Common outdoor climbing phobias and how to combat them


When you're climbing outdoors, you inevitably end up facing some of your biggest fears, whether it's heights, dirt, or pooing in the wild. Here are some tips and tools on how I dealt with three of my phobias.

1. Mosquitoes
Yes, there are mosquitoes in the wild! Tons at Lover's Leap, where I went to test my climbing gear, especially near the little stream of water that runs along the path to the crags in the early evening. Outdoor Research has gaiters &mdash durable leg warmers that go over and strap under your shoes &mdash that are treated with insect repellent. Gaiters also help keep dirt and pebbles out of your shoes.

Mosquitoes are often at the campsite, too. Since a lot of climbers ditch the tent in an effort to minimize weight, taking a bug bivy with you is also a good idea.

2. Heights
I'm not normally scared of heights, but I have to admit that hanging out on the edge of a 400-foot-tall cliff and trying to look down to see how my climbing buddy was doing whilst being held in place by one flimsy rope was a little freaky at times. Since positive self-talk (it's ok, breathe, you're not gonna fall) was not really working, I thought of my own calming down method &mdash I found tiny flowers and leaves in the rock's cracks and pretended they were my dog Ruby. "Hi Ruby," I'd say, and suddenly my fear was replaced by a warm, fuzzy feeling. "What are you doing here?" I know it sounds crazy, but try it. It works.

3. Getting lost
This may not be a realistic fear unless you're going way into back country, but the thought of not being able to head straight back to base camp after a long day of hiking and climbing is pretty daunting. I was with a trustworthy leader who knew his way around the Leap, but if you're trekking out on your own, you could take the Bushnell Backtrack &mdash it records your starting point and then constantly directs you back to it with arrows and mileage. Of course, this could be totally futile if roads are windy and sparse, or if there are rivers and bears and stuff that get in the way of a direct path home. But it hooks easily onto a carabiner and for $80, it's not bad. (I also recommend this product, by the way, to people who can't locate their cars in mall parking lots.)

4. Pooing in the wild
The only thing I have to say about pooing in nature is that it's fun! Try it. Just remember to wipe, and take your dirty paper with you after you're done.

Published by Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.

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  1. 2. Heights

    Oddly, I’m not scared of heights, I am however terrified of edges.

    Back when I did climbing, going up the face was no problem, and rappelling down was no problem. But the initially leaning back over the edge for the rappel scared the hell out of me every time.

    Went I was very young(14-16) and stupid I would free-climb damn near anything I could get a toe-hold on. “30 ft cliff of crumbling stone over a boulder-strewn surf? Sure!” But once I got to the top, looking back down over that same edge would make me feel sick.

    Doesn’t come up much lately, but anyone “jokingly” pretending to push me off an edge is angling for bodily injury.

  2. My girlfriend has some more trouble with:

    1. Bees and other biting/stinging insects

    2. Bears!

    3. Super-volcanoes

    Please address.

  3. I think you’re fine leaving the paper behind, just pile some rocks on it to hide it from human view.

    Just get the cheap already-recycled paper that scratches your butt, but disintegrates easily. Shouldn’t be a problem then, I think. (Or I’ve been doing it wrong all my life.)

  4. I’m not even a climber, but your posts today have been pretty interesting reads, Lisa. Thanks!

  5. This is the only way to poo in the woods:
    1. make sure you are at least 500 feet and down hill from known water sources. This is important.
    2. Collect some butt leaves. Butt leaves grow almost everywhere other plants grow. The top side is smooth, the bottom is more abrasive. They work better than any kind of toilet paper man can devise. The only thing that works better than these leaves is a bidet.
    3. Get a stick and dig a hole. If you have a small shovel, dig a bigger one.
    4. Do your business in the hole. Try to get it in the hole.
    5. Use butt leaves to clean butt and put them in the hole.
    6. Return dirt to the hole and make it look like nothing happened.

    Leaving any paper, whether or not it is twice or thrice recycled, is offensive and foul.

    If you should choose to return to civilization, you will miss the butt leaves and start cultivating you own.

  6. Hi, great posts. Instead of recommending a gps unit which could fail, why not learn to use some old-school tech like a topo map and compass. They rarely, if ever fail. It is pretty easy to learn and fun, too. there are some good books out there. Also, always pack a small LED headlamp with fresh batteries even if you are hitting the trail in the morning. My butt has been saved more than once by having a light source on hand.

  7. “6. Return dirt to the hole and make it look like nothing happened.”

    Sounds like the poo equivalent of a tiger trap.

  8. Do you need a description of a tiger trap?

    The “?” should be outside the quote btw. I didn’t ask a question.

  9. Indeed they don’t

    Rule 2. The placement of question marks with quotes follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

    Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?
    Here the question is outside the quote.

    A tiger trap, like in the Swiss family Robinson is a hole covered with leaves, sticks, and dirt to look as if there is no hole.

    Sometimes there are spikes in the bottom.

  10. Re the Toxonix method: why should I make sure I’m 500 ft away (I remember a similar figure of 300 ft from my boy scouting days)?

    Seems that in the ~800,000 sq ft area around the water there’s bound to be so many animal droppings (and carcasses) as to render my own contribution negligible.

  11. @12:

    Sometimes my poo spikes me in the bottom too!

    Is it still true that in the US national parks you have to cart all your excrement away in old ammo tins?

    Fantastic. I’m suprise that all your green places aren’t overrun by scat-munchers by now. I have to agree though that there’s nothing more offensive than walking through your favourite national park to find a massive land mine just sat on the turf (with obligatory pink toilet paper topping fluttering in the breeze). Apart from perhaps ramblers roaming the land with their own supplies of the stuff sloshing around their rucksacks.

    I was once on a Via Ferrata in the alps and due to a couple of slips that almost sent me hurtling 10m bad down to the last pin in a huge vertical section, became afflicted with an urgent need. Luckily, about half-way around the next section (where the route was horizontal but the rock was overhanging) I found a substantial cave in which I was able to relieve myself (weirdest poop I ever did). Now obviously it would be pretty inconsiderate to just leave it there, so I did what any sensible person would do – I buried it in old rabbit droppings. But the question is; how the hell did rabbits get into a cave with a single entrance which opens out onto a clif face hundreds of meters high and overhanging?

    I hope I didn’t cover my poo in fossils.

  12. Just the mere thought of someone trying to encourage me to get over a fear of heights and climb, accompanied by a picture of a big rock, makes me start twitching. No thanks.

  13. Looks like I’m going to have to be explicit and ruin the joke:

    “(Winnie the) pooh equivalent of a (T)tigger trap?”


    Thanks. They’re edible too! Good for both ends?

  14. @ 16:

    If that is the case, I hope that no Biblical Literalists ever find it…

    “OMG! This is proof that man co-existed with fossil rabbits, which are exactly the same as fossil dinosaurs!”

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