An interesting phenomenon in the backpacking community is fear mongering on the trail. Even more so, our ability to buy into it so quickly.
Several years ago, we hiked the Buffalo River Trail. The first section of trail had more elevation change than we expected or were conditioned for. As we worked our way up one particularly steep section (for Arkansas), we met a man coming down the hill.
He said, “Just wait until you hit the first hill on the next section!”
As we hiked the relentless PUDS (Pointless Ups And Downs), “THE HILL” began to work its way into our thoughts. We left the trail at the next trail-head rather than face the certain doom facing us on the next section.
Several months later, I returned to hike the next section of trail which included, “THE HILL”. Its daunting presence filled my thoughts as I reached the trail-head. To my amazement, “THE HILL”, was little different from the other hills we climbed.
As I stood victoriously looking over the valley below, I realized how quickly we had let a perceived threat totally defeat us. We had fallen victim to the fear mongers.
Today as I research the route for my next hike, the fear mongers have already left notes for me on Guthook (a navigation app). This time it is a river crossing!
For you it may be, snow in the Sierra’s, a mountain pass, bugs, snakes, bears… The list is limitless when we are in the wilderness.
Perceived or real, how can we win the mental battle with fear?
I. EXPECT EXAGGERATION
Its human nature to never waste a good crisis. We have a built-in ability to present the fantastical!
For many, (I’m guilty) stories of our encounters in nature become more dramatic with each telling.
Hikers are like fisherman telling the story of their latest catch, the story grows every time it is told. An ankle-deep water crossing becomes calf deep, knee deep, waist deep, then…
There will be always be situations, like “THE HILL”, where we won’t know the truth until we encounter it ourselves.
II. CONDITIONS CHANGE
Pondering my certain death at the river crossing, I realized, the hiker who left the Guthook note crossed this river in the spring when river levels are high. And… he posted the note a over year ago.
I will be hiking in late summer or early fall which is drought season in Arkansas. I may actually have issues finding water on this hike.
My hike will look very different from the hiker who had issues crossing the river.
III. CONSIDER THE SOURCE
There is an old saying, “There is no substitute for experience!”
I am not presenting myself as an expert, but there are many armchair hikers out there offering information.
How an experienced thru hiker views conditions on a trail will be much different than a weekend warrior (no disrespect intended).
When we know in advance that we may be facing an obstacle, do a little research on how to overcome it. YouTube is our friend in this one.
With my upcoming river crossing, I have learned by watching a few videos, how to cross a swollen stream properly (or when not to). If the crossing looks unsafe where the trail crosses, to check the map and search up or downstream for a safer spot.
There may be a spot where the river widens, or the current is not as swift (or a bridge lol).
IV. IS IT TRUE
Some situations are just not worth the risk, especially on weekend trip. For most of us, the trail will still be there next weekend.
A thru hike will have many different elements than we mortals face on a section hike. A thru hiker can wait a day for river levels to drop or snow to harden in the pass the next morning.
Discretion may just be the greater part of valor. There will be situations where safety is the best choice.
At the end of the day I have adopted the motto: “Don’t let the fear of death keep you from living!” But let’s choose to live!
What fear mongering have you experienced on the trail?