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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


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.

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.

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