Reader Questions – Overcoming Fear

Some of these epic adventures seem really scary to me. I get that you prepare ahead of time and evaluate as you go, but honestly the things I dream of doing seem beyond my safety level. I’ve seen your family conquer big mountains, and overcome lots of fears. How do you deal with fears wisely?

Many of these adventures are really scary! The Arches Flash Flood and Rocky Mountain Death Ledge come immediately to mind, but there were plenty of other moments of fear. Losing the trail, seeing a girl fall hard, realizing we forgot to pack some vital piece of equipment, or just being spooked by noises on the side of the trail have all been sources of fear. As I think back to other hikes there are also many that seemed really scary before we did them, but turned out not to warrant as much consternation as they caused. For example, having never hiked in the Northwest before I was certain that grizzly bears would almost certainly begin hunting us down as soon as we stepped out of the car. In reality we never even saw evidence of one. When we attempted our first 14er, Mt. Elbert, we had no idea what to expect. The thought of trying to climb the highest mountain in Colorado seemed completely overwhelming. That day it turned out we weren’t up to the challenge so we ended up turning around before reaching the summit.

We’ve only ever seen a bear in the wild from the safety of our car.

The guiding principle we always try to abide by is that if everyone is safe and having fun we continue, if not we turn around. We also started small. Our first hikes together in 2010 were more walk than hike. In particular, I remember a stroll along the rim of Bryce Canyon that I don’t think could have even been a half mile. I remember visiting Bear Lake in RMNP and walking the paved path around the lake. We’ve returned to both those places many times and gradually, as we got more comfortable with the places and ourselves, took on more of a challenge. One of my favorite hikes at Bryce actually started outside the park in the nearby town of Tropic. We hiked across the park to get to the main amphitheater, completed the figure eight loop (with a stop for lunch of course), then hiked back across the park again. Last summer we embarked on an overnight trip from Bear Lake with full packs. We took a lot of baby steps over the past ten years to get us to the point that we felt comfortable with those journeys.

To anyone looking to follow in our footsteps, I would recommend a similar approach. Start small by doing things you know you’re comfortable with. Learn about your own limits and those of your companions. Start gently pushing those limits to expand your horizons and before you know it you’ll find yourself in places you never thought possible. Preparation is also a key to success. I thoroughly research the places we’ll visit. I virtually “walk” the trails in Google Earth and read all the trip reports and reviews I can find. I make sure that I am aware of any hazards we may face and that we’re ready to handle them. We always carry the “10 Essentials” when hiking. For many of the items on the list we even have back-ups, we tend to over pack. We’ve also started carrying a PLB which gives us a further sense of security. With the right preparation you will be OK. Get out there and hike!