A Panic Attack On Top Of A Waterfall

Posted on Aug 24, 2015 in Personal, Stories and Essays, Turkey | 7 Comments

Kabak waterfalls.

I was sitting in a cold green pool on top of a waterfall, having a panic attack.

There were two choices: climb out above the waterfall, facing an unsurvivable drop should I step wrong. Or, climb down the waterfall back the way I came, re-navigating the difficult terrain I’d just conquered– except this time, alone.

It was too much. Panic took over.

I hadn’t expected the day to unfurl like this. I had been in Kabak for a few days and had become quite content with a self-imposed social isolation– I spent my time swimming, reading, napping, and thinking. Then on the beach that day, the guy sitting next to me started chatting.

“Are you English? The book you’re reading isn’t Turkish.” (I was reading War and Peace.)

“No, I’m American.”

My friendly neighbor was a Spanish rock climber, spending the summer in Patara (a nearby Turkish holiday destination) with his friend (also present, also a Spanish rock climber). They had come to Kabak with three French friends, and before long I was invited to share their lunch (complete with a bottle of red wine, naturally provided by the French).

We chatted and swam and hung out on the beach; I read a bit more, my new friends napped or chatted or snacked. And then, around 4:30pm, they all started getting up and getting ready.

“We’re hiking to the waterfalls. Want to come?”

Kabak waterfalls.

Quick context: Kabak is on the Lycian Way, a long hiking trail that follows Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and intersects with ancient ruins. I knew that this particular part of the trail had some beautiful waterfalls, but hiking alone was always unappealing to me in Kabak, so I’d never gone. This particular day, I happened to have my sneakers at the beach thanks to a long morning photo walk.

“I’d love to.”

So off we went. Wearing a bikini and sneakers, I tromped into the woods with these strangers, prepared to finally see waterfalls.

We quickly reached a fork in the road with a sign: For easy trekking along the Lycian Way, go right. For difficult hiking through a canyon, including free-form rock climbing, go left.

An old bearded man came out of the left-branched way and started speaking in French.

“He says that way is not so hard,” one of our French companions translated. “Let’s go left.”

And into the canyon we went.

Kabak waterfalls.

I was a little nervous but not overly concerned in the beginning. After all, I was wearing good shoes and I was with six other people; the initial part of the trail involved some clambering but nothing too stressful. We reached a pool, so I took my sneakers off and tied then to my backpack, and waded through.

The first difficult stretch wasn’t so bad. A fall would have been uncomfortable but not damaging, and I easily made it up and over the rocks in front of us. It was clearly a situation where going up was easier than going back down.

Kabak waterfalls.

The second difficult stretch was much scarier. I was nervous– the fall was quite far, though not completely vertical– but I made it up with help from the Spanish rock climbers, who half-pulled us up the sheer wall that deposited us in the cold green pool on top of the waterfall. The water gushed through a crack in the pool and fell maybe 50 feet to the stream below.

At first, that pool was pure heaven. The Mediterranean waters at Kabak beach are turquoise and bath-water warm; this oasis was sharply cold and refreshing.

Then I realized how we were supposed to get out of the pool.

A rock jutted out from the pool, above the waterfall. We had to climb out of the pool, over that rock, and then up– I couldn’t see past the rock, but there was clearly nowhere to misstep, nowhere to fall except straight down.

I was scared. I couldn’t go back– that was clear; I’d barely made it up this far without help. I couldn’t put my shoes on before the climb– there was nowhere to sit and re-tie my sneakers, the climb began directly from the pool. My companions quickly launched themselves up and out.

I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. (Most of the conversation at this point was in French and Spanish.) I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified of falling. No one was looking out for me.

This anxiety built and built and built until it turned into a full-on panic attack.

The heart races. The blood rushes from extremities– hands, feet– leaving those areas numb and tingling; it also rushes from the head, leading to dizziness. Fear overwhelms.

This happened to me halfway up a waterfall, and it was scary.

Luckily, the French woman in our party noticed. One of the Spanish rock climbers came back down and started talking me through it. I tried to breathe. Relax. Let the blood return to my hands. Let the dizziness subside. Try to figure out where to put my feet as I climbed out of the pool.

He took my bag and shoes and encouraged me to climb barefoot. Once my heartbeat had returned to near-normal, I took the first step out of the pool and hoisted myself over the rock.

I remembered a time back in my high school gym class where we had to ascend a rock-climbing wall. I was scared of the height  despite my harness and just as nervous about messing up and falling in front of my classmates. But once I started climbing, pure stubborn forward motion took over– one hand over the other, one step and then another– and before I realized it, I’d made it to the top of the wall.

Climbing out of the pool felt very much like that, but without the harness.

Kabak waterfalls.

I’d like to say the euphoria hit as soon as I made it safely over the rock and onto the trail. That’s not really true. We still had more ledges to climb, more waterfalls to splash in. Maybe it finally came when we finished the last climb and reconnected with the Lycian Way (the easy route), which would bring us back down to the beach. Maybe it was when we reached a lookout point at the perfect golden hour with a view of the sparkling sea and the glowing cliffs of the valley. Maybe it was when I finally made it back to my camp, took a shower, and drank a cold beer.

Whenever it hit, it hit hard. That euphoria was the opposite of the overwhelming dread I’d felt on top of the waterfall. I felt powerful. I felt strong. I felt like superwoman.

I don’t think I want to do that climb again– I had panicky dreams, and the thought of the ascent still makes me quiver.

But still: I rock climbed up a waterfall in a bikini. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.

Kabak waterfalls.

(Most of these picture were taken with my Holga, a perfect light-weight and lo-fi machine for capturing a vacation. Few pictures are from the actual hike, because I very much needed both hands.)


  1. Emma
    August 24, 2015

    You are powerful! Huge kudos and high fives and hugs to you for overcoming a panic attack—a massive hurdle—and continuing the climb up the waterfalls.

    • Katrinka
      August 24, 2015

      Thanks dear! I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it’s over…

  2. Anna
    August 25, 2015

    Oh my gosh, you go girl! That sounds absolutely terrifying, and I feel like I would have reacted exactly as you had. On the other hand, though, the picture of the friends in that emerald pool with the waterfall is what my dreams are made of. That looks too beautiful to be believed.

    • Katrinka
      August 25, 2015

      Thank you Anna! That pool was my reward for getting through the anxiety attack… we all sort of gasped and said, “This is Eden.”

  3. David Pierce
    August 26, 2015

    Thrilling! The Lycian Coast remains my favorite part of Turkey.

    Once in Capadocia I was poking around in a cave that was probably officially out of bounds. I climbed up an eroded stairway with an opening to the sky at the top. There was also an opening to a lower floor at the bottom of the stairway. The stairs were rounded off, and covered with sand from the erosion. I did manage to climb most of the way up. But then my leg started quivering as I thought that, with one slip, I might be falling through the hole at the bottom of the stairway.

    Somehow I did manage to climb down without incident. I don’t think going further up to that hole at the top was a practical option.

    But now I remember doing a bit of hiking near Ankara with an 80-year-old man with artificial knees for whom going further up was the only option. He could walk up a steep slope, but not down.

    Anyway, thanks for the beautiful pictures and story.

    • Katrinka
      August 26, 2015

      Thank you! And thanks for sharing such a great story. There are a lot of places in Turkey– even in Istanbul– where there don’t seem to be quite enough safety measures. At yet there are such fantastic things to see! It’s all about being smart and knowing your own limits, I guess– and a bit of luck :-)

  4. fatma
    September 22, 2015

    Katrinka, thank you for beatiful sharing! keep in touch


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