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A Healthy Fear

Have you ever been scared on a mountain? Frightened for your life — or for your fingers or toes? Have you ever wondered frantically which way to run from an alpine thunderstorm? Have the winds ever knocked you flat? Has the cold ever invaded your body so deeply that you had extraordinary difficulty with the most mundane tasks? These conditions and more can consume your mind if you hike in the White Mountain National Forest, especially if you do so on the Presidential Range, Franconia Ridge, or other expansive alpine area. Anywhere, really. And especially if you do so in the winter. These conditions can elicit fear (and with our fore-knowledge, these conditions command respect). And if you’ve felt this fear, it’s because you’ve been out there, on the edge — or perhaps beyond the edge — of your comfort zone or ability. That fear you feel is normal. And if you respect it, yield to it in a non-panicked way, to use it as a tool, it may help you stay alive.

Many of us here at Redline Guiding have felt this fear. Whether it be weather related (too windy or cold), terrain related (too steep or icy), or both, and we’re not at all ashamed to admit this. We’ve yielded to it, probably wisely, as we turned around saying “the heck with this, let’s go home.” Not chicken, just experienced enough to understand that our fear may contain a warning worth listening to. We’ve been out there, making that rarely-easy decision. Weighing our options. Calculating the risks. The choices we make are tough, especially as guides. We want to deliver the goods, but never at all costs. Fortunately, while the decision-making process doesn’t get easier, we do find that thanks to our experience, we make the correct choices more frequently despite how much we genuinely labor over them sometimes.

This isn’t an tutorial on how you should make your decisions or how we arrive at ours. Maybe that can be covered in another article. What this is is a reminder that you’re not alone if you’ve ever been scared out there. This is a reminder to accept, understand, and use that fear to your advantage. Not yield to it in every instance, but to stop and think things through. Ask those “what-ifs” and determine for yourself what value you place on them. Consider others while you’re at it. Other hikers, your loved ones, friends and family, even members of search and rescue. The decisions you make may affect them, as well. Think about this for a bit when you’re out there, on the edge, juggling your hopefully still coherent thoughts.

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