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How I Overcame My Fear of Heights on a Ledge in Costa Rica

Have the outdoors or traveling ever helped you conquer a fear? It did for Liz from our travel team at REI Adventures. Check out her inspiring story:

I'm a backpacker, a cyclist and a runner. But, I'm terrified of heights. It's a natural, common fear, right? Sure. But I feel like mine is taken up a few notches. Get me on a vertical wall or ask me to step off a ledge and I shake, I freeze, my heart pounds, my hands sweat. 
 
Liz rappellingI just completed REI Adventures' Costa Rica Ultimate Adventure trip with 13 REI members and REI´s award-winning guide, Marco (a.k.a. "Tex", shown below on the right). 
 
Our guide, TexA few days ago our group went rappelling in the rainforest. In a canyon. Through waterfalls! For some reason I didn't think this would bother me, probably because as afraid of heights as I am, it sounded like an absolute blast. I knew the equipment was sound and the guides were experienced. I knew I'd be on belay, so even if I let go with both hands I still would not fall because the guide below would pull the rope and stop me. I knew all these things, but it didn't matter.
 
Rappelling down a cliff in Costa Rica

We took off on our hike into the lush rainforest. I could hear a lot of birds chirping around us in the trees, happy for the earlier rain shower. After we hiked in to the first rappel platform, I started to get a tad nervous. I can remember joking around with JoAnn and Gemma (2 trip participants) that they may have to push me to get me to go over that ledge. At this point I'm standing on the platform and can hear Nick and Megan, the first to rappel, hollering and yelling on their way down. Their excitement carried over the waterfall roaring right next to them.
 
Pete then lowers himself over the edge and I'm up next! Bam! My heart starts racing. I stop joking with the others and turn silent. I wasn't about to peek over the edge to see how high we were but I had a good sense just by looking out into the giant tree canopy. For the record, which I found out later, we were 170 feet in the air! 
 
Getting encouragementOne of the rappelling guides, Mauricio, took my harness and tried pulling me closer to the edge so he could attach the rope to my harness. Once the rope was secured, I was unlatched from the group's wire at the back of the platform and it really hit me then that I'd have to willingly step off that ledge, 170 feet high. Then, I just couldn't help it. I was so overwhelmed with fear tears came rolling down my face.

Right then, Mauricio stopped everything and focused his entire concentration and energy on me. He looked me straight in the eyes and and kept repeating: "You can do this". Over and over he said that while never taking his eyes off mine.

I looked up at the rest of my group and they all started yelling encouragement to me, "You got this, girl!" Tex says to me very calmly, "Liz, you don't have to do this. I can hike down with you and we can take pictures from below." I shook my head 'no'. Mauricio then had me sit in my harness to feel the weight of the rope holding me up. I stood straight again, shaking, and he repeats, "You can do this". The way he said it was with such assurance I started to gain more confidence in stepping off. 
 
Rappelling down the fallsHe told me to sit in the harness again and said to just walk backwards. I wanted to rappel so badly and knew if I didn't I would be really disappointed in missing all the fun. If I could just make myself take that first plunge. I decided to hold my breath and go for it. And, finally, I did it!

 As soon as I was over the ledge and lowering myself down, most of that fear went away. I still felt a little uneasy and scared but it was also mixed with accomplishment and excitement. The sounds of the rainforest came back now and I noticed the huge, rushing waterfall to my right. The powerful spray and towering trees within the canyon helped remind me of why this activity was so special—the wild, untamed, tropical forest. When JoAnn reached the bottom after me she ran over with a huge smile on her face and she said, "I'm buying YOU a drink!"
 
Going off the platform on each of the next 5 rappels got easier and easier. The next thing I knew, I was having fun and wanted to do more! Everybody loved the waterfall rappelling and wanted to hike to the top of the canyon and do them all over again. 

In the fallsMauricio's professionalism, calmness and assurances gave me the support and confidence I needed to rappel down. He took his time making sure I felt comfortable. He never said, "Oh, this is easy" or "Why are you scared?" He never dismissed my fears, but instead knew exactly how to handle the situation. Knowing the others in the REI group (or as Tex calls them "our familia") supported me, and were not a bunch of strangers annoyed I was taking longer than most, gave me strength. And finally, Tex giving me an option to hike down gave me peace of mind knowing my guide was behind me no matter what my decision.

As JoAnn put it: "Sure, heights will always be there, but you overcame that and really conquered something today!" 
 
Gracias Mauricio, Tex, y mi familia. ¡No pude hacerlo sin tu apoyo! (Thanks, Mauricio, Tex and my family. I couldn't have done it without your support!)

Find out more about my trip on www.tripline.net/lizb.

What fears have you overcome on your travels? Share them with us.

Photo below: That's me after rappelling down the falls.

Posted on at 5:10 PM

Tagged: Costa Rica, REI Adventures, Travel, fears and rappelling

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sunghwan oriental nature

Great! You send to applause for his courage..

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Joe P. Staff Member

Nice work, Liz!

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Mdoddfather

When I was reading this entry, your description of the fear and excitement of stepping up to the ledge and than the rap brought tears to my eyes. I climb for that exact same reason... The strength and drive it takes one to step up and overcome your own fears is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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Northwest Native

I'm so proud of you, Liz! (I'm putting this trip on my bucket list!)

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Ann B

Way to go, Liz! I know exactly how you feel. Climbing helped me overcome my fear of heights, but I still get twinges now and then.

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