I’m not a very good climber, but I seem to have falling down to a fine art.

I’m on my way up from the ocean depths, 240 meters to be exact.  After 18 days working at depth, it takes ten days to reach the surface (for decompression) , ten days to get back to fresh air.  To put that into perspective: it takes 3 days to go around the moon.  Anybody interested should look up Saturation Diving on Wiki.

Deepsea diving work

Dark Horse on the job 236 meters below the surface bolting a pipeline together using high pressure hydraulics! Picture taken by a remotely operated vehicle

You might also find the answers to the questions I get asked most frequently, how deep do you dive, is it dangerous, do you weld underwater, what animals do you see down there and how do you eat?  Anyways blah blah blah…  I digress so easily, the brain is a bit fuzzy.

A topic that has always fascinated me, is fear.

Why do some people not  seem to have it?  Jeremy Samson, Mad Mike Baleta, Matt Bush and Joe Möhle are names that spring to my mind.  Yet I get terrified so easily.
What makes them so different from me?

Fear surfing big wave

Dark Horse surfing


Something strange seems to happen to me whilst climbing, I’ll explain as best I can.
The other day I was climbing an easy country route Lucifer (16) with Hilton Davies and Guy Paterson Jones (this young guy seems unflappable, surely one of the future trad young guns to watch).  It was my turn to lead and after a few tricky moves I knew I couldn’t be on route anymore (as I seem to have a habit of doing).  I had this slow creeping dread as my brain started to realize I might not be able to reverse the moves.  There was no gear and my brain starts an inner dialogue repeatedly telling me how dangerous this is getting.
I get up to a bush which for the second following seems reasonable, but to my mind, my loud chattering mind, it looks like a something I could yank out by hand.  The climb traverses around the corner out of sight.

Does it get easier or harder, or worse still, unclimbable for my limited abilities?  I complain for what must be ages to Hilton and Guy, I decide to be safer and try reverse the moves.
I’m terrified, it’s too hard, I’m going to take a whipper onto a stupid bush.  I don’t think I’ll die if the bush holds, but shit, I’m gonna get hurt, but I don’t think I’ll die.  Keep it together Dark Horse you fool!

rock climbing traverse

Dark Horse and the terrifying tree traverse.

Then suddenly my body decides its pushing on, My brain is putting on a real serious tone, “do realize you might get hurt here, stop please!  Stop it implores.”  My body climbs on as if it has now taken over, it is in charge.  My brain realizes, shit, shit, shit, its no longer in charge, so it resigns itself to the inevitable and  it shuts up.  Ah, peace at last, no thoughts!  Just living!  Living in the now!  It’s why I love climbing!

Breathe, breathe deep, just relax, shake out (for those that know me this includes loads of chalking up) and look for your foot placements.  Every move  becomes deliberate and delicate.  I get around the corner, legs spread, and I inch my fingers blindly along.  I find a hold.  Relief!  However the relief  is short lived as I still can’t find any gear.
Hilton shouts up  encouragement telling me to keep cool and look for gear.  The latter advice sounding a tad urgent!  I am now in the death zone.  I know that sounds ridiculous as we are not talking Everest here, but rather my own death zone where a fall could be fatal.
I know it, but I shut the thought out before it takes root.  Finally… meters later I find a bomber piece, I’m alive, the emotions flood my body.  I feel a tremendous sense of relief and joy.  I feel so alive!

deepsea chamber living quarters

Our living space on the deepsea chamber.

The seconds follow (and they find the climbing easy going) but… then I had  this epiphany, it’s what makes our sport so great.  I also surf and it’s very much the same.  It does not matter what your ability is, how fearful you get or how you handle that fear.  What makes it so great is pushing your own boundaries, testing your own limits and ultimately learning something about  yourself.

I watched a movie called ‘Chasing Mavericks‘, a true story about  a 16 year old ‘Jay Moriarity’ who surfs seriously big waves, a true inspiration.

I highly recommend it.

“Live like Jay”

19 Responses to Fear

  1. Ian Mar 25, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    Nice reading, there might be a reason some people don’t get scared. Read this: Will at least help you past the time….



  2. Dark Horse Mar 25, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    Hey shot Ian ten days of lying in a bunk is pretty boring, so everything helps 🙂

  3. Hilton Mar 27, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Dam! 240m! Radical! No wonder you earn in a month what the average doctor or lawyer earns in a year!

  4. Hilton Mar 27, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Oh, and for the readers – the really bad part of that lead for Dark is not in the picture. It’s above and out of sight. The part in the picture was the encore. (It was grim…anyone would have been really worried)

  5. Mario Mar 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Great read!

    If you take on big routes like that without any measure of fear, then you must be crazy or stupid or both!


    Ps. That’s one serious Leb wave behind you there bro!

  6. Johann Mar 28, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Nice read. Thanks for putting yourself and your thoughts out there / up there / down there.

  7. Dark Horse Mar 28, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Hey thanks, funny thing is I actually found it pretty scary sharing my thoughts! Always wander what people are gonna think and if they’ll find it interesting or how it might come across. So I do appreciate the comments 🙂

  8. Hector Mar 28, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Nice one Dark Horse. Keep writing!

  9. Mokganjetsi Mar 30, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Cool write up dude! Keep it coming! (sweaty palms) 🙂

  10. Chris F Apr 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    How can you say you get scared easily and paddle into a wave that size?

    My father-in-law was a sat diver in the North Sea in the 70s and 80s, must have been pretty damn unpleasant. Respect to you guys.

  11. jacques Apr 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    Good read, good oke, go boiii!

  12. Dark Horse Apr 2, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    @ Chris


    Seriously that wave of mine is not big, but that was my point 🙂 to me it was! And yes I was terrified ha

  13. Chris F Apr 2, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    To me that’s frikkin enormous. Overhead is my limit.

  14. Gosia Lipinska Apr 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Awesome write-up! That moment when you just commit, despite the inner babble is seriously one of the coolest moments in climbing.

  15. Camel Apr 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    sweet write up dude:P!! i was just curious is there a way i can contact you, i would like to ask a few questions about the diving?

  16. chaos Apr 6, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Chris F, what is scary about thart wave? Seriously?

  17. Chris F Apr 8, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Sorry, didn’t realise you were a hero. Based on the amount of surfing I get done and where I do it, that’s a big wave to me, and you are clearly a better surfer than me. Well done.

  18. Dark Horse Apr 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    @ camel you can email me – neels@fastmail.fm
    Stoked looks like someone from china might like my article.

  19. Magdalena May 1, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    Real nice read…..thank you for sharing your experience Neels

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