Won the Grand Canyon/Phantom Ranch Lottery & doesn't want to go!
September 24, 2021 6:33 AM   Subscribe

My friend won the lottery for a year from now, but is terrified of heights, and is too scared of riding a mule or walking down the path. I have tried to show how amazing, unique and once-in-a-lifetime this will be, but the fear might win out. I have tried to explain how adept mules are, even showing videos, but to now avail yet. She has 2 days to confirm.
posted by ebesan to Travel & Transportation around Coconino County, AZ (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's the question? Are you trying to convince your friend to go?

Questions about why she entered a lottery for something she doesn't want to do aside, regardless of how unique and once-in-a-lifetime it will be, if she's not going to enjoy it (or end up backing out at the last minute, thus keeping someone else from doing it), then she shouldn't do it, and let her space free up to someone who will enjoy the unique and once-in-a-lifetime aspect of it.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:41 AM on September 24, 2021 [21 favorites]

I mean, maybe this isn't the trip for her, at least not right now? Maybe she should just let the opportunity pass on to someone who's not terrified of making the trip?

Alternately, she can confirm, work on her fear of heights, and cancel the reservation closer to the date if she changes her mind. (Someone else will presumably still be able to pick up the cancelled reservation.)
posted by mskyle at 6:43 AM on September 24, 2021

Let your friend live their life. Don't try to convince people to do things that they just don't want to do, even if you think the thing would be amazing. Your friend probably already feels guilty about signing up for a lottery for something that they don't actually want. Please don't make it worse by piling on them and pushing them to do something that they don't want to do. If someone did that to me, I would distance myself immediately. Pushing people to do things that they don't want to do is not good friend behavior.
posted by twelve cent archie at 6:43 AM on September 24, 2021 [30 favorites]

I took a donkey out of the Colca Canyon in Peru. I’m glad I did but also just being on a donkey was kind of intimidating and then being on the side of a cliff, with the movement underneath me and no control was pretty scary. I wouldn’t say even say I have a fear of heights but it definitely had my adrenaline pumping.

Based on what you’ve said, I don’t think your friend would have much fun on the trip
posted by raccoon409 at 6:59 AM on September 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I am terrified of heights. Someone I know thought I would be fine driving through the hilly streets of San Francisco. He was wrong. After he saw me crying and shaking, he knew he was wrong. Another person didn't believe me when I told him that he should never startle me as a joke. He tried it and was sorry.

Your friend gets to decide what to do here. No matter how amazing this opportunity seems to you, it may not be to your friend. If your friend entered thinking she could get over the fear of heights in time for the trip, then you can encourage and support that. But if you don't have this kind of fear yourself, it's very hard to understand how debilitating it is.
posted by FencingGal at 7:01 AM on September 24, 2021 [29 favorites]

I am also scared of heights, but having been to Phantom Ranch on two different trips, didn't have a problem walking on my own two feet. There's very few places where the trail is narrow enough/on cliff's edge enough to freak me out. That being said, I would absolutely be terrified to take a mule down...that extra height and lack of control would be too much for me. Is it possible that she's anxious about other stuff in her life right now (you know, like this ongoing pandemic)? I know when I'm anxious about one (or many) specific thing, the heightened anxiety carries over and makes milder fears worse. I'm not familiar enough with the refund policy to advise, but am pretty sure your friend can get most/all her money back so long as she doesn't cancel very last minute. Maybe look into that for her, and to echo mskyle above, have her confirm, work on her fears and cancel at a later date if need be.
posted by csox at 7:03 AM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Can she just pass the trip off to you or someone else? (Also, was this a deliberate choice to put her name in for this, or was this a random raffle and this is what she got?)

Seriously, "I'm afraid of heights!" and mules is not a fight you are gonna win in 2 days and she'll probably be in fear for a year if she agrees to it. Don't even waste time trying to get her to do it. Hope someone else who wants it gets it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 AM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all. Addendum. I know this person well, and was there as she entered and re-entered. She was thrilled at the idea, and heights did not seem to be an issue. She is starting a more intense walking routine, and talking about other sites as well. If she decides against going, fine, it passes to another person. No one loses. I am not pushing, thank you. But hearing from someone who has done this, or who has height issues, whether good or bad, will help her make a decision.
posted by ebesan at 7:04 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have virtually no fear of heights and hiked the Grand Canyon without problem. But I was terrified watching people ride the mules down, even though I knew intellectually that they wouldn't fall.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:05 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a close relative who cannot endure proximity to heights, cliffs, drop-offs, or large vistas. It triggers a loss of balance in her and from there she will often have a panic attack. Believe me, you don't want to be around her when this is happening. You certainly don't want to be a passenger in a car when she is driving near a cliff!

She does her best to avoid putting herself in these situations, and those who know her support her in the efforts. Acrophobia (fear of heights) is often caused by damage to the vestibular system. There's no reason to push your friend to do something that she knows she won't enjoy.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:07 AM on September 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

A lot of times these kinds of giveaways offer a cash equivalent if it turns out that the trip/car/appliance/etc. won't work out after all. Is it possible to see if this is an option here, so she can have the cash in reserve while she thinks about it more? It might buy time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on September 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

I climbed up the cliffs to Santorini on foot alongside the mules (ended up at the bottom and did not want to take the mules) and while they're famously mistreated, it did surprise me how wobbly they were. Like, none fell, but they rock back and forth like a horse and one occasionally missed a footing. I know intellectually they're more surefooted than me walking it by myself but I think the combo of heights+new animal riding experience can be scary.
posted by clarinet at 7:37 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

We did this same trip earlier this year. We hiked, not muled. There are sections of the trails that have large drop offs, especially the top parts of the South Kaibab and Bright Angel. It really depends on how sensitive your friend’s fear of heights is.

I will say that it was the most spectacular vacation I’ve ever been on so if your friend can handle it, do it.
posted by LoveHam at 7:42 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a fear of heights, and the Grand Canyon trails (at least the Google streetview accessible ones) look like exactly the type of thing that sets my particular version off. In my case, I'm generally convinced that I'm going to fall off the path or slip down a slope, and unfortunately I can't reason myself out of it. And while I know that a mule is going to be more surefooted than I am, I would be still sure that either my mule will be the one that slips, or I will somehow fall off the mule.

It's hard to explain what it feels like - I tend to freeze and be unable to move farther. (I do eventually move, but generally with baby steps, and have been known to crawl.) It's also not heights per se - I don't have a problem going up a mountain, or standing at the top looking down, it's only when I start to go down that I can have an issue.

I could see myself doing something similar to your friend - thinking it sounded great, until I actually won the lottery and fully realised what it entailed. And in my case, no amount of logic, or other people's experience is really going to make much difference to me.
posted by scorbet at 7:43 AM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

A lot of times these kinds of giveaways offer a cash equivalent if it turns out that the trip/car/appliance/etc. won't work out after all. Is it possible to see if this is an option here, so she can have the cash in reserve while she thinks about it more? It might buy time.

I don't think it's that kind of lottery - some things in National Parks or other federally managed lands that have really high demand compared to availability make reservations on a lottery system. You specify the dates you'd like to go there, they toss you in a lottery pool with all the other people that want that date, and eventually they draw names and notify you if you've "won". If you don't win, you go on a wait list hoping for people who won but can't make their reservation time for whatever reason. Similar things are the High Sierra Loop guided trip in Yosemite, and Mt. Whitney trail reservations.
posted by LionIndex at 8:15 AM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I did the mule ride. While I planned, I never even considered it might be scary. I have several pictures of myself smiling on muleback before we started down. After that, it was 8 hours of raw terror. I would have given anything for it to be over. From the back of the mule you cannot even see the trail for most of the way. You see your foot dangling over the immense drop into the canyon. It is steep. If you aren't used to riding, as I wasn't, you feel like you're going slide out of the saddle, either forward or backward. The wranglers warn you, keep your mule's nose right up to the flanks of the mule in front or it might bolt. WTF? Then they tried to reassure me by saying, "Your mule doesn't want to die, either." Coming back up, my mule's footing slipped more than once. I was told, "Eh, that happens. They do this every day, you know." (Well, that part's true.)

I don't think anyone's ever died on the mule ride down the canyon. And I survived. But it is not a happy memory. It's cool to say it's something I did, but if your friend feels hesitant she should listen to herself. She's not going to get on that trail - on a mule, at least - and find out it wasn't scary after all. YMMV
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2021 [32 favorites]

You can probably get a real life preview of this in a relatively harmless environment by finding a horse riding place nearby. Most of those areas have some hills you can traverse and if those are too much, this trail is well beyond too much. Riding a horse or mule isn't passive so some prior exposure seems wise.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:56 AM on September 24, 2021

I am afraid of heights. I hiked a couple miles down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim and at no point did it trigger my fear. On a separate trip we took our tween nieces as far as Ooh Aah Point on the South Kaibab Trail. One niece has Down Syndrome and a much worse fear of heights than I have. She was fine. But that was on foot, and not all the way down.

If you want to help your friend then just help her talk through her two different fears (- of heights, and - of missing out) and figure out a way to be comfortable with whichever decision she makes.
posted by fedward at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2021

I haven't done this personally but I have done a fair bit of research into it and know people that have done it.

First, I agree with the general consensus here that mule ride = way more terrifying if not actually more dangerous. They wobble, they slip, there is the potential for them to get frightened by a hiker (even if hikers are required to give them the right away), and the height means you will be more aware of the vast space below. I have what I'd say is an average fear of heights, and I have no desire to go the mule route.

If she hasn't already, there are a lot of videos on Youtube of the main Grand Canyon trails, both from hikers and people on mules. I personally like this guys' videos (he doesn't aim to make things look more scary than they are), but there are many more out there. Of course, even the more narrow parts of the main trails are still wide enough for mules - no shame in hugging the canyon wall.

That said:

She is starting a more intense walking routine

How intense? How much vertical gain is she able to comfortably do in a day? What about with a pack on? The main way people die in the Grand Canyon is from exhaustion/heat stroke/etc. If she plans to walk, what is her plan to get back out? Sure, some very fit people manage to go rim to rim in a day, but for people who are in good but not phenomenal shape, a pretty typical strategy is split the hike out of the Canyon into two days, stopping at Indian Springs campground. This is what my mom did back in her youth, and something she has strongly recommended I do - after all, how often do you get to be in the Grand Canyon? Why rush it?
posted by coffeecat at 10:09 AM on September 24, 2021

Response by poster: Sorry, More Addendum - Important- she will be in a group of 4. They won the lottery for 4, one cabin. All will be walking/muling or combo. Certainly muling out! She will not be alone.
posted by ebesan at 10:21 AM on September 24, 2021

Ok, but people can die from heat stroke in groups too. Not trying to be alarmist, but hiking the Grand Canyon requires much more prep than muling.

Related, I have found this couple's blog on their hike helpful - they are honest about their fear-level, but also don't hype up the danger.
posted by coffeecat at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2021

thirty+mumble years ago (1984), my Dad and I and a friend of his did down the South Kaibab, back up the Bright Angel trail, as a one-day. I don't remember any part of that hike being particularly exposed, and at that point in my life I was a sheltered northeastern kid. The worst bits of it was that there was a thunderstorm while we ate lunch in the pavillion in Indian Garden, the sun came out, we started back up the trail, heard someone up-trail screaming "get up get up get up", so crawled up the bank, and a wall of water came down the trail and destroyed a rock retaining wall where we'd been standing, and there was some clambering over slides as we continued up from there (apparently this was not a common occurrence).

But it's nothing like even the approach to the Half Dome shoulder, or Angel's Landing in Zion. The path was always pretty wide, heck, on the parts down below Indian Garden I think I remember it pretty much always having a substantial lip between the trail and the drop, and on those parts above where there were washouts, it wasn't like any of that felt exposed or unstable; it had taken a lot of water to make it move.

Granted the better part of four decades, and the hubris of youth, can make things feel like less than they were, and I haven't muled anything so don't know how that feels for exposure, but walking it didn't feel that bad, and as a 53 year old slightly pudgy desk jockey now, doing one of the legs each day doesn't feel like it's in "train for" territory to me. Though carrying more than a day pack would up the difficulty.
posted by straw at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2021

...for people who are in good but not phenomenal shape, a pretty typical strategy is split the hike out of the Canyon into two days...

This is really hard to determine because "good" shape is relative. I hiked from the bottom to the south rim in a day in the hottest part of the summer without much trouble, though it was tiring; I was young but wouldn't have described myself as particularly fit. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who consider themselves fit and have serious difficulties. (And then there's the guy who ran down the canyon, up the other side, back down, and back up - in under 6 hours. Now that's phenomenal shape.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Grand Canyon is really lovely from the approach to the top with some breathtaking views at all hours of the day. One of my best memories is watching a golden eagle glide on the updraft at the lip of the rim at sunrise. However, I wouldn't take on a hike or a mule ride down the canyon if I were afraid of heights. She could go and enjoy the view and maybe test herself on the transparent bridge at the top of canyon, but it seems kinder to try smaller incremental challenges rather than the canyon. Maybe there's an intermediate solution where she could still go and enjoy her experience?
posted by effluvia at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2021

I have no answers for you (indeed I'm not seeing an actual question in your post or replies), only questions for you to contemplate (i.e., by yourself, no by answering them all here, but you can do with them what you like)

Important- she will be in a group of 4. They won the lottery for 4, one cabin.

I'm guessing this lottery is on of those park service lotteries? I know for the river launch lotteries it's common for a group planning on going to have everyone enter, but the person who wins HAS to go on the trip.

You have posted more details about how you are going in a group and riding mules on the way out, even after getting answers like: 8 hours of raw terror. I would have given anything for it to be over.

I am not pushing, thank you.

And yet you persisted in explaining, showing videos, and now asking strangers for advice online, even though your friend said no to the trip. These are not consistent with the behavior of someone who is "not pushing".

Are you one of the people who would be going on this trip? Does this have something to do with why you are coming across here as so very invested in convincing your friend?

What would be more disappointing to you - friend drops out now, friend drops out after everyone has bought airline tickets and hotel, friend goes on the trip and has this sort of experience?

I know this person well, and was there as she entered and re-entered. She was thrilled at the idea, and heights did not seem to be an issue.

Was it your friends idea to enter? Could she have felt pressured to enter, say if the group was hanging out and "let's all enter wouldn't this be fun!"? Would she have felt like chances of winning were pretty low and it was easier just to go along with the group? How much did she actually REALLY know about what this trip would entail when she entered?

Is the rest of the group going to have fun on this trip, even if she has some of the negative reactions to heights described by multiple people in their answers?

"Fear" of heights, in some important ways, isn't like other "phobias", there are actually differences in the vestibular system. These differences aren't going to go away just because you wear down and pester your friend until they agree to go.
posted by yohko at 12:41 PM on September 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have a terrible fear of heights, and this would be a hard nope for me. Even foot trails with a visible drop off make me a sweaty, anxious, often hysterical mess. It’s not something I can be talked out of with logic, it’s the way I’m made.

I have been to the Grand Canyon and while it’s beautiful, as someone with a fear of heights I was just at the limit of my comfort zone wandering close to the edge of the rim. Don’t force your friend to do something they don’t want to do.
posted by nancynickerson at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've hiked from one rim to the other, and I wouldn't push very hard to make someone go to the Grand Canyon if they said they were afraid of heights. The things that make the Grand Canyon so incredible are the same things that make it terrifying. You are only a few feet away from a 500+ foot cliff and likely death or major injury. There are few ropes or fences below the rim. Being on a mule would just mean that your life is in the hooves of an animal that you've never seen or met before.

The Grand Canyon is so large it can be disorienting. Once or twice when I gazed out into the canyon, I caught myself leaning to one side because my confused brain tried to vertically orient itself to the surroundings; but you can't see the horizon and there are few objects that are perfectly vertical, unlike a city.
posted by meowzilla at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

How experienced a rider is your friend? If they are not already used to being on a saddle atop an animal, this would be a hard no for me. I've been unnerved going downhill on a regular trail on horseback, as a novice rider with no particular fear of heights.

More importantly: as someone who often feels pressured to say yes to things I don't want to do and is also susceptible to the kind of "persuasion" (read: pressure) you're suggesting here, I can say that about 95% of these situations end up with a breakdown either immediately before or during the activity, when the consequences are much more severe. You've already said your piece, please don't continue pushing.
posted by btfreek at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you could reason people out of phobias, people wouldn’t have phobias.

I am afraid of heights. I have tried to reason myself out of it. It does not work.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:40 PM on September 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

I did this and my mule tried to scrape me off mid-Canyon. Dropped and rolled suddenly into the rocks on one side of the trail - he wanted to go back home, I guess. Luckily I knew a little bit about riding horses so I was able to leap free of the saddle before he crushed me. I do remember exactly the instant that he started lunging sideways, and all the commotion as the mule-train leader galloped towards us, shouting - at my mule, not at me. From then on I wasn't really paying attention to the scenery, just to my rogue mule, in case he had other tricks planned. And I have to say that bracing yourself in the stirrups against the pitch of that steep downhill trail really hurts after about hour four. However the night at the Phantom Ranch was magic.
posted by not_that_lilibet at 10:26 PM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UPDATE - my friend decided to drop out. She read these comments, she watched more videos, we all discussed it. She felt bad that maybe she did not do enough homework, but that the fear was greater than anticipated, and the other 3 are fine, thought she did the right thing, and will go; she will find a nice place up on the rim and wait for them. She read all these answers/thoughts and was grateful for them. No money was lost, another person in the Lottery gets her spot. Everybody learned from this, and the trip will continue on to other amazing places (Smaller, beautiful side canyons to walk/raft into?) The world is large.
posted by ebesan at 4:51 AM on September 25, 2021 [12 favorites]

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