Climbing the Matterhorn -a discussion about conquering one’s fears

Thrill seeker or control freak?

It is not that I have a death wish but I do enjoy feeling fear just so I can continue on doing what I’m doing despite that crippling sensation that causes most people to freeze up and hide. Don’t get me wrong, no one likes to be scared but the feeling of accomplishment that you get after succeeding in beating what you are afraid of is addicting and it helps you grow. So yes I admit that I have a problem: hi my name is Tiffany and I am an adrenaline junkie. People who are thrill seekers are often referred to as Type-T personalties(yes I googled why I am the way I am lol). I will try to break down the psychology behind these “crazy” individuals by looking into my own mind and discussing my motives for seeking heart pounding sensations that may deter some people.

Conquering one’s fears is one of the quickest ways to grow into the best version of oneself. Fear is natural. It is something that our ancestors developed in order to survive and the evolutionary significance of being scared has benefitted our species since it allows us to sense danger and to either activate our freeze, flight or fight responses. In order to get the correct reaction for a situation where one’s life is in danger, we need quick reflexes; to hone into these instinctual processes that are wired into our DNA, we need to put them into practice. In my opinion, the best way of doing this is through the practice of continuing on despite being fearful. To keep moving and to be calm on the outside even though you are losing your shit on the inside. If someone tells you that they are fearless, it is not that they do not feel fear but they continue on anyway despite the scary situation that they are facing. Feeling fear is an integral part of being a human being. We do not have the physical strength or speed that some animals have and it is our sensations/emotions that help keep us alive.

Conquering your fears is similar to working out. You need to consistently lift weights in order to grow stronger and in order to lift heavier you have to start small. Choosing to be brave is a similar process. You have to take baby steps to build up tolerance and ultimately fear is just a feeling that could potentially keep you from accomplishing tangible feats. You are essentially in total control of the situation and how you react to it by learning how you react to scary/life threatening situations. If you are familiar with the enneagram, those who have the need to be in control are usually type 8’s; I am a type 8 wing 7 which means that I need to be in control but I also seek adventure and love to explore new places and value experiences. This can be contradicting since new experiences are not exactly the most controlled environments.

If you have never heard of the Enneagram, it is a version of a personality test similar to the MTBI but I find it to be more accurate than the MTBI in my case. There are 9 personality types and they are influenced by how you were raised and the childhood traumas that you may have experienced. The emphasis is on how certain individuals deal with their environments based on the personalities that they have developed. It is worth researching if you are interested in learning more about yourself and the people in your life.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can focus on the task of climbing the famed Matterhorn– one of, if not the most dangerous(but breathtaking) peaks in the world. So what does climbing this mountain have to do with anything?

It is personal for me because I have always been afraid of heights. I have tried to overcome this by skydiving and parasailing but it is different because both of these things do not require perseverance and continuous work in convincing yourself to take the leap. Yes, you still need to literally convince yourself to leap off the plane and it takes bravery to jump out of a moving plane thousands of feet in the sky but it only requires one second of decision making in order to do so. It is not a constant decision to be fearless unless you jump out of the plane multiple times. Also, all the point of references that you would have in regards to how high up you are are basically nonexistent so it isn’t really about heights in this situation. It is mostly you convincing yourself to jump. You do not need to train your body in order to jump out of a plane, it is instant and it is all in your mind. You are not in control after you make that jump. Whereas, climbing a mountain is a grueling and long journey, where you will have to endure multiple obstacles both on and off the mountain and be extremely patient. The timing, weather, how fit you are, your level of experience and many other factors come into play when you are a mountain climber. Every detail can mean the difference between life or death. Most of these details, however, are in your control. The only ones that aren’t is weather and falling rocks/avalanches. Your mind can be both an asset and your enemy in these situations and it is up to you to decide which. However, I want to point out that preparation is crucial in any dangerous task in terms of lowering your risks. Taking the least risky option is how most adventure seekers stay alive to see another day and conquer another feat. Impulsivity can be deadly and should not be confused with seeking novel experiences.

My first attempt to climb the Matterhorn was mostly a test of my patience but I learned a lot from it. One of the things I learned is to not attempt to climb when there is snow. I planned on getting to Zermatt and finding a guide that same day and leaving in the morning the next day to climb but my plans did not work out due to the weather and the season I visited in. This was a couple weeks ago in December and there was a whiteout in the mountains, especially on the Gornergrat where visibility was close to zero. This situation could be deadly for climbers as I soon learned since you need to be able to see where you are climbing in order to not die. Who would’ve thought? Second thing I learned was that you need a shitload of mountain climbing experience to even convince someone to take you up there. I did not have Everest or even the local rock climbing gym under my belt…I had literally no experience whatsoever. Third, people usually train months in advance for this shit and I trained two weeks in advanced because that was when I decided to book the ticket. Okay, so as you can probably tell I was not prepared and would most likely die if I attempted to climb the Matterhorn on this trip. Good news is I have until summer of next year to train because that is when they open the peaks to climbers and I got to snowboard on the swiss alps which was cool and super fun. Highly recommend. Side note, the intermediate peaks in Switzerland are actually the black diamonds in America. I learned this the hard way and slid down on my butt a good portion of the peak.