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Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:11 am
by maverick
Whether you've been backpacking for a couple of years or possibly a couple of
decades you may have a certain phobia, activity, or a situation that makes you
feel very uncomfortable.
Which activity in the backcountry, listed below, makes you very uneasy, possibly
freeze up, raises your anxiety level (raises pulse), and will rather hike several
miles to circumvent to avoid?

A. Heights/Falling

B. River Crossings

C. Steep Glacier/Icy Snow Bank Crossings

D. Lightning Storm

E. Feeling Of Being Lost

F. Bears


Where was your first trip that you realized that this phobia, activity, or sitiuation
effected you? Please describe the trip. How have you dealt with it since then?

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:21 am
by rlown
For me, Heights. started about 5 years ago. Can't pin it down to a trip, maybe just a change that comes with age. Lots of falling dreams as well. I'm actually ok if roped. If not roped and i absolutely want to be somewhere, i will focus on the task at hand and not the inevitable feeling of impending death. For instance, even the North Lake road approach scares the hell out of me unless i'm driving.

Everything else on your list is doable. Lightning doesn't disturb me if you're along on the trip wearing an aluminum foil hat. Lost? never really lost, just displaced.

You left Squatch off your list :)

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:33 am
by markskor
None of these really bother me...well, maybe that leap/ crossing over from snow to granite, or vice-versa, especially when you can hear water gurgling just below. A few years back now, coming over Red Peak Pass northward...10 feet of snow and almost continuous white for two miles down. I punched through an ice bridge, solo, and my feet were dangling in water. My pack was wedged in and had to take it off to get out...great fear then of losing my pack. It took me a good hour to get free.

But, if I had to pick one - G - other.
Fear of OldRanger cooking up the dinner.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:03 pm
by maverick
Fortunately neither for me, but have been out when others have. Once when on a
5 days trip with a friend we took off from Roads End planning to stay at Upper
Paradise. The weather started to turn as we made into the Middle Paradise section.
The thunder was getting louder and louder with the rain/hail catching up to us as
we made it to the Upper Paradise area where we quickly set up camp sometime in
the afternoon (July).
My friend started to get uneasy and could not stay in his tent, the thunder claps
really pushed him to the point of having an anxiety attack, so we immediately
packed up camp, hiked back to Roads End as it got dark, and drove out to a motel
in Fresno.
Have also climb with people who were supposed to be experienced, but then found
out when having to down climb the same section that they had acrophobia, so after
some comforting (talking the person down), we proceeded to find a less steep
alternate route that they were comfortable with.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 2:58 pm
by SSSdave
Have never felt lost. I could be plunked down most anywhere in the Sierra blindfolded and make my way out without much emotion. Just know the topography so well as soon as I climbed up to a high point I would know where I was.

Well each of those remaining things doesn't necessarily bother me until it reaches a threshold. For instance I as a photographer, I will sometimes go out onto rather exposed spots on cliffs just to set up my tripod for a shot. I won't do so if I cannot keep my emotions muted which is occasionally the case though usually I am rather calm in a very serious methodical mode. And yeah there are places I see others go that would freak me out. I know my limits.

As someone that is often out solo in the backcountry, I make conservative experienced evaluations of dangerous situations like crossing a stream and tend to know what I can and cannot do safely. That is one reason I have been doing it for 4 decades while managing to remain healthy.

One thing that does tend to scare me more than the others is lightning. And its because I have a strong physics and electrical phenomenon background, have read much about lightning, and experienced quite a number of big thunderstorms in exposed places in the Sierra. Have advised people quite a bit on this and other boards. Thus situations where most people would sit around clueless where ever they happen to be while big strikes are occurring, I would be out in near panic moving to locations I think are safest while my mind is reeling thinking how I can minimize being zapped. Once decades ago I was stuck at a very exposed location on a peninsula jutting out into First Recess when a thunderstorm suddenly surprised me. I hunkered down laying flat on a granite rock for a couple hours just wearing a rain suit while pummeled by hail, rain, and horrendous loud ground strikes all around me. And was VERY afraid. Such experiences only made me more careful in the future.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:14 pm
by RoguePhotonic
B, C and D all come into play at some point in time for me.

I have approached many rivers and just thought oh crap! Avoiding them at any given time is a simple matter of necessity for me. I have planned plenty of routes with the attitude of I will just deal with it when I am on the river bank and I have yet to have to turn around but as my knowledge of the Sierra grows I become more realistic with considering different routes because a river probably cannot be crossed.

Lightning is not something I generally fear. I enjoy being outside in it but when your in a storm like I was at Island Bird Lake where I had 3 bolts come down with no delay at all between the flash and the incredible boom it certainly gets the heart rate up. Then there was last year being at 12,300 feet in Ionian Basin with no shelter with a massive storm right on top of me while I just laid out on a rock in the wide open soaking wet and just let the bolts fly around me.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 6:16 pm
by kpeter
A, B, C, and E at times.

With A, it is more exposure than heights. I like being high and having a fabulous view and enjoy walk-up mountains. But I do have a phobia about being next to sheer, high drops. Trails blasted out of cliffs without protection always have me hugging the wall.

With B, I don't think it reaches the phobia level (although A clearly does.) It is more a legitimate concern and an adrenaline rush if I have to ford a difficult crossing. But I will go miles around if I judge the crossing is too dangerous. That is just prudence.

With C, coming down the outlet from Helen Lake in a snowy year I had to make some choices about a relatively easy traverse over snow--but the snow was exposed to a cornice above the rocky creek bed below, or I could much less conveniently pick my way down the north side of the outlet creek. I picked my way rather than risk the exposure, even though a whole troops of scouts had just done it the other way. That was probably more to do with A than with C, though.

Finally, with E, I have a kind of reversal of being lost--losing my gear. I hiked in to Many Island Lake and when I was looking for a campsite dropped my pack in what I thought was an obvious spot. After finding my ideal camp I went back to retrieve my pack and could not find it. I spent an hour looking for it, growing increasingly panicked as I wondered whether I could survive a night without warmth or shelter. It felt ridiculous to me, and I could hardly take it seriously that I could lose my pack in such a confined place--but still the sinking feeling grew. Obviously I found it, but it was a dreadful hour.

I probably should be more worried about lightning than I am. I find it exciting and not at all scary. Similarly with bears--I have had a number of bear encounters that could have turned dangerous but I was not panicked at all by them.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:30 pm
by sparky
I think I am pretty sensible with my fears. All those things CAN be scary, but lightning is the one that I am scared when I might not need to be.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:44 pm
by rlown
if you see the storm, lightning can be prep'd for, like Dave said. I was in the delta once on my 24' donzi.. (think flat water in the carquinez straits).. I have a 5' aluminum superstructure and antennas on the boat, and the lightning strikes start happening around us.. we ARE the highest structure around with really great grounding plates. They danced around us within 1/3 mile. Fun to watch them hit the water, but no one was near the aluminum. It's not backpacking, but we were sticking to the fiberglass.

Same smell in the backcountry.. just be smart.

Re: Backpacking Achilles Heel

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013 8:33 pm
by Tom_H
None really, as long as I have the right equipment.

Without a rope, I can be a little unsure with really serious exposure.

The animals and storms I've actually always loved. I grew up in south GA where we had about 3 lightning and thunderstorms (with numerous strikes within close proximity) per week in summer. Like Muir, I absolutely reveled in the display of nature's power. I used to go outside on the porch so I could see the flash, feel the blast hit my chest, and smell the delicious aroma of warm fresh humidity steaming back up through the hot pine needles.

Lost? Losing bearings off trail in Appalachian forests was always a fun challenge that might last an hour or two. I just don't see how one gets lost in the Sierra if (s)he has topos and knows how to read them; I've been doing it so long that when I look at the map I actually see the terrain in 3D.

Snow, not if I'm on skis or have crampons/ice axe. Here's the one exception:

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