"F.E.A.R - False Evidence Appearing Real? Fear can be debilitating in the outdoors and fear can be debilitating in life. For sure it can be. It can stop you from trying something that you may think is beyond your capabilities. It is all too easy to put up barriers and to justify inaction based on the what ifs.
When we do this, when we listen to our fears and decide not to take a risk we close off the potential to achieve great things. If we only felt the fear and did it anyway, who knows what rewards would await us. But fear has its place too. Fear can also be extremely beneficial. It can keep us safe and in some situations, alive. It can be the primary motivating factor behind that all important decision to turn back. In this way, fear can be the sole mechanism that delivers us to the pub at the end of a day so that we can live to experience another day in the outdoors. So how do we separate the two?
How do we identify whether the adrenaline in our veins is telling us to just do it, or whether it is pushing our lives towards a rather messy and/or premature conclusion? Im not sure there is a definitive answer. I can only speculate that unhealthy fears are the ones that hold us back, and healthy fears must be those that preserve our existence on this planet. Being able to identify whether your quickened heart rate is pushing you onwards or telling you that it is time to retreat can sometimes be more important than our ability to navigate or our choice of appropriate clothing or gear. Quite frankly it is the skill that can separate those who enjoy a long and rewarding career in the outdoors from those who are, well, brown bread. My own relationship with fear is an interesting one. Just over a year and a half ago I was in a place where everything was upside down.
I was having panic attacks about things I wasnt even remotely scared of. Bizarrely, it was also at this time that I started to actually do things that other people would consider paralysingly petrifying. Stuff like rock climbing and mountaineering. It was quite frankly laughable that back then the concept of bumping into my ex in the supermarket would induce more feelings of terror than putting myself into a potential life or death situation on a rockface. Like I said, it was a confusing time. When I look back now it all makes perfect sense to me. The utter simplicity of being in the mountains overrode any fears that may have taken hold. The purity of the air, the awesome power of nature, and the friendships formed all combined to restore in me my sense of self and quietened my noisy head.
Here I was neither in control nor out of control it was a game of calculated risk. If I listened to the mountain, weighed up the options, focused, breathed appropriately, and looked only a few moves ahead, then I would succeed. It became a case of putting one foot in front of the other and in so doing it was suddenly eminently possible to reach the top of a Munro on ski in a total whiteout, to traverse the ridges of An Teallach in thick fog, and to succeed on a 6a route having only ever climbed twice previously. It was this adoption of the one foot in front of the other approach, together with a point blank refusal to submit to the irrational fears that got me past chaos and self-doubt, to the top, to fresh air, to calm, to the future. So where does this leave us with fear?
Well I guess the point Im trying to make is that where there is real risk there should be fear. And while you can never have zero risk in wild places you can minimise the risks by taking things one step at a time, immersing yourself in the moment, and enjoying the journey. And if you adopt this outlook on the mountain and in your every day life, then there is nothing to be afraid of. Sophie Nicholson Adventure Sports/Travel Journalist living in the French Alps "