The Fear Zone
Jacque Garcia | June 2018
Moab is a place where one can experience both their wildest dreams and they’re wildest fears- often at the same time. The struggle to understand why such a high concentration of people strive to experience and overcome their fears in this slice of desert is an endless and intriguing voyage into human nature.
Franklin Delanor Roosevelt once claimed that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I’ve appreciated that quote for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think I truly grasped its meaning until I found myself in Moab.
Fear is an ever present aspect of the lives of Moab’s adventure seekers. The town and its surrounding areas are filled with people who not only encounter, but actively seek out sweaty-palmed, heart-pounding experiences in climbing, mountain biking, highlining, BASE jumping, and more.
The implicit understanding between those who seek out fear is that there is something to be gained from the experience. That, somehow, placing your psyche in contact with the raw, visceral, and inescapable reality of fear enhances your quality of life, forcing you to embrace a part of your humanity only acknowledged out of necessity.
Between climbing and slacklining, sometimes I feel like I spend half of my life being afraid to fall, and I never even realized I was afraid of heights until last October when I first climbed at Indian Creek. As I slipped off the route I was climbing on Fin wall, I looked down to see 80 feet of climbing below me and roughly another 1,000 of approach. I froze. I asked to be lowered off of that climb that day—something my stubborn persistence to get to the top rarely allows—all because of fear. It wasn’t that it was impossible—I was on a top rope, in good shape, and 3/4 of the way up the climb. I was just afraid. In that moment, I thought I hated climbing. I resolved not to get into the sport and to remain a gym sport climber, if anything.
By the time I hit the ground, though, I was already thinking about the next route I would attempt, how to improve my crack climbing skills, and what I could do better next time. That trip to The Creek, though filled with fear and failure, inspired my pursuit of desert crack climbing. By March of 2018, just five months later, I was leading trad. A month after that, I led all three pitches of the North Chimney of Castleton Tower, a 400 foot desert tower with a 1,000 foot approach.
At one point in the midst of this journey, I climbed Owl Rock with a couple of less experienced climbers. A tower in Arches National Park that stands about 130 feet tall, it’s a great first tower. When we got to the top of the tower and were preparing to rappel down, my friend Haley, one of the newer climbers, seemed nearly paralyzed with fear. As I talked her through her rappel set up, she looked at me and asked, “This is just no big deal to you anymore, is it? Do you ever even get scared anymore?”
I had to laugh out loud. “All the time,” I remember replying. “You just get more comfortable with the fear.” As soon as the words had left my mouth, I realized just how poignantly true they were. Climbing still scares me. Every time. I’ve just become comfortable with the uncomfortable, something I was first encouraged to do over ten years ago from my high school swim coach Steve Brown, who must have insisted upon it enough that it became impressed into my psyche.
I’m not the only one who feels this way—in fact, I’m far from it. While climbing in The Creek with my friend Anthony, a climber with a preference for alpine multi-pitch, he admitted to me that he used to be so afraid of heights that he was unable to even approach the railings of hotel balconies. “It’s a challenge,” he explained. “I didn’t like being scared of heights, I just was. It was a challenge getting over it.”