When Fear Brings You to Tears

My husband and I headed out to the Hell’s Canyon area in Idaho last weekend. The plan was to backpack and stay out one night, then meet our friends for the other 3 nights at a campground called Seven Devils. We drove the 8 hours from Bend to get to our destination. We left the trailhead late afternoon and hiked about two hours where we found a great campsite right next to a beautiful creek and waterfall. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal we headed out for the day. The plan was to hike to a specific lake then do some bushwhacking to get back to the campground. It would be much shorter than hiking to the lake and turning around to go back the way we had already come.

Our bushwhack started off well. This is not an uncommon thing for us. We had GPS and my husband is an excellent navigator. Plus this was a route others had taken and my husband had found it online. We were able to get up near the top of a series of peaks, hiking on boulders. The view was spectacular with mountain after mountain after valley seen from our approximately 9000 foot perch.

Now we just had to get down. We checked out several options for heading down this rock covered mountain. They were not good ones. But we finally found one as we curled our way around and headed below. We had to put our poles away and climb down but there were several hand and foot holds to help us along the way. Until there weren’t.

We got to a spot where we could see the valley below but had a few hundred feet left to get there. Unfortunately, the drop-offs got larger and the hand and footholds were not there to support two people with packs and a dog trying to navigate all of this. And as luck would have it, the day was getting short on light, my legs were tired, and now we had no option but to climb back up the way we’d come and find another way down. To head down further we were risking serious injury and that just wasn’t worth it.


We started the climb back up and things looked very different from when we climbed down. Steeper. Scarier. Before this I had been a little uncomfortable but not enough to make me turn around. Now I was becoming more uncomfortable and my only option was to climb back up. Slowly, then more quickly, fear crept in. The thoughts of, “I don’t want to be here”, “I don’t know if we’re going to make it out of this”, “Will we make it out while it’s still light?”, you get the picture.

This led to a feeling of overwhelm in my chest. And I couldn’t find the right handhold and foothold to climb back up from where I was. I could tell I was going to lose it, I felt it coming. My husband kept asking me what he could do to help and I remember telling him, there wasn’t anything he could do to help. And then… I started to cry. I let the tears flow. Out of my eyes and on to my cheeks, and I’m guessing, on to the rock below me.

It was a release. A release of the pent up energy inside that felt trapped and had nowhere to go. A release of the fear I felt while clinging on to a rock and couldn’t see the way up. A release of the negativity swirling inside about what the outcome of all of this would be for me, my husband, and our dog.

And you know what happened after I let those tears flow for about a minute? I wasn’t nearly as afraid. I looked up and could see a different way to climb. A better way that would help us move forward. All I needed was to feel that fear, allow it to pass through in big crocodile tears, and the next step became clear.

Maybe you don’t backpack (or bushwhack). But I bet you’ve been afraid before. Afraid of what might or might not happen. Afraid of moving in the wrong direction and having everything fall apart. But how often do you really let yourself feel that fear in whatever form it takes? Feel it, let it just be there for a while, then release it in a way that feels right for you?

For me it was those tears. That energy wanted and needed to move so I let it. Because I did, the next step was clear. We really only need to see the next step. More often than not, honoring whatever you’re feeling in this moment allows you to see that next step. Because you’ve gotten it out of the way so you can see. We can’t see with blinders on.

So yes, we made it out safe. We hiked for about 11 hours that day and I was beat. We hadn’t planned on being out an extra night so didn’t have a dinner or breakfast packed. We ate whatever trail mix we had left. We didn’t starve and didn’t get injured.

I told my husband it was fine with me if we didn’t bushwhack again for a while.

But it reminded me again of the importance of really feeling what I needed to feel so that I could move forward.

The only way through, is through.

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~ Susan

your true life (know it, feel it, live it)