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I did some hikes in the past but I'm way from calling myself experienced. Now, since I live in an awesome region surrounded by Alps, I decided to take a "one hike a week challenge", hiking mostly alone. The hikes are currently one day hikes.

Now, it is worth mentioning that I am not very fit, so it is a bit painful (especially afterwards) and I am not very fast. I'm fine with that, I can see a bit of progress since I started.

My problem is that I am afraid of heights. So walking near a cliff is really hard for me. I do it, but it takes an awful lot of thinking and convincing myself about things. Also, watching somebody do it gives me a lot more confidence.

Because of my fear, today I got stuck at some point. There was quite a steep upwards trail for just a few meters near a cliff, covered with gravel. I took the hardest route possible (near the wall next to the trail), and I got stuck to the ground. Obviously, it was possible to get up. I gave up thinking about a solution when I saw somebody behind me, waited a bit and asked for help. He helped me get on my feet, but besides that I just went up behind him (not exactly following the footsteps).

Now, up until there I was really afraid of even having a look at the awesome view behind. When we returned, I simply followed his steps on the side of the cliff.

We split paths at some point but, for the rest of the hike, I could handle myself. I actually went down ok, without being scared any more (on the same route).

Now, it is obvious that just the presence of someone boosted my confidence. Also, I was much faster with him than alone, and not much more tired. And also the lack of my fear helped me made better decision as in "follow the easiest route, not the route as far away from the cliff as possible".

Since I have to go by myself most of the time (didn't find anyone willing to do this much hiking), do you have any tips for gaining more confidence, controlling the fear and getting faster while alone?

  • This doesn't directly address your question, but do a thorough search online and in community areas nearby. Hiking is popular world wide, and you may find (or start!) a group to hike with. For me, at least, exercise focusing on leg strength and balance has made a big difference in hiking. Step ups, downs, squats, lunges, et cetera. Getting good with topo maps can help with avoiding getting lost, and understanding likely terrain of your route. Orienteering groups are good for both learning that, as well as finding a group, and just fun exercise. – Matthew Wetmore Feb 26 '17 at 22:02
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    You might call me cantankerous, but the question title is very misleading. You mention anxiety and confidence issues, but then talk about fear of heights. These might overlap at some point, but they are all very different things. And by the fact that you do hike 1x/week and try to fight these things, you already prove that there is confidence in there :) – Akabelle Feb 28 '17 at 7:30
  • Take a look at this question, might give you some extra ideas, as some people with acrophobia reflect on their own experiences: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/14254/… – Akabelle Feb 28 '17 at 7:31
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    This is not a million miles away from the question How to overcome fear of falling in lead climbing. Obviously the linked question is a more extreme situation but I think the techniques for dealing with fear are still relevant. Possibly worth a quick read if you have the time if nothing more. – user2766 Mar 3 '17 at 8:44
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For how to deal with irrational fears I don't think there is any substitute for repeatedly conquering them.

For instance I used to work at a place where we would take people rock climbing and rappelling which (for most people) are much scarier then just hiking.

People would get to the top of the climb and then you would tell them to let go of the rock, lean back and push of with their legs. It would freak them out, despite how safe it was. They aren't going to fall or swing or have the rope break but it would still be terrifying for them.

Or we would set up the rappels where they would back of a 120+ ft cliff and just dangle in the air for most of the way down. Even with someone belaying them, it would still freak them out.

But here's the thing, I don't think I ever saw someone complete one of these things and then regret it. The next time it was easier for them.

So take an honest look at how dangerous it really is, and if your fear is irrational, then take a deep breath and think about the last time your conquered something like it. Remember how good that sense of accomplishment felt.

As time goes on you will gain more and more experience and with that more and more confidence.

  • I am not miserable. I actually enjoyed the experience of a whole, and if I'd have the time I'd go tomorrow straight up again (except for the leg pain though). So it isn't about not liking the experience and I love being at the top. But it's irrational and sporadic fear i seek a way to handle. And yes, when i have that fear is because I'm seeking some way of feeling safe (even a blade of grass helps - shoukd get some poles). What puzzels me is that sometimes its simply not there, but I guess is, as you said, due to a previous accomplishment. I'll try and go more often and see what happens :) – Paul92 Feb 26 '17 at 23:17
  • @Paul92 I changed my answer to try to make it more applicable to your situation. – Charlie Brumbaugh Feb 26 '17 at 23:37
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As you were talking about the Alps I suggest having a look around (on Google maybe) to check what kind of alpine and hiking clubs exist near you.

At least in Switzerland there are alpine clubs in every city and many smaller towns (even the ones further away from the mountains) and most of them organise regular hikes/outings for their members.

As an example look at SAC (Swiss Alpine Club), they have literally hundreds of local chapters all over Switzerland which you'll find via their homepage http://www.sac-cas.ch/. I'm sure other countries neighbouring the Alps will have similar institutions in place.

  • Alpine clubs will also be a great pool for getting to know knowledgeable people - so even if some of them might not want to join you for a hike once a week they would point you to further resources and other groups of like-minded people.

  • Also the clubs will be accustomed to have members of a variety of skill levels ranging from novice amateurs to experienced mountaineers which will climb the highest and iciest peaks. --> They can also give you advice on good routes/hikes in your vicinity.

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I think you have answered your own question. Find people to hike with. Start by building a good relationship with them, on trails you know you are capable of. Once you have a good relationship and they are understanding, push your limits with these people as support when needed, but at the same time, they are not crutches you lean on all the time.

If you like being alone, do so on trails you have done with someone else - trails you know you can do, and can tell yourself over and over again you have done this before, now is no different.

Find a way to "go to you happy place" when things get scary. For me, when climbing of MTBing, I take myself back to basics - what are the few simple things you were taught (or know) that if done properly, will keep you safe. When hiking it could be Footing and balance. Focus on these. Also control your breathing, slow deep breaths, and relaxation exercises (especially shoulders) might also help.

Fear is a good thing, it will keep you safe in an unsafe situation. Learn to harness its power rather than have it control you. Don't be afraid of fear itself.

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That you find being on the edge of cliff scary is in fact a good, healthy response! It means that you are the product of millions of years of evolution, wherein people who had a complete disregard for the edge of cliffs tended to not live long enough to reproduce. The idea of teaching someone how to move in the mountains via the "sink-or-swim" philosophy is reckless and damaging.

Since you have acknowledged that your fear seems overwhelming, the goal is to train your brain and body to perform under these circumstances. Anxiety occurs when we perceive a situation to be too difficult / dangerous for our abilities. That you were able to follow someone else up that section shows that you are physically capable of doing the movements, but your brain hasn't fully internalized that you are capable of doing them.

See if you can't determine what specific aspects of the situation pushed you into anxiety and fear. Then try to train by replicating similar experiences in low-risk environments. For example, you might take short scrambly hikes with low consequences for a slip, or easy hikes with exposure. As you gain confidence, gradually move to more difficult and intimidating terrain, always remembering that playing near the edge of cliffs is, in fact, dangerous.

For example, if you watch a video of Alex Honnold soloing a climb, you could jump to saying that he has a deathwish and is just reckless. However, the correct answer is that he has spent years and years honing his ability to climb and deal with the stress of not having a rope, becoming highly attuned to what he is and is not capable of doing.

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