Don’t Give Up! How I Learned to Manage My Climacophobia After 30 Attempted Hikes

As a kid, I never had issues with heights. I climbed trees higher than the house roof without care. But when I hit my teens, everything changed. Suddenly, being more than a few feet off the ground made my heart race, my palms sweat, and my legs shake. I’d been struck with an intense climacophobia – a paralyzing fear of heights.

For years, my fear of heights ruled my life. I avoided hikes, rooftops, and theme park rides – anything high up was off-limits. But the older I got, the more this phobia frustrated me. I was missing out on so many adventures! So I decided enough was enough – I’d confront my climacophobia head-on.

And what better way to tackle a fear of heights than by hiking?

Over a year, I attempted 30 hikes of increasing difficulty. It was a rollercoaster filled with panic attacks, retreats, and hard-won victories. But by hike #30, my climacophobia was finally under control. I could hike safely using coping strategies I’d mastered.

If you struggle with climacophobia, I hope my story inspires you. Confronting phobias is tough, but with dedication and the proper techniques, fear doesn’t have to limit your adventures. Let me walk you through exactly how I defeated my phobia, step by step.

Don’t Give Up! How I Learned to Manage My Climacophobia After 30 Attempted Hikes

My History of Climacophobia

I first noticed my climacophobia on a family trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 15. My whole body tensed up as I gazed out over the sheer cliffs. I felt like I might faint or be sick. We had to cut the hike short so I could get down to safe ground.

After that, symptoms of climacophobia appeared anytime I was more than 10 ft off the ground. Here are some examples:

  • Heart racing and dizziness when near rooftop or balcony edges
  • Legs shaking uncontrollably when on top of ladders or step stools
  • Urge to get down on all fours when crossing footbridges or walking on boardwalks
  • The feeling of suffocation and panic when paragliding or on theme park rides

No matter the situation, heights triggered a visceral anxiety response in me. I thought I’d have to avoid anything high up for life. But when I turned 30, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of letting fear limit me.

With exposure therapy, I believed I could retrain my mind and body to associate heights with excitement instead of panic. I just needed to start small and take it one step at a time.

My Goal: Hike 30 Mountain Trails in a Year

On January 1st last year, I challenged my climacophobia by hiking 30 mountain trails over 12 months.

I live in Colorado, home to some of the most rugged yet beautiful trails in the U.S. I knew if I could conquer hikes here steadily throughout the year, I’d prove to myself heights were nothing to fear.

I made a Hike Challenge scoreboard on my fridge to track my training. After each hike, I left space to log notes about managing my anxiety. I aimed to complete longer and more challenging trails each month.

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Here is my hike checklist for the year:

Easy Trails – Months 1-3

  • Red Rocks Trading Post Trail (1 mile)
  • Evergreen Reservoir (0.8 miles)
  • Mt. Galbraith Park Loop (2.6 miles)

Intermediate Trails – Months 4-6

  • Rattlesnake Gulch Trail (3.2 miles)
  • Maxwell Falls Lower Trail (2.2 miles)
  • Morrison Slide Trail (3.4 miles)

Advanced Trails – Months 7-12

  • Bear Peak Out and Back (5.7 miles)
  • Royal Arch Trail (3.2 miles)
  • Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail (9 miles)

It was an ambitious plan, but I was determined to prove I could manage my climacophobia and experience the views of Colorado’s peaks I’d been missing.

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My Gear to Feel Safe on the Trail

Having the right hiking gear was vital to feel secure enough to challenge my climacophobia on mountain trails. Here’s what was in my pack:

  • Hiking shoes – Solid soles and ankle support reduced chances of slipping on loose surfaces
  • Collapsible hiking poles – Added stability and balance on steep sections
  • First aid kit – In case of cuts, sprains, etc., from falls
  • Emergency blanket and flashlight – In case I had to stop early or get lost
  • Whistle – To call for help if injured or in danger
  • Positive affirmations – Uplifting phrases on cards to repeat when I felt anxious
  • Calming essential oils – Lavender oil to apply to wrists or inhale to ease panic
  • Fidget cube – Helped distract me from intrusive thoughts
  • Comfort items – Photos of loved ones, motivational quotes
  • Healthy snacks – Trail mix, protein bars for energy and alertness

The more safe and secure I felt, the easier it became to stay centered when heights triggered my phobia. This gear was invaluable.

My 30-Hike Journey – Attempts, Setbacks, and Triumphs

Completing 30 hikes in a year to conquer my fear of heights was quickly the most significant mental and physical challenge I’d ever undertaken. It pushed me to my limits – and beyond.

Here’s how my year unfolded, from the first shaky steps to ultimately overcoming debilitating climacophobia:

Attempts 1-10

Those early hikes were rough. I’d start out feeling pumped to face my fear. But within minutes of gaining elevation, anxiety would take over.

 My hands would start shaking, my breath quickening. Thoughts like “You’re going to fall!” and “What if you faint?” spiraled obsessively.

Usually, around 20 minutes in, we’d have to turn back. The trails were easy! But my phobia made easy paths feel life-threatening.

After each aborted attempt, I’d beat myself up. But I knew the only way forward was to try again. Getting outside my comfort zone was the whole point.

To prepare for the next hike, I’d visualize completing trails calmly. I also went to cognitive behavioral therapy to reframe negative thought patterns.

Attempts 11-20

By this stage, I’d learned my triggers. Narrow paths with steep drop-offs, looking down slopes, and heights over 30 feet freaked me out the most. But I was getting better at managing panic before it overwhelmed me. Deep breathing and positive self-talk were vital.

I also had a trusted hiking buddy accompany me. Having someone calmly say, “You’ve got this!” when I felt anxious was hugely comforting. It stopped me from losing perspective.

Another turning point was avoiding focusing on reaching trail summits. Instead, I set process-oriented goals – making it 10 minutes further without stopping, standing near a cliff edge for 1 minute, etc. That took the pressure off so I could celebrate small wins.

Attempts 21-30

In the last three months, everything started coming together. My brain was getting rewired to associate heights with accomplishment rather than danger.

I still felt nervous at times, but anxiety didn’t control me. As soon as nerves struck, I’d breathe slowly, repeat a mantra like “I am in control,” and focus on the beauty around me, not the cliff edges.

Near the end, I hiked trails that once filled me with dread with minimal anxiety! On my 30th hike, I cried happy tears – I’d conquered a phobia I never imagined overcoming.

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Helpful Tips to Overcome Climacophobia While Hiking

Here are my top tips for people living with fellow climacophobia who want to face their fear through hiking:

Start small

Choose trails well within your comfort zone and work up slowly. Build confidence on low-risk paths first.

Have an accountability partner.

Take it with others, especially at the start. Having trusted support quiets self-doubt.

Notice negative thought patterns.

Observe how your mind reacts to heights without judgment. Fear lives in the narratives we create.

Reframe anxious thoughts

When you feel negativity rising, consciously replace it with a positive statement like “I’ve got this!”

Focus on enjoyment, not goals.

Forget feeling like a failure for not reaching summits. Celebrate mindful moments of trailside joy when they arise.

Use coping mechanisms

Have calming tools like focused breathing, affirmations, distractions, etc. Use them preemptively, not just when spiraling.

Trace your progress

Note achievements after each hike. Look back on early struggles – they’ll motivate you to keep improving.

Be radically compassionate to yourself.

You’re facing immense challenges. Give yourself kindness, not criticism, as you overcome instinctive fears.

With dedication and the right mindset, you can manage the anxiety holding you back from unique experiences. Don’t give up!

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Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking with Climacophobia

How do I choose the proper starting hike if I fear heights?

Seek out low-elevation trails near towns and avoid exposed ridges or steep drop-offs. Have an escape route planned.

Will my climacophobia ever go away completely?

Your innate fear response may lessen intensity over time but likely won’t vanish entirely. The key is managing anxiety, not eliminating it.

What should I do if I’m halfway through a hike and my phobia gets triggered?

Stop immediately and get grounded using strategies like mindful breathing. Talk through the panic, and focus on returning to safety, even if that means turning around.

Are there medications that can help overcome climacophobia?

Anti-anxiety medication can provide short-term relief, but talk therapy and gradual exposure work best for facing long-term fears.

I get vertigo with my fear of heights. Any tips to handle both on hikes?

Use stabilizing trekking poles, avoid looking directly down, wear motion sickness bands, and learn exercises to regain equilibrium if you feel dizzy.

The more informed you are about your phobia, the better you can manage symptoms when they arise on the trail. Knowledge is power!

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Letting my climacophobia dictate how I lived wreaked havoc on my life for far too long. Conquering that fear through hiking some of Colorado’s most incredible trails taught me so much about resilience, hope, and believing in myself.

If you have a debilitating phobia like I did, I hope you feel inspired reading about my 30-hike journey. With the proper preparation and mindset shifts, you can overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable now. Set small, measurable goals, expect setbacks as par for the course, and celebrate each step forward – no matter how slight.

Don’t let fear hold you back from fulfilling adventures and seeing the beauty this world has to offer. You’ve got this – now get out there! The trails are calling.

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