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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Never Fear: The Phobias

Use this step-by-step guide to beat 7 common backcountry fears. Plus, ideal hikes for overcoming–or avoiding–the source of your scare.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Photo illustration by Stephen Beneski
Photo illustration by Stephen Beneski

ALONE IN THE DARK

On Mandy Coleman’s first solo backpacking trip, she spent the night cowering in her tent, convinced every rustling leaf was a fierce animal or prowling human attacker. “It’s a fear of being in complete solitude, with no way to get help if something were to get you,” she explains. Unable to stand another night filled with imaginary horrors, Coleman doubled her daily mileage to hike out early.

The Real Risk
According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, your odds of becoming a victim of violent crime in a national park are one in 708,000. In the United States overall, it’s one in 50.

The 4-Step Fix

  • Solo hiking is a golden opportunity for peaceful contemplation, but it demands know-how and preparation. Practice navigation skills and get training in wilderness first aid before going alone.
  • Build up to a solo trip: Go with a group, but hike alone during the day and rendezvous at your campsite. Also, try a night in your backyard.
  • Camp in a familiar, well-trafficked area the first few times you backpack solo.
  • More worried about the dark than anything else? Add time alone in a dark closet to your fear hierarchy list. When you venture out for real, choose a night with a full moon and pack a lantern.

The Big Test
In Capitol Reef’s Halls Creek Narrows—in winter—you’ll have one of the country’s darkest night skies all to yourself. nps.gov/care

Safety Zone
Camp under the midnight sun in Denali’s epic backcountry, where you can expect more than 20 hours of light on long summer days. nps.gov/dena



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READERS COMMENTS

Star
BrandiGuide
Jun 22, 2014

Slow loading 7 pages to get this. More useful on one scrolling page, right? BTW, what is the fear of being watched by wildlife while doing a #2 called?

Ellen
Oct 29, 2010

Thank you for this. I had a mini "panic attack" on Shasta this summer. My guide was intimidating when I needed more words of encouragement. Now I'll let my partner know he has to help me with the words the guides hesitate to provide: "You can do this. You've done it before. It will be alright."

Sean C.
Jan 06, 2010

My main fear on this list is being alone in the dark. When in a protected shelter, this typically isn't such an issue. but once I'm out in an unfamiliar place doing an activity, anxiety will start to kick in as the sun goes down. Thankfully I've used similar techniques to mostly overcome this irrational fear. Being an avid bike rider also, I set out on a 10mile, one way, trail through the woods about half an hour before dusk. Timing it perfectly, I made it to the end of the trail right as the sun set. Due to being a one way trail though, I was forced to ride the 10 miles back in the dark in order to get home. while this might have been a little extreme for a first step, it was successful, and now I find nighttime riding almost more enjoyable that in the sunlight.

Keith D
Oct 29, 2009

I'm still with Indiana Jones, "SNAKES! It just had to be snakes!"
UGGH!

Keith D
Oct 29, 2009

I'm still with Indiana Jones, "SNAKES! It just had to be snakes!"
UGGH!

Lil Jimmy Norden
May 19, 2009

Raaammooonnnee!!! Bring me a snake with some girth!

Lil Jimmy Norden
May 19, 2009

I love big long snakes with big heads

Jerry Doyle
Oct 30, 2008

The article is correct to say that snakes are more afraid of humans than humans are of snakes. The safest response to snakes is to make vibrations on the earth (such as heavy walking) and to proactively never put your hands, feet, etc. into closeted areas such as crevices, logs, etc. Snakes will feel your foot vibrations on the earth and move out of your way. Strike a rock or log that you plan to sit on and the snake will move away, although be careful of scorpions and spiders. A snake will only strike you if it is cornered, or if you have ignored its warning. In the south in swamp land while in a boat, look overhead at tree branches, or better yet, avoid boating under the tree branches to prevent the possibility of a snake falling into your boat. Good Hiking... Jerry D

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