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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

TIGHT SPACES

Sara Miller looked death in the face in Nevada’s Gypsum Cave—at least, that’s how it felt when the rookie spelunker reached a tight room deep underground. “It was like the walls were closing in and I was going to die,” she remembers. Miller bolted, leaving her husband behind; when he caught up outside, she was shaking uncontrollably.

The Real Risk
Claustrophobia might be the most irrational of the irrational outdoor fears: Closed-in areas themselves can’t hurt you. Rangers report that visitors occasionally freeze up in Carlsbad Caverns, but they always make it back out just fine.

The 4-Step Fix

  • Battle claustrophobia by first spending quality time in a small closet. When that’s tolerable, get in a large trunk.
  • When you’re ready to move on to canyons and caves, start with larger, more open spaces before tackling a tight squeeze.
  • Study a map of your route beforehand so you’ll feel confident you can find your way out.
  • Go with experienced companions or guides—knowing others are familiar with the route and can handle any problems will calm your fear.

The Big Test
On a trek from Arizona’s Buckskin Gulch through Paria Canyon—the longest continually narrow slot in the world—you can touch both 500-foot-high canyon walls at once. blm.gov/az/paria

Safety Zone
On the Wind Cave Canyon-East Bison Flats-Gobbler Pass trails, prairie grasses are the only features around, and there’s nothing but endless sky overhead. nps.gov/wica



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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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