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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

LIGHTNING

Tara Calloway isn't proud of what her fear of storms made her do on Colorado's Mt. Princeton a few summers ago. When clouds began blowing in, Calloway panicked and sprinted for treeline, leaving her metal trekking poles–and two friends–on the summit. "They found me cowering next to a tree," she reports.

The Real Risk
Peak-packed Colorado averages 50,000 annual cloud-to-ground strikes, but just three fatalities per year–that's total, not just in the backcountry.

The 4-Step Fix
  • Depart for big peaks before dawn so you're off the summit before afternoon storms roll in. If you're caught in a thunderstorm, get below treeline, find a low spot away from tall trees, and crouch on your sleeping pad.
  • Focus on the drops hitting your tent, the smell of the rain, your own breath–anything to keep you in the moment instead of imagining yourself getting fried.
  • If you're in a sheltered spot but you still start to panic, distract yourself by singing, playing 20 Questions, or brewing some tea, advises Nucete. "Do something to get your mind off of the storm, because the storm is going to move on."
The Big Test
The Continental Divide Trail in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness serves up alpine wildflowers, jagged peaks, and miles of storm-central hiking: Average elevation along the entire stretch is 12,000 feet. fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/

Safety Zone
Bag big summits without fear in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias–a park with 14 peaks above 14,000 feet, in a state that hasn't recorded a single lightning death in the past 50 years. nps.gov/wrst



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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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