re-sized the needle

Should a fear of heights put you off rock climbing?

“You’re born, you live, and then you die. Unfortunately, too many people miss that middle part,” Chris Ferro

What a wonderful quote – so apt for so many of us. Which is why we love extreme sport … pushing your limits gives you the sense of living life to the full, and it doesn’t mean to say you have to be dangerously stupid about it.

And rock climbing is an extreme sport that has a bit of everything – adrenaline kick, the great outdoors, exercise, personal challenge, mental endurance … I could go on for ever.

A fear of heights (acrophobia) need not be a deterrent to starting this sport. A lot of rock climbers have a fear of heights, but they have subsequently discovered that their fear of heights was more a fear of falling.

“I have always been afraid of heights, but as most climbers seem to find, it is really a fear of falling. Learning to trust the security of the rope has allowed me to get up high without freaking out. But still, the knowledge of hundreds of feet of air below you stays in the back of your mind, and gravity is unforgiving,” says Steve Branam.

It comes down to practice and repetition. You have to learn to trust the equipment and yourself. So practice, practice, practice, indoors and out. You can boulder to develop climbing ability without feeling acrophobia, and then this confidence will help fight the fear up high. In fact, when you are climbing you are so concentrated on the next move that you seldom have time to remember your fear of heights.

As Francis Devonshire says: “Today, on the whole I’m too involved with the climb to worry about heights; if I’m trying to make a move I’m only concerned with things within the span of my arms which I may or may not be able to cling on to; the distance to the deck becomes an irrelavance. However, I have yet to complete a climb during which I don’t, at some point, curse loudly that the whole thing is a bloody stupid enterprise and I’m giving my gear away the moment I reach the top!”

As another new climber says, “I’m scared to death of heights, but I love climbing… Just concentrate on the wall in front of you, and you won’t even think about how high you are.”

To overcome your acrophobia you need to program your unconscious mind with a healthy level of wariness and then use that wariness to replace your irrational terror.

What exactly is acrophobia? It’s one of those things where if you are wondering if you experience it or not, then it’s almost certain you don’t. It is when you look out from the balcony on the second floor and feel safer close to the wall or you hold on maniacally to anything secure, or when you feel dizzy on a mountain trail and have to crawl on all fours, grabbing every blade of grass for the illusion of safety, but are pretty certain anyway that you will fall at any moment. If you look down, the world seems to spin and sway, your stomach contracts, you forget to breathe regularly, mouth dries out, you start sweating like a pig and panic sets in and you swear that if you ever get down alive, you’ll never set foot on a hill again. That’s acrophobia!

Or, as the dictionary says, ‘a pathological fear of heights’.

Will4adventures is a company that helps people to overcome their fear of heights by climbing, if you want to know more about them you can contact them at will@will4adventure.com. In the meantime have a look at this video from BillyLegs:

Remember, rock climbing is only as extreme as you choose to make it. Acrophobia will not be beaten overnight. It is a slow and steady process, but it can be done.

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