I’m not especially scared of heights, I think i’m just scared of being trapped at them. I understand this as much as anyone can understand their fears. Mine has only surfaced recently through an anxiety developed last year when I took lots of flights. For the two days hiking in Seoraksan National Park, I went some way to facing my fears, and of course I had some set backs.
Fear is a funny thing isn’t it. It paralyses you, roots you to the spot at the same time as making your body shake and heart thump. It doesn’t allow you to move but it gives you huge amounts of adrenaline so you can be ready to fight or take flight. Whilst your brain is chanting over and over again that everything is fine, your body is locking up.
Ironically, the decision to go to the cave came out of me being unable to make myself go on the steep mountain cable car.
You can see the cable cars rising up into the mist there and on the other end there is what looked like a tiny building perched on a rock, but is certainly a massive stable structure. Fear makes you conjure up the irrational. I imagined every single scenario of what could go wrong and so I missed out.
The cave actually turned out to be way harder and more intense than the cable car ever would have been, but once we’d decided to do it I was determined to conquer the fear that was telling me that I shouldn’t experience the climb.
The first half was climbing up stone steps and this was no problem, the gradient is something I’ve done a million times and even small glimpses of the cave through the tree canopy didn’t give me a sense of dread.
I think perspective is the key really, because I only began to get scared when we came across these metal staircases
That’s me coming down it on the return journey. Surprisingly I didn’t feel the aching in my stomach when I came down, only when I went up. For me, there’s something about slowly rising to a height that you’re very aware of. Below these staircases was a big drop.
This was probably the sketchiest of the two metal staircases, notice how it leans out away from the rock, and so it didn’t fill me with confidence for the next one.
You can see there that it’s bolted to the sheer cliff face and you actually have to climb a good 50m up the staircase with nothing below you but this.
Half way up I was rooted to the spot, and I really couldn’t make myself move. Sophie had to coax me out of my terror by encouraging me and saying that I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to. Also when I was at my most scared, she was already inside the cave so I asked her if it was really cool to try and give myself a reason to push through the fear. Luckily she said it was and I literally ran up the final two sections of the staircase trying not to think of my fear.
Here’s the mountain with the cliff face from further away to give you perspective
Just over the tree line on the tallest one was where the cave was. The cliff on the right was actually full of climbers all day. Here it is from above.
Can you spot the two tiny people on there?
This is the view from the lookout just below the cave staircase. I climbed over a short ladder with a big drop below to get to this with no problem. Maybe after the cave, this seemed easy.
One thing that actually pushed me through the fear was the views all around, it was absolutely stunning. Here’s what we climbed all that way up for.
It was bigger than you might think, and a nice reward for a hard challenge.
So just to recap. Staircase number one, freaked me out. I made it half way, let Soph go first, then I followed gingerly. Staircase number 2 was made of rock and was really steep, like Victorian stairs steep. Not sure how I did this but I led from the front whilst Soph told me of how I’d slipped down a staircase similar to this at her old Norwich house. Thanks for that.
Staircase number 3 was the long one and was the one that was bolted to the side of the sheer cliff face, it twisted and turned and had three flat platfoms. Two of which I had to stop on for a while to get my breath back, and wait for my heart to stop thumping. The third I ran over because I was too scared to wait. It turned abruptly at a right angle and there were maybe 10 steps up into the cave. That was the point where you could look out over the precipice.
I did it.
It was a strange experience for me because I walked over that short ladder over a gap no problem, I walked over a suspension bridge, it swayed and it was a little freaky but I did it no problem. A ladder bolted to a cliff face. No way. I was gone into a world inside myself and it was terror.
Stranger is that I watched people go up and down the cable car for hours, and I still couldn’t do it. I tried on two separate days. Even though I failed to get on the cable car I am really proud of myself for getting up to the cave.