India Venster has seen a massive growth in popularity over the past 5 years, deservedly so. It’s a stellar route that ticks a lot of what people want from a Table Mountain hiking experience. However, it’s not suitable for those suffering from fear of heights. But this is where things get a bit vague, giving rise to uncertainty and contention. Three issues, specifically, needs to be clarified: your sense of adventure, the severity of your fear of heights and the depth of your resolve / determination. Before we look at these in detail, let’s take a closer look at what constitutes fear of heights.
Of course, there are degrees to fear of heights. And there are also different causes. Some people have no idea how good or bad they are with heights and really only find out once you perch them on the edge of a cliff. It’s not a case of being either afraid or unafraid of heights: there are shades of grey. You might only be mildly nervous of heights, or have a healthy respect for it. You might be okay with heights but don’t enjoy them. Or you have an all-encompassing dread for any situation or location where a fall could result in serious injury.
It’s handy to differentiate between fear of heights and fear of falling. The former involves being afraid of heights when there’s no rational risk of falling; the latter, an incapacitating preoccupation with falling, not just off the edge of a cliff, but even in more mundane scenarios (like falling off a ladder when cleaning the gutter). The two conditions are closely related and often feeds off one another. Many sufferers experience vertigo when exposed to heights or the risk of falling. There are multiple causes, predominantly vestibular dysfunction, but also a form of OCD. For the purposes of this discussion, my use of fear of heights applies to both.
While there’s no quick fix (not even by a medical professional), a competent, experienced and empathetic mountain guide understands and recognizes these conditions and provides practical tips and palliative techniques to help you cope with exposure to heights on a route like India Venster. Having said that, India Venster is not suitable for people suffering from full-blown fear of heights. And by ‘not suitable’, I mean (1) should not be even considered without a guide, and (2) will not enjoy the experience with a (competent and experienced) guide. You get your masochists, or those wanting to overcome or improve on their fear of heights, who steel themselves and stoically tackle the exposure, and with determination and the timely assistance of a competent guide, emerge victorious and not a little jubilant on the summit.
Let’s now look at the three issues that determine whether India Venster should be considered by someone with height issues.
Firstly, sense of adventure. If you have a sense of adventure, you’re prepared to step outside your comfort zone. You enjoy a challenge. You’re up for facing your fears and you revel in overcoming them. Maybe you’ve skydived or bungeed before. You love the adrenalin rush and thrive on the psychological challenge. Adventurous hikers deal better with their height issues than unadventurous hikers. They regard the fear as an integral part of the experience. As a result, they cope better with it. They look it squarely in the eye and even wink at it. If you have non-severe height issues, a sense of adventure will ensure that you enjoy a route like India Venster, if only in retrospect.
Secondly, the severity of your fear of heights. As mentioned above, if you suffer badly from fear of heights, India Venster is not for you – unless you’re a masochist or you’re looking to overcome your fear. It’s impossible to address every permutation and gradation of fear in this article. If you know yourself to have an aversion for heights, and you’re really keen to hike India Venster, contact us for a detailed assessment and accurate opinion on whether you should do it. As a point of reference, people with a slight to mild fear of heights, and a sense of adventure as well as resolve, usually end up enjoying India Venster.
Speaking of resolve brings us to the third issue. If you’re not good with heights and you really want to do India Venster, you need to bring determination to the table. Dutifully tagging along with a friend or partner, with little or no motivation or enthusiasm, is a recipe for an unpleasant experience. Conversely, motivated and determined hikers override whatever (mild) issues they might have with heights and finish the route bursting with exuberance and a sense of achievement.
There’s a fourth issue, chronically overlooked by both hikers and inattentive guides – a subtle but significant distinction. In a word: enjoyment. A guide worth his or her salt can get practically anyone up India Venster, but how many of them will actually enjoy the experience? It’s not merely a question of whether you could manage India Venster, but more whether you will enjoy the hike. Enjoyment can be hard to predict when participating in an activity that requires you to step outside your comfort zone – certainly, when it triggers a complex condition like fear of heights. Bear in mind the enjoyment factor when considering India Venster, not just whether you could pull it off.
To conclude, you need a decent head for heights to enjoy India Venster. Anything less calls for either determination or a sense of adventure (or both) to ensure enjoyment. Anything much less calls for masochism or inordinate resolve, or simply a different route. It’s not like there’s a lack of choice when it comes to hiking Table Mountain.