Facing fears above the clouds

I’m standing on a tiny, two-inch wide cliff on my toes. I hold the Via Ferrata cable with my left hand and trying to find a good grip on the rock wall with the other one. I am totally focused on moving myself forward step by step on the vertical wall and to get on the wider ledge above me. We are climbing via Ferrata and the summit of Tofana di Mezzo. I don’t look down the drop of 650 feet, but I admire the magnificent view from 10,000 feet— the surrounding mountains, the green valleys, the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds that are literally around me.

I see the iron stick that seems to be hanging in the air, which I have to reach with my right foot. I turn my gaze back to the gray mosaic stone. Suddenly the skulking fear gets me, and I loosed my nerve and froze — shit, I lost it.

My mind is quickly getting overwhelmed: I try to find a good grip and my fingers wander nervously. I see the image of myself hanging there by myself on the wall, on a high mountain and having a huge drop below — just like in all those climbing pictures — what am I doing here, I'm doing that stuff!

What if I fall, can I trust the cables, can I trust the via ferrata self-belay kit is working, the umbilical cord as I call it as my life depends on it. I hate this! The fall factor is much higher in via ferratas than in a rock climbing fall. I would get hurt as I would drop at least 30 foot and hit whatever. I can’t fall — all this information occupies my mind.

My legs are shaking visibly, like in the old cartoon movies.

“Breathe Jenni, breathe,” I calm myself down. “You have felt this feeling of panic before, many times in different situations. Pull yourself together. Trust yourself; you got this.”

I called my inner tiger to help me out — this was not a good time for the lazy panda.

Slowly, inch by inch I force myself to move forward, taking steady steps, good grips and I’m climbing on the ledge. I breathe heavily and realize the worst is over.

There were more ladders, narrow paths on the mountain tops, some covered with snow, more cables and fun rock climbing — and after I had faced the fear thoroughly, I managed to enjoy it all. It was a blissful day, no matter we had to climb down and eat snow when we run out of the water, as the ski lift we planned to take down was under maintenance.

When climbing via ferratas, the iron routes at the Dolomites and in some places in the Alps, you get to hike and climb and see places that are usually only for rock climbers or not even for them. I’ve been rock climbing for a couple of years now, mostly inside but I’ve been at the Dolomites before so I kind of knew what to expect. I am lucky my husband is an experienced mountaineer, and I’ve learned a lot from him. Climbing the most challenging ferratas without experience and good planning can be life-threading.

The conditions can get serious up there, and climbing is very different outside. On our first climbing days, I got stiff of the fear and was not able to find the joy and the excitement of the climbing.

“Have I just become that fearful and lost that adventurer in me?” I pondered.

I recognized that itchy feeling of excitement and butterflies in my stomach was familiar for me, which was calling me to go for it. That feeling includes two options: either I go for it, face and get over my fears and challenge myself. It can mean I’d be failing, but I’d learn and experience and create change. Or, I could leave it and approve it was not for me this time. And regret it later.

I had to clarify this all for myself and get insight, so I sat down and had a mini-coaching session with myself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What’s behind the fear?
  • Where is that fear coming from?

I remembered (ha!) it had been my dream I had set a few years ago; I had wanted to start climbing and mountaineering.

I’m a nature addict to the bone; that’s my Finnish heritage, and I’ve been skiing since I was four and I love the snow, the forests, and the mountains. I need the nature’s healing and balancing “green power” almost every day; it can be only a walk in the park and sitting on the grass. I enjoy the extreme adrenaline rush and the blissful feeling afterward. And exploring — all of it.

About the fears. I was getting out of my comfort zone big time that I hadn’t done for a while. Climbing these high mountains was new to me. I got stiff of the fear when I read the descriptions of the routes and the grades. I was afraid I would be drained physically, no matter I am in a good physical shape. I was afraid I was not good enough, and brave enough, in front of my hubby’s eyes. I didn’t trust and give myself credits. I noticed I had kind of lost my wilderness and guts.

Fears are supposed to keep us safe, but they are number one reason why we don’t stretch out from the safety zone and follow our desires, big or small.

It’s easy to stay there, satisfy less (and complain) and let the resistance rule. But we all have much more power, the knowledge, the capabilities and skills than we know - we need to challenge ourselves occasionally! New things won’t feel easy at first, not always even enjoyable but when you get over that first phase - bliss is waiting.

I decided to go for it. I relaxed my mind and the body. I called my inner tiger to walk by my side. That powerful, calm animal, who takes it easy when it can and roars when needed.

Quick self-reflection guide (how to handle crisis creatively, get understanding of what you need now and move forward)

When you feel it’s difficult to find answers or make decisions, take responsibility, pick pen and paper and ask yourself:

  • How do you feel (be honest)?
  • What do you need?
  • What do you desire (how do you want it to be)?
  • Who are you (in your heart)?
  • What needs to change?
  • How and where you need to adapt to get there (it’s about you, not others)?
  • Think and ask the questions - get quiet and listen

Pro tip: If you don't find any answers, let it rest for a while - don't try to force, it makes it worse - trust the answer will come and forget it. Be willing to be surprised and open to the new and change things up.

Always with love, Jenni

p.s. if you got interested about via ferratas and climbing in Italy, see this cool video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziRuQIuqN_M

Photo by Joonas Makkonen