Climbing Out of Fear – One Icy Step at a Time

Sep 8, 2023

Bernadette had gotten to a point in her life where seemingly everything was predictable and established, yet at the same time it was crumbling.

“For most of my life, fear has ruled me,” she says. A constant barrage of negative thinking ruled her day. Things like, “What will happen if I lose my job? How will I manage as a single woman if my 25-year marriage ends?”

When she listened to the fear, it would multiply like germs in a petri dish, taking over everything until it eventually frightened her into a full-scale retreat from life. She became afraid of everything and of herself.

Having become fed up with her status, she was ready for a change.

So here she was in the mountains of Southwest Colorado at the Ouray Ice Park, taking a novice all-women’s ice climbing clinic taught by a group called “Chicks with Picks.”

She described her journey, “I step hesitantly across the catwalk, trying not to glance into the ice-coated gorge gaping beneath. My steps are wobbly, partly because of the mountaineering boots, but more due to terror. I’m offered a rope to secure to my climbing harness in case I’m worried about falling as we descend a narrow iron ladder deep into the yawning cavern.”

“I hold onto the railing with knotted fingers, trying to avoid glancing at the jagged rocks and ice below. Eventually, I clomp and grapple and clench my way deep into the canyon.”

She explains that by training herself to take small risks and building on them daily, she is slowly turning her emotional state away from what scares her towards what makes her feel most alive.

“That’s not to say that fear retracts its claws and leaves me in peace,” she says. “I still have to wrestle it, but in doing so, I rediscover my eagerness, perseverance, and even a little taste of audacity.”

She recaps her experience and lesson this way, “After I survived the ice climbing challenge, I’ll pull off my helmet and sunglasses. I’ll look into the mirror. And there I’ll find my true self, the self I thought I lost, looking a little rough with a stain of blood and bruising along her eyebrow.”

“There she is, stronger than she thought she was, grinning back at me.”

Submitted by Bernadette Murphy; originally published in Salon Magazine