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Conquering Fear in the Grand Canyon – One Step at a Time

November 11th, 2016

By: Karen Colligan

A lot of the work I do is around helping people increase their self-awareness and gain clarity on how to develop to their highest potential. I recently discovered that one of the most effective ways to learn about yourself is to face fear and find your way through it.

For me, it was a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, or seen pictures of it, it’s pretty clear that there are some significant cliffs and drops and ridges. But ah, the beauty! How could any place so majestic, so serene, so awe inspiring, so spiritual, instill such terror into an innocent first-time visitor?

I was soon to find out. In the past, I had a fear of heights, which I thought I’d overcome. Not! (Perhaps hiking down into the Grand Canyon was not such a good way to test that). We did several trails while there, and the hardest was a 7-mile stretch of the Hermit Trail on the South Rim with a 1700 ft. elevation change. The highest point on that trail is over 6,600 feet, and the lowest 2,400 ft, so wherever you are on the trail it’s a long way down!

I have to admit, I was petrified! I was with a group, and two very competent guides, and…I did not want anyone to see my fear or to be held back by it. I’m just not used to being so vulnerable in front of other people. So I cried, silently. I sweated, profusely. I lost my appetite. I moved along the trail in baby steps. And I fooled no one. In fact, one of the other hikers said to me, “I could feel your fear.” Imagine how that made me feel! And as it turns out, I was not the only one who was scared. I just happened to show it (as much as I thought I was hiding it).

Here’s the good news: I survived! By allowing myself to be vulnerable and to completely rely on my team and our leaders I got through it. This gave me the boost of confidence and support I needed to push myself to complete something that was terrifying for me. If I had been on my own, I would have turned back and would never have realized how fantastic it feels to feel the fear and just keep going.

And here’s what I learned:
• Mother Nature is very powerful and she really does rule the world.
• We need to occasionally take stock of who we are in the context of the bigger world – do I love what I do? Am I making a difference? What are the things that really matter?
• It’s OK, and in fact recommended, to rely on others.
• Patience is a virtue. It took 5-6 million years for the Grand Canyon to become the majestic masterpiece it is. Maybe instant gratification isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
• Feeling fear is OK and actually good. (I don’t recommend being terrified, however).
• Embrace adventure – stretch everything you think you know about yourself.

Hiking the Grand Canyon was a wonderful and enlightening adventure. I’m very proud of my accomplishment. I might even try it again. Someday. In the meantime, there are so many other adventures to pursue!

Till next time,


Learning, Life, self-awareness