Friday, October 5, 2012

Snow of awe and horror

I recently was in Norway to run in the Norwegian mountains with a local colleague who wanted to show me the most beautiful parts of this wonderful country. It would be a trip that took me to the darkest edges of my mind. I had never realized how deep my fear of heights was. Having been both a sailplane pilot and boulder climber I was very surprised to feel it as intense as I was about to feel it in these Norwegian mountains.

Rondane, Norway. In awe!
Heading out for a run expecting single tracks.
Hitting the first climb. Thinking hmm .. where is the track?
White out! My colleague had left me behind thinking 'we are running let me keep up the pace'.
The climb maxes at 60+ degrees. The rocks are slippery with snow.
I have NO idea where to go or what is coming.
My fear of heights kicks in and turns into 'horror'. I could not believe it.
What had I got myself into? I had NO experience climbing in these conditions
and felt my feet slip time and time again.
Going down was not an option .. only way is up! A few steps at a time.

First peak reached. Vinjeronden, 2044 meter above sea level.
Rejoined with my colleague I'm doing my best to ignore my fear of heights.
At the moment of this picture I still hope/thought there is as track down but actually the only
way forward is up. Soon I'll have to move on and face my fear again.
It is impossible to explain how gutting a 'phobia' can be if you have not tried it.
I felt numb to the core of my soul, every step was a mentally challenge.
Rondeslottet, 2. highest peak in Norway, 2178 meter above sea level.
I wish that I had been able to enjoy this at the time
but I was totally focused on keeping my fear of heights
under control. I had clung to every rock I passed on my way
up having expected to loose my foothold every second in the snow.
Never having been here before I trusted nothing beneath my feet.
It had been snowing that night and after we had been there
people was advised not to climb this peak due to the snow.
White out. Wrong turn heading for Styggebotn = trouble.
Feeling relieved heading down thinking the worst is over. The weather
was constantly changing from clear to white out (being inside fog/a cloud).

Time to eat. Chili con Carne! First water of the day,
fresh from the mountains behind me. After we ate we headed west
only to discover that the Styggebotn valley ended in a deadly
2-300 meter vertical drop. The nice thing about this valley was
it gave us a chance to actually run again :)

'Dead end'. With 2 hours left before sunset no flash/head lights
and with yet one peak to cross turning back is NOT an option.
Trying to make it cross a slippery and very steep mountain side
(the one you can see behind me in the next picture) is the only
way out. Fear was immense but it was clearly the only option.  

Behind me is the mountain side we crossed. As you see it don't look that nice
but we made it across and down. We quickly ran back south and
started the final climb of the day.
Checking the map to see what is coming.
It it getting darker and darker as the top gets closer but at
least there is an actual single track = no fear! The trigger
of my fear of height is when I loose confidence in what is beneath
my feet not the height it self. 

Heading down. Really tired after 10+ hours on the move.
I thought we were heading for a run on single tracks like I knew
them from my run in Spain. I never had expected what we
ended up doing. My colleague being an experienced 'Fjell' runner
never saw it as a problem ;)

What a trip. 22 km, 2000+ elevation gain. Only thing that
kept me from 'panic' was a constant mental focus on doing
what was needed.

A fear of heights is as many other phobias irrational and very hard to control. I was constantly doing my very best at keeping panic at a distance. I knew that I had to move on no matter how large my fear was. The height it self was never the issue, the trigger point is not feeling able to trust what was beneath my feet. When I felt stranded alone on a very steep, snow cover, mountain side without know what was coming or where my colleague was and feeling stones slightly move when I stepped on them, I felt a blow to my guts. I had to sit down and gather my thoughts. Panic was never and option, neither was going back. Only way was forward even if it was step by step.

This trip was hard in every way mentally and physically. But is was more rewarding than anything else I can imagine. I hope to be back someday and I hope that I will have even more control of my fear. At some point I might even be able to feel no fear at all, climbing up a steep mountain side covered with snow, stepping on constantly sliding rocks and looking up to 800 meters straight down.

I am very grateful to my colleague for showing me this wonderful place and the anger I felt on that very first climb where I was left behind have long gone. He didn't knew my fear (how could he I didn't even myself) and  since we had talked of running he gave it all he had climbing as fast as he could. He had put a lot of time, energy and even money into making this a great weekend. Thank you, Frode.

Frode and I. His ability to run fast on top of rocks are truly amazing.
I guess that it is partly from being Norwegian and having been
running around the in the 'Fjell' since age 7. Anyway .. he rock!

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