Conquering the Osceola Chimney (and overcoming my fear of heights)

I am terrified of heights – I know, my choice of hobbies would make it seem otherwise. But it’s bad, literal crying on Ferris wheels kind of bad.

A year ago, I hiked Mount Osceola. I wasn’t working on a list or really all that aware that lists were such a big thing in the hiking community. I was just joining a friend for a nice little hike in the woods. And a nice little hike it was, a moderate climb with plenty of forgiving switchbacks and gorgeous views at the summit. There’s a reason Mount Osceola is often recommended to hikers starting out on their 4,000 footer journey – it’s really quite lovely.

But for those working on the 4,000 footers, one must also summit its evil twin, East Osceola. East Osceola is everything Mount Osceola isn’t – a steep, rocky pile of bullshit, that’s best known for its “Chimney” – a 25-foot vertical rock wall of climbing. I was terrified at the prospect of having to climb the chimney, so we decided to skip East Osceola. I felt so guilty – my friend was working on the list – and ashamed that my fears held me back, held her back.

The big, bad Chimney – not so bad, afterall.

But that’s the thing about fears – they’re kind of bullshit. And so after that day, I officially started my 4,000 footer journey and put in the work to understand and combat my fears.

Yesterday, I journeyed back to Mount Osceola for a day of reckoning with the Chimney. Was I scared? Absolutely. I experienced all of the psychological and physiological responses I typically get in these situations: heart pounding, racing thoughts, shaky legs, ragged breathing. But with experience and a better understanding of my fear, I was able to climb the Chimney – and it really wasn’t all that bad, afterall.

A year ago Mount Osceola was my 3rd 4,000 footer, and yesterday East Osceola marked my 21st. As I look back on the past year, I’m proud of the work I’ve done and how much my confidence has grown. I still have a ways to go and far more grueling hikes ahead, but with each hike I find myself a little bit less afraid.

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