Saturday, 6 April 2019

Face to Face with Fear


Every move I was acutely aware that one slip would be the last one. There was no ledge I might get stuck on or large plant/tree I could grab on the way down...

29 January, 2019 and the day after leaving the comfort of the Rancho at Puerto Español and the welcome company of Sergio Anselmino. The previous night I had camped next to the hut at Rio Sopresa and today continuing eastwards along the coast of Bahia Aguirre, one of the biggest bays of Peninsula Mitre in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. 

Rancho Sopresa - Peninsula Mitre
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"Ascending a ridge coastline with some cliffs, i had got myself onto a section where it became almost vertical. Vertical with rocks that were crumbling in my hands, a fine gravel that refused to give any foothold and some small shrubs, a few of which were thankfully well anchored. On my back was a 35kg+ backpack, newly stocked up the two nights before in Puerto Español,  and my two trekking poles (which i was using as anchors where i could!). I was not even remotely equipped for this - from the bottom the ascent had seemed stable and nothing more steep than 45 degrees in one spot. By the time, i realised how this was turning out, going back was not an option, especially with the backpack seemingly trying to pull me off the cliff all the time. I had to find some way up unless some descent route miraculously revealed itself."

Bahia Aguirre - Peninsula Mitre
View down the cliff I ended up climbing up with the heavy backpack. 
(Yes, I even took a photo!)

"Every move I was acutely aware that one slip would be the last one. There was no ledge I might get stuck on or large plant/tree I could grab on the way down - the bushes there were would certainly not withstand that combination of weight and momentum! The real fear, the panic, was just below the surface and i was very much aware of it - i was actively “distracting” myself by concentrating on finding a way up and checking every hand hold, every foothold…attempting to make only sensible decisions."
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Facing your fears adds another challenge to the already considerable list of mental challenges during an extreme physical and solo expedition. This is where you're forced to get further out of  your comfort zone and do something which literally scares you - gets the heart racing, hands starting to sweat - mind running in a thousand directions as you look at what lies ahead. So how to deal with this because, as is well known, fear can be debilitating. The need to harness this in order to achieve what has to be done, and overcome it, is imperative. Simply suppressing it doesn't serve any purpose and in fact, the suppression might not be overly successful either. 

Adrenaline/extreme activities function as such because of a level of fear in us humans. Sure, call it being nervous but it all boils down to the fear that triggers the release of the adrenaline that will put the mind into super alert mode and the body into a higher level of physical functioning. This becomes addictive as athletes push for the bigger adrenaline rush through more extreme activities.

Peninsula Mitre
The views I got to enjoy a couple of hours later. 

Why am I telling you this? Simple, because it shows the harnessing of the fear to drive decisions and actions that have a higher chance of success. This means, example again, a skydiver does his pre-jump equipment check really thoroughly, revising mentally the emergency procedures in the case there being an equipment malfunction. Conditioning the mind results in this eventually being a ‘normal activity about which the person feels a bit nervous but positively looks forward to it…the adrenaline release also gets less as one gets more accustomed to it (remember it started with being at least a little bit scared the first time)

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"I reached what seemed distinctly to me like a “junction” where I could continue the line (if you could call it that!) I was following or, go about three metres to the left and try go sort of around a rock pinnacle where it seemed there more stable bushes and footholds. The problem was that moving across those 3m, i would need to lunge and grab onto a largish bush - the type of bush that proved to mostly be pretty stable holds. This had to be done in such a way that the backpack didn't follow gravity…down! It was pretty heavy as it had just been refilled with provisions at Puerto Español, in other words a minimum of 35kg! (Just writing this has got my hands sweaty and my heart beating fast!!)"

"The first moves to the left i aimed at 2-3 times before finally just going for it, wondering briefly (…and unbelievably calm!!!) if someone flying over in a helicopter or plane would eventually see the body on the beach if I missed that grab. What bollocks!! Luckily it seemed to not be something stuck in my head although i do remember thinking it. Anyway, the lunge and grab worked and I stopped for a short breather."
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Bahía Aguirre - Peninsula Mitre
It's important to mention too that telling yourself “I can’t!” or “I’m really scared!” is a big no-no! This is totally counterproductive and must be avoided, at least suppress those thoughts (for the moment) and constructively think of how you’re going to overcome this hurdle which will also serve to distract you some from those negative thoughts. The adrenaline that will already be pumping will be making your mind more alert, sharper and help you. This is where harnessing what's happening both physically and mentally (via the adrenaline) is so important; you have just been gifted with a massive resource! No, it isn't that easy and it means taking a conscious decision - “I just have to do this, the only way that I can get out of this situation is by getting over this obstacle!”

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Adrenaline really pumping now, I continued albeit slowly, very slowly and ascended up what happened to be the last 10m with the final 5m about 45 degrees - to me virtually horizontal at that moment! The GPS showed an ascent of just over 60m at the brief stop I did at the top - it was only about an half an hour later that i actually forced myself to stop and take my backpack off! Then I realised that my heart was still beating like crazy and the adrenaline still pumping! Later that night, images from the ascent would haunt me and keep me awake. 

Not only had I been completely out of my comfort zone, I had experienced a brief moment of fear which I’m not sure I’ve ever felt both mentally and physically simultaneously. This was not even a case of just being really nervous, this was on another level!
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Rio Bagualero - Peninsula Mitre

Conquering that fear, overcoming that hurdle...a very important step in becoming mentally and emotionally stronger. Don't allow it to haunt to you - remember, next time it's not something that's outside your comfort zone anymore...you're old acquaintances now. 
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