Zen On Dirt

Scared of heights

3 Comments

So, I have this fear of heights and exposure.

I used to be okay with them. I used to rock climb when I was younger. I was a fairly adept ski mountaineer-type for a couple of years. I walked ridges with ice axes. I climbed up what seemed like near vertical walls of snow. I was perfectly okay with making turns over no-fall zones.

Then I had some close calls. People I was skiing with had some close calls. All of a sudden, I wanted nothing to do with steep slopes, ridge lines, and places where I couldn’t make a mistake. And I didn’t like avalanches, so I stopped skiing.

I knocked on the door of Team Vertigo and they happily gave me a membership card. Riding has been a great way to stay away from exposure for the most part. But, wanting to face the fear, and get it under control, has been on my to-do list for a little while now.

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Last week, when I looked at the route description of Picket Post mountain, I immediately declared it as something I didn’t want to do myself. Scott wanted to race the Picket Post Punisher on Saturday, and, well, I didn’t want to spend the weekend at home alone (Shhhh, I have FOMO, plus we wanted to see our PHX friends) so I started searching the Internet for runs/hikes to do in the area. The obvious one was the hulking mass of Picket Post, an old volcano that marks the end of the AZT 300.

The descriptions said something along the lines of scrambling, route finding, rocks. Yikes. 

“How about we both climb it on Friday, then I’ll race on Saturday,” Scott proposed.

“Yeah!”

All the descriptions we read said 4-5 hours and we wondered how a 4 mile hike could take that long. It became obvious as we crested the hill on the highway and got our first ‘we’re going up there’ look at the mountain. It’s funny how you can go by a mound of dirt and rock dozens of times and never really get a grasp of how big and steep it is until you decide you want to go up it.

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With five hours until dark, we packed headlamps and jogged up the trail. The first mile went easily, and then the trail went up. We were immediately faced with a slab of rock that looked to be a show-stopper in my eyes. Scott found a way around the side.

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We continued up. And exposed rock traverse had me saying that I was going to turn around. After having Scott go ahead and confirm that the trail looked better up ahead, I found a way to scoot around it.

Not long after, I declared DONE again at the base of a rock and after a fair amount of coaxing and ‘We can go back if you want’ I figured out a way up.

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This went on for seven or eight different scrambly parts. Have I mentioned I’m not so good with rocks and airy traverses?

I just about peed my pants several times, but eventually, rock turned to dirt and trail took us easily up to the mailbox at the top of the mountain. We read through the peak register, a 75 year old had been up the day previous. So much for feeling brave…

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We started down after a brief stop for a snack. It had taken nearly two hours to get up with all of my sitting on rocks and saying I wasn’t going to go any farther. I was terrified of the descent. There were at least six places I could think of that I wanted nothing to do with.

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The first went easily, scooting down sticky rock on all fours. Steps that seemed like a giant reach on the way up seemed relatively easy to lower down the other direction. The airy traverses, though only a few steps, sucked just as much going down as up.

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When we got down the last rock face that I’d initially balked at, I looked up at it and said, ‘I was scared of that?’

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Look, I’m a saguaro with really flexible achilles tendons

We jogged back to the car in the fading light to find John Schilling waiting for us, with a beer for me. We sat and talked, watching the sun set over the Arizona desert, marveling at the light show.

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So I’ve got some Shoot for the Moon wish-list items for the summer that’ll require me to get over this fear of exposure. I’d say this little outing was a solid first step, but hell, if anyone out there has some good ideas on how to speed the process up, I’m all ears.

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3 thoughts on “Scared of heights

  1. Good luck with this quest. My strong desire is also to get more comfortable with scrambly terrain, and I haven’t had much of what I’d call success in the past few years. I do lack proper practice grounds at home though. Regular ventures onto a nearby route where I could become familiar with every move would be ideal for increasing confidence on unfamiliar terrain.

  2. My wife went to school with you and recently showed me your page. Cool post and blog! Perhaps we can swap stories in the future?

    Respectfully,
    Mike

  3. I had a semi-serious fear of heights (especially outdoors) and what did it for me was climbing in the gym. In a controlled environment you can manage the fear and then I basically slowly stepped it up outside from top roping, to sport, to now doing some multi-pitch and trad. Hopefully this time next year i will have tackled Snake Dike on half dome. Its all about failing predictably for me. You have a bunch of small oh shit moments and live through them and keep moving forward. plus climbing is FUN!

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