GETTING SCARED FOR HEIGHTS
As a child I climbed in trees without any problems. Nothing was too high for me. Without knowing why or when, I got a fear of heights. Maybe it is part of getting older? Seeing the consequence of when things go wrong? All I know is that I want to get rid of this fear.
I already tried to get rid of my fear of heights by bungee jumping in New Zealand, skydiving in Australia and hang-gliding in Brazil. Yet that fear of heights remained in me. Especially when I’m in the mountains, I notice that it bothers me a lot. Because of the fear I skipped so many beautiful hikes because I was scared. The moment I got close to an abyss, my vestibular organ starts to get confused. Probably more people have this problem. Therefore I want to find the reason behind my fear of heights. And above all: How do I get rid of it? The NKBV mountaineering course seems like the perfect opportunity to face my fear.
In this exciting week I will find out if I can go mountaineering with a fear of heights, because I have to climb the third highest mountain in Austria: the Großvenediger (3,666m).
At 9 in the morning I arrive at Camping Edengarten – Matrei in Osttirol. Here I see the group for the first time, where I will spend the week with. Our instructor Paul introduces himself and gives us the materials we will be using this week. We all get a climbing harness, crampons, helmet and an ice ax. One person is the lucky one who can also take the heavy rope up the mountain. Fortunately, I am not that person.
Although the weather forecast for this week seems bad, the weather is beautiful when we get in the car towards Ströden. Here we park our car and continue on foot. It is a two-hour hike to our first cabin, which is at an altitude of 2208 meters. Immediately a tough climb of 800 meters! It takes some time getting used to the heavy hiking boots, as I am used to lighter shoes, just like the rest of the group. During this hike I get to know the others for the first time. This promises to be a fun adventure.
The Essener- und Rostocker Hütte is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by high glazed mountains. We put our backpacks in the dormitory, as we don’t need them in the afternoon. Near the hut we do a number of basic exercises, such as hiking over smooth rock with our boots, finding balance on a boulder and some beginner rope techniques. This gives us confidence in our new gear. Satisfied we return to the cabin where we will stay for two nights.
THE FIRST RESCUE
The second day is all about practicing with belaying and alpine rope techniques. From the hut we hike to a plateau with a small rock wall. Luckily, the wall is not that high so I don’t have to tell everyone that I am afraid of heights. I decide to keep this to myself until I really can’t hide it anymore. This time, I am not bothered by the height at the top of this wall. Here we practice a rescue technique to pull a group member out of an imaginary crevasse, a rope technique to save yourself and we practice rappelling. I was the first to go down, so just observing how the rest will do this was not an option for me. This is already an educational day!
After lunch we hike back to the cabin via an ascent of the Rostocker Eck (2,749m): a beautiful mountain with a fantastic view over our cabin. The descent is over a beautiful ledge overlooking a lake surrounded by glaciated mountains. One person in the group has sustained a minor injury, which means that the plans for the next day are being adjusted. The instructor has three plans in his head, I hear him say to two of the group. There were two words I could pick up from the conversation ‘via ferrata’. This made me feel afraid, because via ferrata is a route plotted with steel cables along a high rock wall. I have a feeling that tomorrow it is going to be the via ferrata plan.
MY SECRET GETTING EXPOSED
The next morning we leave the Essener- und Rostocker Hütte behind us and we hike with fully loaded backpacks towards the Johannishütte (2,121m), our second and last cabin of the course.
I still have no idea what the schedule for the day is, because the instructor is still keeping that a secret. He does say that today we’ll take it easy, because tomorrow will be the big day: the summit of the Großvenediger. The weather is getting worse so we will do that summit one day earlier.
I’m still nervous and it only gets worse when, as we hike up, I see a giant rock face in front of me. We aren’t going to climb that wall, right? I am standing in front of the Türmljoch (2.790m: See picture down below), which goes straight up. That looks way too intense for a basic course, right? But I was wrong… In front of the rock wall Paul says that we can take off our backpacks, pack our climbing harness and wear our helmets. A gigantic rock wall with steel cables stare at me, while on the ground I am mentally preparing myself. Now I really have to say to the group that I went mountaineering with a fear of heights.
FACE YOUR FEAR OF HEIGHTS WHILE MOUNTAINEERING
“I’m not going with you,” I tell Paul and the group. The others are surprised, but respond positive. Pauls words will stay with me forever: “You are here to learn and you should not expect to be able to do this on your own. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to teach you how to get up there and we’re going to do this together. ” My decision began to falter, because getting over my fear of heights was the reason I signed up for this mountaineering course after all, wasn’t it? The first cable goes straight up straight away and I climb up the steel steps that are placed in the rock, step by step. I find the first part super scary and I notice that my heart rate goes faster. Paul says to me, “Everyone has fears.”
From now on I try to turn “fear” into “exciting” and hope that it doesn’t stiffen me. Isn’t it exciting to climb up here? This thought helps me making me enthusiastic. As I climb higher, I occasionally look consciously into the abyss to see how I react to this. Strangely enough, I notice a change in my vision. Everything I see is very clearly and I have no problems at all with the height. I find myself really enjoying the climb. With a gigantic smile on my face I climb up the wall. Am I really doing this? I arrive at the top second, behind Paul. My gigantic smile quickly turns into a face with tears. Tears of joy! An enormous relieve and it seems as if I have thrown my fear of heights away. I leave it here on the mountain and I will never see it again.
Early in the morning he alarm goes off at 3:45 am, thunderstorms are forecasted for today. A long trip awaits us with a 1600 meter climb to the top. If everything goes according to plan, we will be at the top by 10:00! Yesterdays experience has given me such a confidence boost that I know I can handle anything today.
After we got ready, we hike up under a beautiful starry sky and at sunrise we arrive at the Defreggerhaus (2,962m), where we can refill water for the last time. The climbing harnesses are put on, so that we can continue as a rope group over the glaciers.
At an altitude of almost 3000 meters, my breathing is a lot more difficult. The rest of the group is also starting to feel the height. Step by step we hike on until we reach a gigantic snow plane at an altitude of 3400 meters. “You don’t have to go to Nepal for this,” said one of the group. The view is amazing. It is not a technically difficult climb and we finally arrive at the top at 9:30 am.
The weather is beautiful and everyone is enthusiastic and in shape, so we decide to climb two more mountains: the Hohes Aderl (3506m) and the Rainerhorn (3.559m). In the end we made a beautiful, challenging trip of eleven hours. The moment we get back to the cabin, we hear the first thunderstorm. “Perfectly timed,” says Paul, our instructor.
RAIN AND ICE
The aftermath of the bad weather continues this morning. Today we start in the pouring rain, but that shouldn’t spoil the fun. Reading a map and compass while hiking with poor visibility is what we are taught today. So the bad weather actually comes in handy. We have mapped out our own route and everyone in the group gets a turn to lead the group. We eventually arrive at a glacier. Here we practice different techniques with crampons and ice axes. Finally, we practice the rescue technique one more time by actually rescuing a group member from a crevasse.
TIME FOR FAREWELL
Unfortunately it is the last day of the course. There is a true paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts around the Johannishütte. The cabin is located in a beautiful valley with hikes for every level. There are large boulders where you can go bouldering or practice climbing. I’m sure I want to go back to this place one more time to go on an adventure myself. We go through all that we have learned again and practice all the techniques one last time. After lunch it is time to hike back to the car and say goodbye to everyone.
CAN YOU GO MOUNTAINEERING WITH A FEAR OF HEIGHTS
Finally, the answer to the question: “Can I do a mountaineering course with a fear of heights?” Is clear: Yes! I recommend it to anyone with or without fear of heights to do a mountaineering course. It has given me so much confidence in my own ability. In addition, it taught me to convert fear into enthusiasm, which prevents me from stiffening at great heights. It is strange that you can already experience such growth by means of one course. This tastes like more. I’m sure I want to continue to the advanced course. Perhaps more rock climbing? That fear of heights is fine now. A new world is really opening up to me now. So Paul, thank you for the trust and faith in me as an instructor.
Not convinced yet? Watch the video of Deens fantastic experience!