Conquering My Fear of Heights

luis

I was raised by conservative parents when it came to the great outdoors. We took a ton of family trips – including visiting every state on the East Coast by the time I was 15! When it came to outdoor activities, however, that was a different story. My family’s idea of camping was setting up a tent in our small backyard and having the luxury to run inside to use the bathroom.

My wife Katrina, on the other hand, grew up with the outdoors as a big part of her life, from camping, canoeing, and hiking, to being a whitewater rafting guide for three summers! She was saddened by my limited experience with the outdoors and was on a mission to change all of that – she succeeded. In 2011, my wife and I set out on a four month international vacation to Guatemala and Chile. It was the trip of a lifetime!

First things first: Guatemala

In Guatemala, we saw some pretty spectacular things and ate a ton of great food. The most amazing part of our journey was seeing the Mayan pyramids in Tikal. What an incredible experience that was, to have the privilege of seeing the remains of a wonderful civilization. It was here that I made my first major outdoorsy discovery, and it could not have been at a worse time or place.

We had climbed to the top of one of the tall pyramids and were enjoying the sights and taking pictures when, I decided to look down…There were no railings and the stone steps were very narrow and wet from the intermittent rain. In that moment, my knees buckled and my stomach sank to my ankles. I came face to face with my fear of heights. I had thought growing up that I may have some fear of heights but I was never in a real outdoors situation that really tested that out, until now.

“Staring down a 40 meter long, 60 degree narrow drop…
Well, there was no way I was going to survive that.”

 

Luckily, two key factors were in my favor. One was that I had my loving wife by my side. She was shocked when she saw my new discovery, but couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of where I was standing. The other factor was that we were with my Uncle’s family and their 11 year old son, so I had to lead by example. I told him that if he was scared, he could just sit on the steps and slide down on his butt, one step at a time, just like most of the young children there.

Of course, I was quick to sit down and demonstrate. He joined me for a couple of steps and then said, “Nah, I can just do it the normal way.” Well, if my 11 year old nephew could do it, I probably could too. I got up, stood sideways and slowly began to descend, while leaning towards the pyramid and using my arms as a safety net just in case. It took me a while, but I made it down. I was still able to climb more pyramids, but only if they had a railing or wooden stairs for getting up and down.

I realized that if there was a railing or staircase, or if I was not too close to a ledge, then I felt totally fine. The rest of Guatemala was pretty mild, though we did cross some really high sky bridges that gave me pause, but I made it across…slowly.

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Next on the list: Chile!

We had a spectacular time in Chile and did a bunch of great things – including visiting Easter Island! But before that, we stayed in Pucon which is the northern most part of the Patagonia region. There we decided to climb the Villarica volcano that had a glacier on the top. I resisted at first and was very nervous because I knew this was going to be a challenge with my new found fear, but we did our homework and found the best company who had top-of-the-line gear and well-trained guides, so I felt in good hands. The climb was a bit scary for me – there were times when we were climbing next to 1,000 meter drops. We even had to put on crampons and jump across a 150 foot deep ravine!  It was pretty intense but the view was breathtaking.  Due to a storm coming in, we had to head down before we could summit but it was definitely in the win column as far as conquering my new fear.

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We finished the international leg of our trip and upon returning home, we moved out to Utah and Wyoming for two years.  Outdoor meccas you say? Yup!

This is where my wife decided to dedicate herself to two years of “lovingly” pushing my limits and encouraging me to try things I never thought I would do. The best way to really show my progress is not through the written word but through some more pictures.

Hiking the Jenny Lake Trail to Cascade Canyon  – Grand Teton NP, WY

third

This was a gorgeous trail and also a pretty easy hike, but it did have a section where you had to walk alongside a ledge with a 400 foot drop next to you!  My wife laughed at me when I was trying to warn her about hugging the rocks and staying away from the edge.  She thought it was adorable, I promise. 

Paragliding! – Jackson Hole, WY

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In order for me to get in the air, I had to RUN off the side of a mountain, literally!  We were on a downward sloping ledge and about 25 feet in front of us was a drop of over 1000 feet!  I was extremely nervous but luckily, my pilot knew exactly what she was doing and I put my full trust in her. I was worried that my legs would buckle on me as I tried to run but the adrenaline just kicked in and the thought of gliding through the air got me pumped and excited. The wind was perfect and we caught it just right. What an amazing ride!  Highly recommended activity.

Ghost Rock Canyon – UT

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This was one moment that really challenged my fear of heights. Here I was able to reflect on my fear, and then put it to the test by challenging myself to stand at the edge of this huge canyon cliff. Right before I tackled that ledge (which is the first cliff on the right side of the image above) I decided to poke fun at my fear of heights by snapping this photo. 

This Ghost Rock experience also made it possible for me to be comfortable standing at the edge of Bryce Canyon in Utah.  Breathtaking.

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Slot Canyons – UT

Slot canyons were the next adventure. So much fun, but I’ll admit, I was freaking out a bit…ok, a lot. We had to rappel down 100 feet and then slowly lower in elevation during the hike. At the end, we had to scramble up 275 vertical feet! Scrambling is when you climb straight up with all of your limbs.  We had no ropes for the scramble and I didn’t think I could do it. My wife gave me a pep talk, and then didn’t give me an option to back out.  She knew I was scared but also knew that I could do it, which was more confidence than I had in myself at that moment. This was an amazing achievement and I would do it again in a heartbeat…though probably at a slightly elevated heartbeat. I have not been more proud of myself than I was when we reached the top again.

Rappelling Fail:

 

Rappelling Win: 

 

Acadia National Park – ME

This was the latest challenge I overcame. We went camping at Acadia National Park for our anniversary (‘cause I’m so outdoorsy now) and I woke up early, leaving my sleeping wife in the tent, to take this sunrise shot.

final

In order to get this shot, I had to scale down a 30 foot ledge to get to a rock platform on the cliff that was perfect for the shot. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to climb back up – I paced back and forth sweating over it. I was playing a scene in my head of being down there and yelling for help but no one could hear me. Yet despite that fear, I made my way down and was able to climb back up to the top – the shot was totally worth it!

Sometimes we let our fears stop us from trying new things, but if we step up to the challenge and believe in ourselves, we can have some of the best experiences of our lives! If you need help pushing yourself to try something new, just give my wife a call.

Have you been on any crazy adventures recently that have really pushed your limits or tested your fears?

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