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    Default AT thru hike with fear of heights

    A little introduction. Im Mike, im 37 and live in between cornfields known as Illinois. In 3 years im planning on a thru hike of the AT. For my entire life ive had a horrible fear of heights. Mostly centered around man made structures ( stairs, bridges, roller coasters and ferris wheels etc etc).

    My main questions revolved around being able to venture on a thru hike with my fear of heights. The start of the trail is Springer Mountain GA, do you have scale the stairs at the water fall to start your hike or is there a way around that? Where else would I run into problems? Ive been researching for a bit now and Ive seen that Knife edge in PA, Bear Mountain Bridge in NY, Palmerton PA and some other places. Is it possible to Uber or hitch hike across the big bridges? Are there any spots where you are cliff walking or rock climbing?

  2. #2

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    The stairs up the access road aren't an official part of the AT. You can catch a shuttle up the Forest Service Rd to the Springer Mt parking for the AT, head south to the top, and start your hike north.

    I can only speak for the first 600 miles heading north.

    A lot depends on your specific fear. There aren't any places where you look straight down, with nothing under you. There are a few rock scrambles, where you might have to change elevation by 15 feet total going up or down big rocks, with maybe a 3 foot traverse between rocks. Kind of like you sit on your but, and step down to the next rock, with no empty space between the rocks.

    Going north Albert mountain is a long steep rock climb, but it's up a foot or so between each rocky step, not technically difficult but possibly tiring at the end of a day. If you look backwards, you might get yourself in trouble. There's also a blue blaze around Albert mountain.

    Firescale Ridge was a stunning rock crawl, but as I recall, you can largely avoid going to the tippy top of the ridge with the deep drop.

    Mostly, there are a bunch of flattish trails cut along the side of 45% slopes, with trees below you, that probably shouldn't set you off.

    Heights don't bother me in real life, but I get freaked/vertigo out by videos of other people on heights, as I have no control over their actions, or where they point the camera next. Hopefully, as you take each step on the trail, you'll feel in control and be able to proceed.

    Edit: Early in spring, the views are more open down those 45% slopes, once the leaves come in, those views get a lot less frequent.
    Last edited by Puddlefish; 04-13-2019 at 13:45.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Puddlefish View Post
    The stairs up the access road aren't an official part of the AT. You can catch a shuttle up the Forest Service Rd to the Springer Mt parking for the AT, head south to the top, and start your hike north.

    I can only speak for the first 600 miles heading north.

    A lot depends on your specific fear. There aren't any places where you look straight down, with nothing under you. There are a few rock scrambles, where you might have to change elevation by 15 feet total going up or down big rocks, with maybe a 3 foot traverse between rocks. Kind of like you sit on your but, and step down to the next rock, with no empty space between the rocks.

    Going north Albert mountain is a long steep rock climb, but it's up a foot or so between each rocky step, not technically difficult but possibly tiring at the end of a day. If you look backwards, you might get yourself in trouble. There's also a blue blaze around Albert mountain.

    Firescale Ridge was a stunning rock crawl, but as I recall, you can largely avoid going to the tippy top of the ridge with the deep drop.

    Mostly, there are a bunch of flattish trails cut along the side of 45% slopes, with trees below you, that probably shouldn't set you off.

    Heights don't bother me in real life, but I get freaked/vertigo out by videos of other people on heights, as I have no control over their actions, or where they point the camera next. Hopefully, as you take each step on the trail, you'll feel in control and be able to proceed.
    thank you for the info. 15 feet climbs like you describe dont bother me, its the standing on a ledge with a 500-1000 foot drop off like mcafee knob that i sadly would not be able to do. And walking across tall bridges like Bear Mountain are a no go also.

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    James River pedestrian bridge, Del Water Gap, swinging cable bridges, Mcafee Knob area Mt Moussalake, Mahoosuc Notch, The whites above tree line, Bear Mt Bridge,

    There are times when you're on the edges of escarpments or drop offs.

  5. #5

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    Different folks have different fears of heights. I took a friend up the Hunt Trail (the AT) to the top of Katahdin. She has done all the 4000 footers in NH but has some issues with cliffs and dropoffs. When we got to the ridge just before the plateau she froze up and I was starting to think we werent moving. Eventually she made it up to the plateau and then literally crawled up to the summit sign and pulled her self up. There is the beginning of 1000 foot plus drop off about 10 feet behind the summit sign. The trip down was not any easier. Her issue is if she loses reference with the ground in her peripheral vision. I have joked that we need to buy her some horse blinders and expect they would help. . There is suspension bridge in the whites in the Great Gulf wilderness and if the water is up, you are not crossing without it and no good options to bypass is without losing a lot of trail as the logical bypass around it also has much longer much higher suspension bridge. Some folks have issues on the Wildcat Ridge trail up Wildcat from Pinkham Notch. The trail goes over several open ledges with pin steps in them and then goes up a section where they blasted a walkway into the side of a ledge. Heck I have even met people who have issues on the Osgood Ridge coming down off Madison. The Mahoosucs and western Maine have several very steep ledges that have metal rungs set in them so its the equivalent of climbing a ladder with uneven steps.

    I expect Dragons Tooth down south may give some folks a issue.

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    While there is lots of plain old woodland trail, there are many exposed places and steep ascents/descents all along the AT if what you listed (the stairs at Amacalola Falls State Park [not part of the AT], the descent into Palmerton, stairs, bridges, etc.) are the determining criteria - and many of them just can't realistically be bypassed from a logistics standpoint. You'd might as well end the hike at Glencliff, NH as well, as lots of NH and western ME, and Katahdin would be out of the question. But you have three years to work on mitigating the exposure / acrophobia issues, and hiking in a group can also help with such issues. Just being honest.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 04-13-2019 at 14:10.

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    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    I have a slight fear of heights. Let me tell you, there are quite a few places on the AT that bring that fear to the surface. I've done 1,875 miles of the trail NOBO so far and the White Mountains, the Knife's Edge and the boulders of Lehigh Gap are just a few places that I occasionally think back to. Depending on your level of fear, you may have some problems - especially on the northern part of the trail.

    The view from atop the boulders at Lehigh Gap
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    Ditto on the Lehigh gap! I remember that day well when my hiking buddy II Cat did a full body slide right behind me, we lived ��
    "every day's a holiday, every meal a feast"

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    I have a slight fear of heights. Let me tell you, there are quite a few places on the AT that bring that fear to the surface. I've done 1,875 miles of the trail NOBO so far and the White Mountains, the Knife's Edge and the boulders of Lehigh Gap are just a few places that I occasionally think back to. Depending on your level of fear, you may have some problems - especially on the northern part of the trail.

    The view from atop the boulders at Lehigh Gap
    yikes. My toes just curled looking at that lol Maybe the blue blaze trail around the mountain would be better for me then. How did you do crossing all of the bridges on foot?

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    While there is lots of plain old woodland trail, there are many exposed places and steep ascents/descents all along the AT if what you listed (the stairs at Amacalola Falls State Park [not part of the AT], the descent into Palmerton, stairs, bridges, etc.) are the determining criteria - and many of them just can't realistically be bypassed from a logistics standpoint. You'd might as well end the hike at Glencliff, NH as well, as lots of NH and western ME, and Katahdin would be out of the question. But you have three years to work on mitigating the exposure / acrophobia issues, and hiking in a group can also help with such issues. Just being honest.
    thank you for the honesty. I wish I didnt have the very severe case of acrophobia but Ive been dealing with it my entire life

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    James River pedestrian bridge, Del Water Gap, swinging cable bridges, Mcafee Knob area Mt Moussalake, Mahoosuc Notch, The whites above tree line, Bear Mt Bridge,

    There are times when you're on the edges of escarpments or drop offs.
    Thank you for the info. Ive been watching 2 youtubers that vlogged their thru hike last year, and the places you mentioned were troublesome from what I remember in their videos. James river foot bridge doesnt look bad though, Its not very high up so I shouldnt have too much trouble with it.

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    Not to diminish the OP’s real fears, are there sections that are truly unsafe where you might die or get seriously injured? For instance, don’t hike this section when tired as a moment of inattention will be bad news.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kittyslayer View Post
    Not to diminish the OPís real fears, are there sections that are truly unsafe where you might die or get seriously injured? For instance, donít hike this section when tired as a moment of inattention will be bad news.
    There's nothing that should sneak up on you and surprise you. But, there are plenty of places that are as you describe. I had two stoned friends fall off the trail and get bruised, one broke a shoulder blade and ended his hike, the other just destroyed her hiking pole. I was walking down a simple boring incline, perfectly sober, and just turned my head to see the view, and blew out my knee during the stumble. Another friend caught his giant backpack on a tree and nearly twisted himself off a ledge.

    You're always a bit more at risk when you're tired, inattentive, or otherwise impaired, by substances, or even hypothermia. Then again, people fall in their homes for these same reasons.

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    Registered User Christoph's Avatar
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    I have positional vertigo and anything above the 2nd step on a ladder makes me very uneasy (especially when I look up). I managed an attempt and a thru hike and while there are some "hairy" spots, most of them you can avoid (to an extent). You'll be hiking along ridgelines and some very steep climbs here and there. Katahdin was the only spot where I actually felt uneasy, but I took my time and pressed through it with the help of my hiking buddy I met along the way. Some of these instances come on quite often so you'll actually get used to it more and more as you hike though. Just take your time and have fun. You don't have to do the stairs at the falls, but I'd suggest you do it. They aren't scary at all and if you can get through that part, you can do this. But, I wouldn't want you to give up on day 1 either so...
    - Trail name: Thumper

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christoph View Post
    I have positional vertigo and anything above the 2nd step on a ladder makes me very uneasy (especially when I look up). I managed an attempt and a thru hike and while there are some "hairy" spots, most of them you can avoid (to an extent). You'll be hiking along ridgelines and some very steep climbs here and there. Katahdin was the only spot where I actually felt uneasy, but I took my time and pressed through it with the help of my hiking buddy I met along the way. Some of these instances come on quite often so you'll actually get used to it more and more as you hike though. Just take your time and have fun. You don't have to do the stairs at the falls, but I'd suggest you do it. They aren't scary at all and if you can get through that part, you can do this. But, I wouldn't want you to give up on day 1 either so...
    Happy to hear that you made it through. What was your favorite part of the trail?

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    I have what I think is a "normal" fear of heights. Enough to keep me from doing stupid unsafe things.
    My husband and I have completed almost 90% of the AT, including a third of NH and 80% of Maine. I used to be afraid of what I imagined the trail would be like in NH and ME, but now that I've been there, I'm not afraid anymore.
    We did Lehigh Gap in a light rain. The photo above makes it look much worse than it actually is. There are many places like that. McAfee Knob looks very dangerous - if you take the picture from certain angles. And of course you "could" fall off - if you venture out to the edges. The reality is that it's a large ledge and you can see the same beautiful view from 10, 15, or 30 feet back.
    Now Katahdin had some moments, especially when we had to climb up that first bit of rebar. Someone posted a video a while back that gave me the jitters. But when I got there, when I watched how the person ahead of me got up to the next level, and especially when someone told us that this was the worst spot of the climb, I managed. And I was okay.
    Get some experience on the trail and you'll begin to see what you're facing. It's not as bad as you fear.

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    Blood Mt, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap, Charles Bunion and the Jump Off which some ATers visit, Mt Greylock Observation Tower, High Pt SP Monument NJ, Mt K/hiking up to Mt K, Mt Washington and surrounding AT tread,..
    I've witnessed a couple of times people upchucking and/or disoriented staggering from the heights going up MT K. Hiking up the Hunt Tr may require 3 pts of contact and overlooking steep drop offs.

    Some get vertigo looking up at waterfalls or when crossing swinging bridges or looking up at the sky or taller things that stand out which can be as simple as looking up to the top of the Dover Oak in NY or Keffer Oak in VA or the large poplar(if it's still standing) near Rock Gap or large White Pines near Gulf sagas in ME. I've observed many times people disoriented enough to fall on their faces after sleeping or sitting in a hammock more so if it was swinging.

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    You may not get over your fear while hiking
    But you will likely get a bit less sensitized to minor things.

    Your constantly on 18" wide trail sidehilling mtns, with frequent dropoffs from 10-100 ft. You really just quit paying attention to it often imo.

    Probably dont want to diving board on halfdome in yosemite though. Unlike Mcaffe knob...its not a camera angle. Anyone not on hands and knees within 3' of cliff edge is a fool as well. You read about them all the time...several recently at grand canyon. Sad, but obviously the gene pool didnt need those people.
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    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 04-13-2019 at 19:47.
    "Inevitably, a long distance hiker must choose between travelling light, and not travelling at all." - Earl V. Shaffer

  19. #19

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    I have a fear of heights myself. My particular issue is exposures on cliffs or long drop-offs. My McAfee Knob photo is kind of funny, as I am about four feet from the edge.

    The first real issue I had was the Lehigh Gap climb that someone already discussed. Just don't look back and pay attention to your hands and feet. As you get into the Whites and even more so in ME, there are 12-15 foot walls that must be negotiated both up and down. The one just before Carlo Col in ME is a rude introduction to that state. They will get your adrenalin flowing.

    I do recall one other one in ME where I tossed my poles up to the top and got about 13 feet up on the face and then thought I could shimmy across to the other side. About 5 feet across, I saw that the 2 inch ledge just disappeared. I froze for a moment and then slowly turned around and found a way to climb up the edge from which I had come. When I got to the top, I told the hiker with me that it was the first time I had been afraid on the entire hike.

    The rock scramble from tree line to Tableland on Katahdin has a few exposures. I recall one being rather alarming with a couple iron rungs. Once again, I focused on my hand and foot placement and next thing I knew I was hopping over boulders to the top. On that day, I could have probably handled about anything. I was so geeked up to complete the hike, nothing was going to stop me.

    Honestly, the NOBO hike slowly prepares you for exposures, full body climbing and difficulty of the trail. Don't do any work arounds. Focus on doing what you can do. You will fall numerous times, but it will never be when you are worried about it. It will be on unassuming sections of the trail. it is a hell of an adventure. Good luck.

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    Don't worry you'll be so tired you will just want to move on.

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