Fear for All
I just visited your website and I may just have to check out your book. It looks very interesting!
I could use some advice. I’ve been climbing (mostly bouldering) for 7 wonderful years now and it is my greatest passion! I began as a ropey (sport) and then got spooked by leading which has kept me off a rope for the last 5 ½ years. I’ve recently itched to get back into it and have been doing well so far. Do you have any tips for me to help get over the fear of lead falls? The fact that I’m leading again, even if only on 9s and 10s is a great feat for me. I’ve elected to not top rope as much as possible because that is where I feel I went wrong in the first place – top roping for too long before learning to lead. Am I expecting too much in hoping that I will ever be free of this fear?
Any ideas would be appreciated.
Well, you probably hear this all the time but you are defintely one of my idols!!! I wish I had nearly the balls that you do. I absolutely love to climb but don’t really care so much for the leading; any advice on that? So I just got back from a short trip to the Dolomites (one of my favorite places) and was thinking hey I have the perfect job for me since I hate my job back here in Bend, Oregon. And that was I could be your belay partner, slave, etc. whatever you would want to call it. So if you need one, send me a holla.
any advice on breaking through the head barrier would be much appreciated!
Steph, Do you experience fear sometimes? And if yes, what do you do? My fear is my worst enemy, especially when I climb…
I have always admired your climbing and wonder how do you deal with
your fear of falling.
You are such a graceful climber that you make it look easy.
Keep up the good work,
I’ve been meaning to ask you about your experiences with performance anxiety and sports. My AFF instructor pointed out my issues with performance anxiety and having someone call me out on it very much changed how I see jumping AND climbing.
I know how to lead climb, and I’m expected to lead climb at comps, but I’m TERRIFIED. I know that the rope will catch me when I fall, but I’m scared anyway. My coaches keep telling me that the ONLY way to get used to it is to take falls. Do you have any advice?
This has to be one of the hardest parts of climbing, and I hope you can see already that you are not alone! I think the thing I find most frustrating about fear is that it is generally a performance destroyer. So it not only feels bad, but it often causes you to perform poorly, and therefore also not have a good time doing the thing that is supposed to be fun. In situations involving risk, loss of performance is also very dangerous. So being brought down by fear is no fun. But at the same time, it’s a constant presence for most people who climb, because of the very elemental natural instinct of an aversion to falling.
Personally, I think the solution is somewhat different for everyone. Some people can do that jump into cold water thing, and just start jumping off climbs, and then they feel fine taking lead falls. Other people are so traumatized by doing that, that the result is actually worse. I think you might want to consider trying both, or perhaps trying the gradual approach. You do have all the time in the world, so there’s no harm in taking baby steps.
If you’re very afraid of falling on lead, it can be a good idea to get a friend who is supportive, and go through a little training exercise on a likely sport route or gym route. Start by “falling” when the bolt is actually at your waist. And then after you’ve let go of the heeby jeebies a few times, go a little further ( like even 6 inches) and do it a few more times. Then go a little further, etc. Sometimes I think the body really needs to feel the sensation of falling and being caught, even if the brain knows how things are supposed to work, to really believe it. Make sure it’s a very safe, steep route, and make sure your supportive friend is also a competent belayer. Some people like to let go at the anchors, without clipping them, on long steep sport routes. It’s up to you. You might feel embarrassed or silly doing this on a route. Just go somewhere off by yourself, with a good friend, and don’t worry about it. If it results in feeling better and having more fun, it will be an hour very well spent.
Another thing that can be good is to find a project that appeals to you, but is a little above your ability level. If you work it out, over and over, eventually you’ll be pretty confident in your knowledge of the climbing, and you’ll also be extra motivated to send your project, which can work wonders for your psyche level.
Above all, don’t beat yourself up about being nervous. It’s totally natural to take time to let go of deep, natural instincts like the fear of falling. I think a big part of feeling more courageous is gaining confidence in yourself. If training and increasing your strength will give you that confidence (I know it does for me), then train. If climbing with the same partner all the time will make you more confident, do that. If climbing lots of routes that are below your toproping ability level makes you more confident, do that.
I think, though, sometimes it goes even deeper than the pure fear of falling, and the fear of failing gets bundled in there too. This makes everything even more of a mess. Let go of internal pressure. The thing that drives me truly insane is hearing someone say “I’m just so mad because I should have been able to onsight that.”
Whenever I hear that at a crag, I think to myself, “WHY?” Personally, I never think I “should” be able to do anything….what I mean is, I don’t approach climbs with a preconceived notion of my ability versus the alleged “difficulty” of the climb, and then make that part of the story of my experience on the route. I know it’s hard, because climbing is so permeated with numbers and comparisons, but really, forget about all that stuff. Approach a climb like you are a little kid and it’s a tree. Don’t bring expectations or ego attachments up the route with you. They’re too heavy.
But back to the normal fear. The best way to dull fear is to practice repetition. The more times you are in an environment or situation you find scary, the less it will intimidate you. So every time you put yourself in an intimidating situation, even if you don’t actually do much (i.e., you take a 4 inch lead fall onto a giant bolt on purpose after alerting your belayer, instead of…taking soaring, monster whippers onto a blue TCU as you nearly get through the crux of your project), you are STILL making progress, and you should be happy, and keep at it. The first time I started trying to free El Cap, I was terrified! Actually, when I started working on the Salathe headwall, I was also terrified. 🙂 But I gradually got used to all the exposure, and was able to relax (somewhat) up there. Just keep at it.
Again, don’t worry if this is a very longterm progression. And don’t worry if your progression is different from your friends’ or anyone else. It’s your climb! You want to enjoy it.