Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Vertigo Myth

Ed Byrne Follows Stuart Marconie over the Hinterstoiser Traverse...also known as Sharp Edge.Image Life of a Mountain
Vertigo, it’s probably the most misused and misunderstood word in the English language..” ‘ Oh I couldn’t do what you do, climbing those sheer cliff faces...I suffer from Vertigo!’.
According the Wikipedia....’Vertigo is when a person feels as if they or the objects around them are moving when they are not. Often it feels like a spinning or swaying movement This may be associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulties walking. It is typically worsened when the head is moved. Vertigo is the most common type of dizziness’. Basically it has nothing to do with a fear of heights which is ‘Acrophobia’ and you can feel the effects of vertigo standing on the pavement.

Given the fact that Acrophobia is a recognized condition, like a fear of open spaces, a fear of enclosed spaces or even a fear of spiders!, I often wonder how many of those who claim to have a fear of heights are actually acutely affected. Or is that fear simply the result of not having any experience of that environment.In short, it is not a fear of heights but a fear of the unknown? I was watching Terry Abraham’s beautifully filmed ‘Life of a Mountain-Blencathra’ on BBC4 last night and was amused to see David Powell-Thompson lead comedian Ed Byrne and DJ and writer, Stuart Marconie over Sharp Edge. Whereas as Ed Byrne nonchalantly sauntered across like a seasoned scrambler, Stuart Marconie-despite his hillwalking experience- was visibly outside his comfort zone.

I suppose for those who do a bit of climbing or scrambling, Sharp Edge is not exactly the Hinterstoiser Traverse! But there’s no doubt that some people get genuinely freaked out in places like this. In fact I commented on Twitter that ‘I thought ‘The Freak Zone’ was your Six Music Show?’ which was offered in a spirit of gentle joshing rather than sarcasm.

So....was Stuart’s discomfort Acrophobia or Xenophobia which is literally ‘Fear of the Unknown’, and not simply a fear of foreign people which you would think if you only read the Guardian. I’m guessing it is the latter and I’m sure given time, coaching and opportunity, then Stuart would be gamboling along Sharp Edge like a Herdwick ram.

Everyone who climbs has an inbuilt appreciation of the environment which surrounds them. Without that awareness most rock climbers would end up dead. Even super human climbers like Alex Honnold have to be aware of that unique, life threatening position they find themselves in and it is that fear which offers caution. Keeping the climber within an environment where they remain in control. At times sheer bad luck or simply pushing through and beyond that zone brings disaster. Happily for most climbers and scramblers, they exist within their comfort zone.

Which brings me back to Vertigo or should I say, Acrophobia.It exists as a condition of course, but how many of those who claim to have a morbid fear of heights really suffer from this, and how many are simply xenophobic?

1 comment:

  1. I get freaked out at the top of the third floor stairwell at work. I've never thought of it as acrophobia, but its certainly not the unknown- I've worked there 13 years. Its not very time either.
    I often wonder if my Dad standing me unassisted at age 2 atop the chimney of our house he was building might have had something to do with it. CHILD SERVICES