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how to overcome a fear of heights?

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby flatlander681 » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:36 pm

My wife and I hiked Grays on Tuesday and we made it to about 13,500 feet. We were in good shape until a few kids climbed the rock tower at 13,400 feet and that freaked me out. As this was our first 14er, I was nervous to begin with, but seeing these kids take such risks caused me to panic. I wasn't sure how much "gas in the tank" was needed to descend, and I looked over the edge and that did it. I was done. I haven't stopped thinking out how wonderful my day was and I feel bad because my wife really wanted to summit. Any suggestions on getting over the heights? We are attempting again next week if the weather is good. My thoughts on hiking is " it's the journey, not the destination" but would still like to complete a few 14er's before my ashes are spread over a run in Vail!

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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby painless4u2 » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:44 pm

I've found it's best to just focus directly on the rock in front of you, not peering off the side to see how far down it is, when you're in a scary spot. You can still look off and enjoy vistas from a nice, comfortable position once reached. Take your time, try to regulate your breathing (no shallow breaths), and you'll get there.
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby Tory Wells » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:52 pm

Like all things in life....practice, practice, practice. The only way to get over it is to be in those situations, albeit the less intimidating ones to start, and then work your way up to the harder, more terrifying ones.
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby BobbyFinn » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:56 pm

I avoided exposure for quite a while when I first started hiking since I was very afraid of heights. At some point, I'd work up the courage to look over an edge while I was firmly planted or laying down to check out a view. Later, I started to try to desensitize myself to the fear by purposely exposing myself to exposure - safely. For me, my fear lessened (but is not gone completely) over time and repeated experiences. I still fear falling, but I fear heights a lot less. Sometimes still, I will look over an edge that I'm walking next to and I'll get tingles in my legs and hands and a queasy feeling in my stomach. Other times I can look hundreds of feet down and not feel anything. Concentrating on where you are, what you are doing will help. I rarely get afraid anymore when I'm scrambling on exposed terrain - probably because I'm concentrating on the moves and not the air.

Don't over-stress about the danger, but don't forget about it. Like iocane powder, you can build up an immunity to certain fears. Hopefully you are able to do that with your issues with heights.

The above is what worked for/happened to me, you may be different. Good luck and build up to it slowly.

Bob
Last edited by BobbyFinn on Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby SikYou » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:57 pm

One foot in front of the other and don't look down! I know that its cliche but its true. The truth is you never need to leave the trail on Gray's/Torrey's so you really are just on the ground the entire time. Just so you know, (if you didn't already) the route to the summit on those 2 peaks is just a trail; at no point will you be required to climb anything or be in a position where you could potentially fall off of something. Of course the only real risk is that you will twist your ankle and fall to the ground but thats no different than falling to the ground at 5000' or even at sea level. Keep trying until you make it, you won't be disappointed!!
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby Shawnee Bob » Wed Aug 21, 2013 10:15 pm

I've battled this for a long time. A few things that helped, taken in baby steps:
- Find something that freaks you out, but rationally, you know it's safe. For me, it was walking across the Royal Gorge bridge. My fear on the bridge was irrational, and was beaten once I walked across and jumped up and down a few times.
- Try going to a rock climbing gym. The safety of it, while hanging on the edge of a vertical wall, will give you confidence to tackle less steep but less protected routes.
- Gradually test yourself. Grays today, something more adventurous later. I did a lot of scrambles in my home state with high exposure but less scale than the peaks in CO. So when I got to doing, say, Kelso Ridge on Torreys, it wasn't a big deal.

Next thing you know, your abilities and confidence will meld and the alpine world will open up a little more.
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby vusteph » Wed Aug 21, 2013 10:31 pm

I agree about the rock gym. while its not the same as hundreds of feet it gave me a very controlled atmosphere to work on my fear of heights. i would get terrified bouldering above even 5 feet and every time i went i would try to go just a little higher. on top rope it wasn't so bad because i got to the point of "trusting the equipment" (if checked and secured properly) where my fear of heights wasn't too bad. on the bouldering wall though was a whole nother story. something about the free falling aspect.

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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby JROSKA » Wed Aug 21, 2013 11:05 pm

SikYou wrote:One foot in front of the other and don't look down! I know that its cliche but its true.


I agree with this advice. In a sense, focusing on the task at hand, to get the mind away from dwelling on the height and the exposure. I guess when there is fear to begin with, the over-thinking can cause things to quickly get out of control. In my opinion, there really can't be any thought or analysis. "What if I trip", "Is that a straight drop, or just a steep slope", "Will I die, or will I be injured", that's already too much thinking. I've caught myself backing away from exposure on summits (like Uncompahgre), while something like the Narrows (Longs) didn't affect me at all. The reason is that in the first example, I was thinking about the exposure because I was just standing there looking at it; in the second one, the act of walking took my mind off of it. Obviously, you want to be aware that there is some danger around you, but that's where the thought and analysis needs to end. Focusing on the task at hand, ie, one foot in front of the other, goes a long way toward keeping the mind from wandering too far.

Regarding your comment on how seeing the kids climbing the rock tower "ended your day", remember that in the mountains, there are an infinite degree of skill levels and comfort levels with different activities. Those kids may go rock climbing every weekend, and thus, may have been very accomplished, and comfortable doing what you saw them doing. The high degree of risk that you perceived, may have been in actuality, extremely low, based on their experience and comfort level. Also, your typical 19-year old will be willing to take on a much higher degree of risk, and view it differently, than someone in their 30's or 40's with a family depending on them. The point is, if you see someone else doing something up in the mountains that seems a bit "over the top", remember that they are making a personal choice as to what they are willing to undertake, and that doesn't necessarily have to affect you. This sounds like another cliche, but really, all you can control is yourself; you can't control what other people do up there.

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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby Dancesatmoonrise » Wed Aug 21, 2013 11:29 pm

Rock climbing.

Take the bull by the horns. Tie in, get a few feet up, have your partner tighten the rope, ease onto it. Bounce up and down on it a few times. Maybe swing like a kid a bit. Then get back on the rock (or plastic) and climb a little higher. Have your partner lower you to the ground.

Repeat this multiple times over multiple days. Make it fun. Keep the challenge in the climbing; let the height be secondary. It will scare you at first, but with a trustworthy partner and correct technique, you can bounce around to convince yourself that you are safe, and keep trying it. As long the climbing itself has some pull for you, holds some interest, it will not be hard to make this a regular thing. After a month or two of regular climbing, the fear will roll off your back like beaded up water.

Good luck. You can do it.

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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby rking007 » Wed Aug 21, 2013 11:44 pm

Something I've found that helps me personally is to asses where any sketchy areas of exposure or heights are coming and then take a small break before hand. If I'm exhausted, my brain does loopy loops on heights, I'm not focused. If I know it's coming, I take a ten minute chill out, eat, hydrate, enjoy the scenery, chat with my partners and then go for it. I find that I'm way more tuned in when I can feel relaxed but still focus on the task at hand.

I still struggle with the unexpected or uncontrollable however. Wind, snow, and loose rock or gravel on slopes just escalate the nerves and I'm not sure I'll ever get over that. I do know this though... if I just pushed myself through whatever situation, the fear dissolves and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Good luck with your second attempt!
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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby jsdratm » Thu Aug 22, 2013 6:50 am

It takes time and experience. When I first moved to Colorado I was really scared of minor exposure. Now I have done some fairly exposed scrambling in Colorado and Bolivia without much discomfort. I would still have difficulty doing something like Little Bear though.

I have signed up for a climbing course with the CMC that I think will help me get further and I am also taking advantage of the free rock wall at the American Mountaineering Center to get more confident with that sort of situation. If you have access to similar things I would recommend giving them a try.

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Re: how to overcome a fear of heights?

Postby djkest » Thu Aug 22, 2013 6:55 am

rking007 wrote:Something I've found that helps me personally is to asses where any sketchy areas of exposure or heights are coming and then take a small break before hand. If I'm exhausted, my brain does loopy loops on heights, I'm not focused. If I know it's coming, I take a ten minute chill out, eat, hydrate, enjoy the scenery, chat with my partners and then go for it. I find that I'm way more tuned in when I can feel relaxed but still focus on the task at hand.

Good luck with your second attempt!


I kind of do this too. Facing the final pitch of the Crestones traverse, I could feel myself getting nervous. While my partners climbed to the top, I sat down, drank some water, and just sat there calmly breathing to return to a relaxed state. That was what I needed to do. Not looking around too much will help as well. I recently got into a bad situation and started looking over both sides and that was what set me off.
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