I have a confession to make. I used to be deathly afraid of heights.
I still am, sort of, but I’ve learned to work with it.
My father believes it stems from my premature attempt at toddler free-soloing during a trip to Lake Powell, which left me perched on a ledge well below the top of the sandstone escarpment but above a 50-100 ft clean drop into deep water. The exposure was bad enough that he was scared down climbing to me and he had nightmares for a while after the rescue. No one had any idea how I had gotten in such a precarious position, and if it hadn’t been for luck and a passing motorboat seeing me & reporting me to my parents, who knows what would have happened?
As a child I would freak out and cry when we would be driving on a road alongside a steep drop (like the ones along roadsides in Great Basin National Park), though airplanes didn’t scare me unless we were taking off or landing. Technically it wasn’t heights that scared me – it was ‘exposure’. Airplanes were manageable, but nothing was more terrifying to me than the idea of being out on a big open face with a view straight down the fall line. No one would have expected me to get into mountaineering, rock climbing, or, especially, big wall climbing.
During a winter descent into a canyon in the San Rafael Swell as a Boy Scout, we had to rappel to get past cliffs and snow covered slabs. It was there that I first realized that when I was connected into a safety system, although I was still frightened, I could take that fear and ‘set it aside’, so to speak, and focus on the task at hand. This allowed me to get into rock climbing, though I still have moments atop some climbs when I’m unroped in exposed terrain where I act, as my late friend Brent Haick put it, “Like a cat stuck in a tree.”