Fear of heights, while not universal, is a force that bars many participants from participating in activities such as roller coasters, rock climbing, and even chores as necessary as cleaning gutters and fixing shingles. I was only able to become comfortable at height thanks to continued coaching and practice in rock climbing, and even then only with constant moral support on the ground. Understanding what it feels like to be uncertain of one’s next move in a high place is something that I feel helped me greatly in my facilitation of the zip line, swing shot, catwalk, and two-line bridge.
Frequently kids would get scared during their initial ascent. Their climb from ground to ladder, from ladder to pole staples (or tree staples), and from staples to ropes element is the most physically strenuous part of the challenge. Children instinctually doubt that the pulley system will be able to support them during a fall, despite the numerous “I’ve got you!” affirmations from the ground. Learning to guide children smoothly but clearly enough to assuage their discomforts and get them to the start of the ropes element was by far my favorite part of camp, as it seemed to be a direct pipeline for the campers to experience personal growth. Scared middle schoolers halfway up a ladder claimed they had no business being up so high but moved to a state of relative comfort once they put their feet on the wire and leaned against the rope attached to me at the ground, exhibiting bravery, trust, and of course great physical composure. It never ceases to impress me how the children on the ground during their friends’ sessions seem instinctively to know which kids are okay to be teased a bit over the course of the obstacle and which ones need and receive all the moral support they can muster.
Camp Alta Mons, and more importantly the children whom we serve, has taught me to keep going. No matter how scared you feel climbing up the rungs and staples, and no matter how unsure you are in the harness and ropes that support you, eventually you find yourself screaming down the zip line wondering what you were ever worried about.