Dancing With Butterflies

A 10 foot ladder leaning against the telephone pole allowed us to reach the silver rings scattered along the remaining 12 feet of pole, ending just shy of the top. Our job was to climb the pole and balance ourselves on top… twenty-two feet in the air with nothing to hold onto. Once standing calmly atop the pole, we were to dive off superman style and hit a yellow ball on our way down. It is called the Pamper Pole because many years ago some poor lady wet her britches in the attempt.


Clint, our assistant instructor for the day, assured us we could all physically perform this task. The only mental block was that we were alone on top of the telephone pole instead of safely on the ground. It has brought the strongest of people to a grinding halt, including some of my classmates.

Every week presents a new challenge, a new demon to conquer, a personal fear to overcome. Adventure is exhausting.

Swift Water Rescue has been no exception and class started again last Friday morning.

We learned to rig a Z-line that could pull a boat right out of the river. We set a line across the river with a big tube on it that served as a strainer, jumped in upstream and practiced “diving” over it to learn how to avoid getting trapped. We re-positioned the line without the strainer to create a zip line and practiced sliding across the river alone and with a victim. We learned to belay ourselves, or a boat, up a steep bank with just our rope and a carabiner.


Finally, we were ready for the practical skills testing on Saturday. We conducted a search and found the two ‘fishermen’ that were thrown from their boat. We rescued Stephan, our instructor, from the middle of the river when he found his foot entrapped under a rock.



Practicing the cinch on land.
Practicing the cinch on land.

There was a timed course drill that involved ferrying a raft across the river, a quick exit onto shore where we secured the craft, accessed a point, returned to the craft and paddled back to shore. There were three of us on my team and we were required to perform this maneuver in less than 4 minutes – we did it in 2 minutes flat. Then we flipped the raft over and paddled it upside down over the rapids without falling off. There were multiple swims, defensive and aggressive, self rescues and contact rescues, knots to tie, anchors to set, and at the end of the day a final written exam.


Two weeks ago I met my demons while trying to swim into the eddy. This weekend those demons left me alone. I stood myself up on top of the Pamper Pole and jumped amid the screams inside my head that this was something I should not do. I decided if I could convince myself to jump into the strong current of the Nantahala not knowing if I could self-rescue into the eddy, then surely I could stand on top of this pole.

Conquering fear is a well documented topic, but all that documentation means nothing until it’s your butt in the sling. This semester is not yet over and there are no doubt more demons to battle, but there have been some consistent lessons so far:

  1. Control your mind: it can talk you out of doing anything;
  2. Calm yourself: just breathe, it really does help;
  3. Visualize: picture yourself doing this really scary thing and imagine success;
  4. Believe in yourself: if you think you can do something, you probably can.

“Don’t try to eliminate the butterflies in your stomach, make them fly in formation.”

Paul Wolfe, my Instructor




Additional Reading: The Science of Conquering Your Fear….