South Face of Nuptse Nepal
A few times I’ve got to know fear. I’ve felt it suddenly as an ice tower collapsed next to me with a shocking resonating bang. It came after I’d been spun around and around in an avalanche, unable to breathe, as though I was locked inside an opaque washing machine.
Robin leading on gritstone at the Roaches Peak District
Fear of falling can be intense until that moment when the rope tightens, especially when it doesn’t happen soon enough.
self portrait when things were getting difficult on the mountain, Nepal
Occasionally fear can be felt in a long drawn out way. I’ve been ill with altitude sickness several times with fluid building up in my lungs or between my brain and skull. The nights of deterioration, waiting for first light to see our way back down, are long and deeply unpleasant.
high on the vertical walls of the Verdon Gorge, France
I don’t think I’ve ever really got over being afraid of height. I’ve learned to live with it. The night before a big climb I usually awake and restless, imagining what can go wrong.
Yet when I get onto the rock face my hands and feet find their familiar patterns and the noise in my head stops. I’m almost outside myself watching myself climb a difficult bit without worrying about it. Once or twice I’ve experienced what they call tunnel vision where the focus is so intense you could fire a canon and I wouldn’t hear it.
Robin leading on South Face of Nuptse Nepal
Then there are times when I can be high up and suddenly all the fear and anxiousness comes back and swamps me, rising up into my throat and choking me.
I look on it rather like a person that I respect but don’t particularly like.
I imagine a jar and the fear is inside the jar. The lid is screwed down tight but now I can feel it starting to unscrew itself. Maybe the fear will overwhelm me so mentally I screw the lid back on to keep it contained and get back to focusing on the next foothold.
Teaching in Nepal with the South Face of Lhotse behind
It has given me some difficult times but it has also been helpful.
It has enabled me to work with people in a much more empathetic and patient way.
I’m able to put myself in their shoes, to be in the position, to some extent, to feel what they are feeling.