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
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