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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.
Panic snakesPhoto 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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