4 years ago, on a beautiful summer day, I hiked up my first mountain in Alaska. It wasn’t easy, but very rewarding and so I decided to do it again. Before I knew it, I was purchasing an old ice axe along with some gear and started climbing mountains on a regular basis. At first I stuck to trails, but my willingness to discover new peaks pushed me into the back country. Couple hour hikes turned into full day climbs up steep slopes, bushwhacking through brushes, scrambling up rocky ridges, kicking steps into icy snow to reach a new summit. I learned a lot about safety, proper use of gear, terrain assessment, etc. More challenging trips became more rewarding but eventually brought in a less desirable factor: fear.
Final ridge on Fiddlehead Mountain, AK (4940 ft) - Sudden change in weather conditions made for a challenging traverse.There is an inherent risk in spending time in the mountains and learning to stay safe is critical. Although I’ve never been in serious danger, I have had a couple of scary moments, which created a feeling of uneasiness in certain situations. Sometimes the only way up a mountain can require a serious amount of knowledge and experience due to its difficulty. I had a great conversation with an accomplished mountaineer about my own fears when facing those situations and how to deal with them in order to move forward on my journey. His answer to my concerns is what compelled me to write this article. There are two major components that impact the way we perceive a potentially dangerous situation, which affects our confidence and therefore our ability to deal with it: knowledge and experience.
- We usually start acquiring knowledge before getting much experience (picking up a book, asking for advice, getting a training or attending a class).
- At that point we get in what I would call an unstable phase: we know a lot, but have little practice. Because of this imbalance, situations that seem manageable can bring out fear due to the lack of experience that would back up our understanding.
- Fortunately, experience over time builds confidence and creates abilities.