Heights: Fear and Respect

“Don’t — even — touch me,” I said to my friend. I was stand­ing on a mar­ble ledge in one of the alcoves a few flights down from the top of the Lean­ing Tow­er of Pisa. I felt like the famous tow­er was try­ing to tilt my way on pur­pose and that my feet were going to slip on the slick stone at any moment. I could hard­ly look at the view. This was years ago.

You might say I had a slight fear of heights back then. It was nev­er enough to stop me from going to the top of a tow­er, or climb a tree, or go — very care­ful­ly — to the edge of a look­out point, but it did seem to be a lit­tle stronger than what my friends had. Where they might be stand­ing at ease, I was some­times sit­ting. Where they might bound from one rock to anoth­er, I might be found crawl­ing along or going around anoth­er way.

Even then, I loved the out­doors and see­ing things from up high.

Pho­to: Peter Bozek

In col­lege I dis­cov­ered there was a free begin­ning rock­climb­ing class that was held at a local rock for­ma­tion. I had often seen it from a dis­tance and won­dered what it would be like to see the view from its top. I had to find out so I signed up.

Dur­ing the class we didn’t do any­thing too tall, it was a begin­ning class after all. I did meet one per­son who seemed even more afraid of heights than I was. One of the things we did was to chim­ney climb up a cracked boul­der. You had to top off on one side of the boul­der and then, while still on belay, step over the crack to get to the oth­er side and the walk off. He took a long time to make that step. I was wor­ried it might take me even longer.

When my turn came I got up the climb eas­i­ly enough, in fact I enjoyed how sol­id I felt doing the clas­sic chim­ney tech­nique. When I got on top, I looked over to the oth­er side, and the out­stretched arms of the instruc­tor and real­ized that the gap was much nar­row­er than it looked from the ground. Class­mates were say­ing encour­ag­ing things. I stepped over eas­i­ly and crossed into a new world.

Pho­to: Jere­my Shapiro

I think that out­ing exem­pli­fied some of the rea­sons I climb. When folks have asked me why I start­ed climb­ing I some­times said it was to get over a slight fear of heights. I might also add that I love explor­ing new places in the out­doors and meet­ing new peo­ple. What I usu­al­ly didn’t say was that I found the peo­ple I met while climb­ing to be gen­er­al­ly sup­port­ive and that each climb was more about chal­leng­ing myself than my fear. Fear is set aside in the focus of fig­ur­ing out a climb, in fact much is set aside when climb­ing, leav­ing you with your mind, your body and the rock.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that first class. It led to anoth­er and then a group week­end trip to Joshua Tree Nation­al Park, where I was well and tru­ly hooked. Years have passed since then and I’ve climbed some very tall rocks and even end­ed up doing trad leads (some­thing I thought I would not do). So why do I climb now? I still climb because of a love of the out­doors and explo­ration, but the fit­ness ben­e­fit is of greater impor­tance now. I have some­thing I love to do that moti­vates me to stay in shape and helps me get in shape while doing it. I still love meet­ing new climbers and have found more ways to meet them, includ­ing online. I’ve also dis­cov­ered that there are spe­cial friend­ships to be found with long term climb­ing partners.

And what about a fear of heights? Some­times after look­ing at my lat­est climb­ing trip pic­tures, friends ask me if I still have it. I just smile and say, “I have a healthy respect for them”.

Pho­to: Kel­ly Ringwald

If you’d like to read more about my past and present adven­tures please vis­it my web­site, Rockgrrl.com , it orig­i­nal­ly start­ed in 2002 as a women cen­tric (but not exclu­sive) com­mu­ni­ty site then became more of an open blog, dis­cus­sion and pho­tog­ra­phy web­site. I’m also on Twit­ter as @rockgrrl

Pho­to: Kel­ly Ringwald

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