trail - where you make the turn and head down the trail, fully exposed for a good mile. The vertigo finally stopped when I hit the trees.

I have never had such a panic attack before. The quote my friend Tori said was "I have never seen you move that fast". I was nearly running to get through the open areas.

In the end I walked two days worth just to get it done in one day. I would have layed there all night killing myself with fear had I not.

Though this is interesting - I realized later that I had been fighting a bad migraine (which I suffer from) and I was severely dehydrated. Since then whenever I start feeling the fear I stop, eat, drink and mentally relax. It seems to control the panic.

Though I have come to conclude there are trails I will never do again, nor try - such as the one near Logan Pass in Glacier NP. The one that crosses that bare wall. That trail caused my skin to crawl in fear!

Scott Toraason
Scared Of Heights on 12/17/2008 15:58:08 MST Print View

I have migraine headaches also, no fun! Heights used to make me nervous but over the years not so much. Section of PCT on the way to Bumbleebee Pass and Mount Thompson.
Section of PCT beyond Ridge Lake

Edited by kimot2 on 12/17/2008 16:00:20 MST.

Joe Geib
(joegeib) - F

Locale: Delaware & Lehigh Valleys
re: Skeeered on 12/17/2008 16:00:38 MST Print View

Um, where's the trail?

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Re: Re: Scared of Heights? on 12/17/2008 16:12:21 MST Print View

Art said:
>I'm not scared of heights, but I'm deathly afraid of falling.

Falling doesn't scare me, it's landing that's more of a worry. ;-)

Fear is good. Panic is bad.


Edited by tallbloke on 12/17/2008 16:20:49 MST.

Scott Toraason
Scared Of Heights on 12/17/2008 16:14:02 MST Print View

Just memory lane for Sabar in the post above mine. Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington State, North of Snoqualmie Pass between Ridge Lake and Mount Thompson/Alaska Lake, USGS Chikamin Peak Quadrangle 7.5 minute map.