Beginning and Fear

Hi Steph,
I cannot express how amazing you are and how fond I am of you! Not only because you are very precise and talented, but also because there is something so peacefull on you and on your art of rock climbing. You make it things appear easy! And it always looks like you are having tons of fun!

I am 31 years old. As a girl I always wanted to do some tougher sports, but for many reasons I never started anything. Now, I am in the very beginning of my climbing adventures. I lack everything you can imagine and to make things worse, I find it hard to deal with the fear when climbing sometimes. Fear to catch a hard fall of my lead (they are usually big men and I am so tiny), fear of not having attached knots and equipment well. And mostly, fear of the unknown elements. I am also afraid I cannot do more than 5.10 because of age and stuff that I know I just put in my mind. But I am still on the game despite all that and trying to overcome this prejudices and useless thoughts.

So, here comes a question for when you ever find a little time: have you ever had these blocking fears? How was it for you in the beginning, when you learn climbing? Did you overcome them easily?

Thank you for reading this. And thank you for sharing all the magic you see on the rocks with us all.

I’m sure you get thousands of emails every day. I hope I am lucky enough for you to read mine. I have been climbing for nearly a year. I started as an out of shape 25 year old woman with no strength and now I am strong and have some skill! I struggle with confidence while climbing and fear. I almost feel like my mind hasn’t caught up to my body yet. I have tried to start battling fear with extreme focus on what is in front of me and the next move. So far it seems to be working but I would love some suggestions from you!

I want to feel confident enough to lead the hardest grade I can climb. I am proud to say that in my first year of climbing I have gone from 5.8 to 5.11b and can now boulder V4 but am embarrassed to say that the hardest thing I have led is a 5.10b…in the gym…and I had to take twice because I was over-gripping and scared. I do need to give a nod to my climbing guru/trainer Brandi for teaching me to climb, without her I would not be where I am today. I really want to learn how to manage my fear so I can make her proud!
Thanks for all the inspiration!

Dear Petula and Erin,
Thanks for writing to me! I first started climbing at Carderock in Maryland. The good thing about it was that everything was a toprope–in fact, I didn’t even know there were other kinds of climbing yet! So after about a year, I started traveling to other places, and even discovered that there was a thing called lead climbing, and that you could do it with gear or bolts. So I could climb pretty well by the time I started learning how to lead climb, and it was pretty difficult to go from toproping 5.11 to being terrified on 5.9s. Being scared was very annoying to me!! I remember taking a trip to Devil’s Tower, and suddenly having things all come together. I was leading up thin finger cracks, placing bomber nuts, and feeling like I was suddenly free of fear. It felt great! I was so excited and relieved, and actually couldn’t believe I had even enjoyed climbing so much before, because being totally relaxed and in the zone made it infinitely more awesome that it had ever been before. So I was ready for everything to just keep getting better, now that I had finally gotten rid of that annoying fear thing.

I was incredibly disappointed when a few months later, I went climbing, and got scared on a run-out slab pitch. And I realized that fear is a constantly evolving experience. The thing about doing things that are scary, like climbing, is that we are forced to address this experience continuously, and in all of its different nuances. I’ve noticed that when talking to people who don’t climb or base jump that fear is not a constant conversational topic–but for climbers and jumpers, it’s as much a part of conversation as the weather. I think this is a good thing. What I’ve learned about fear is that it is very much like the weather. It’s something that will always exist in some form, and will always have some presence–even if it’s just to appreciate the rare and amazing feeling of a perfect, crispy, sunny day, or the lack of fear you feel as you send a route that used to be scary for you.

So just keep climbing, and figure out what works for you. If you feel more comfortable toproping all day, with an occasional attempt at leading something below your ability level, that’s okay. Just make sure you are enjoying your climbing. When you are really ready to push yourself, you will. The worst thing you can do is to push yourself when you are not ready for it.

People always ask me if I’m not scared of things. I say, “I’m scared all the time!” Every time I stand at an exit point to do a base jump, I feel fear. What I have learned is how to put it in its place, as much as all of the other things I’m feeling. I will pay attention to fear, but I won’t be stopped by it.
I hope that helps!!

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