Fear, Fitness and Motivation.
My fingers wiggle around in the wide finger crack. A solid lock alludes me. Over the last many weeks, I’ve been thinking about gear, safety, risk. I want to be bold. I want to place a cam and climb away without fear. But that’s not me. I shake and my feet search for purchase. I downclimb a move and let go. My last cam was below my feet, but the fall is clean. I’m disappointed. I couldn’t push through. I still had energy in my arms but not enough in my head. I gave up.
For me, fear is proportional to the tiredness in my arms and my perception of the difficulty ahead. Do I have enough juice to make it to the next rest? How far am I above my last piece? I’ve been trying to move away from the need for constant security. I can climb on bad holds and place a cam from a poor or strenuous stance. Put in gear before the crux and go! Even after many years of climbing I am still learning tidbits of knowledge on each trip.
This post was inspired by a similar topic on on RockClimberGirl.com. I know the gripping, debilitating fear that locks up my body. For many people, like me, it may be impossible to fully eliminate fear from our climbing lives. However, we can try to learn to differentiate between unfounded fear (bad) and realistic fear (good). Unsafe falls and risky situations should trigger our brains to say “stop” – this is a good fear. Without some sense of danger, climbers can push too hard. However, there are many situations where we should relax, push past our fear, and go for it.
For me, fear or doubt comes out when I reach a cruxy point on a climb – perhaps leaving a rest or starting a steep section. I’ve been at this tipping point many times. In A Rock Warrior’s Way, Arno Ilgner gives good advice for these tough situations: “Try one more move”. If a fall is acceptable, then I just have to try one move at a time. In a “good fall” zone there should be nothing to worry about, but it is not always easy to make myself believe that failure (falling) is acceptable. As always, dealing with fear is a work in progress.
Here are a few more thoughts/tips on lead climbing and dealing with fear.
- Before starting a route, think about your past experience. How many similar routes have you succeeded on? While climbing, use positive self talk to enforce the idea that you can do it! Once you start leading fairly frequently, build a route pyramid to further quantify your successes. If you have done a certain number routes at 5.X then you should have more confidence climbing at that level.
- Technique will carry you further outdoors than strength. If you want to climb a 5.8 granite slab with tiny footholds a steep V4 at the gym might not be good preparation. Your training indoors should mimic the type of climbing you want to do outside. This allows you to focus on and develop a strong focused set of skills.
- When climbing becomes difficult, evaluate the fall. Most of the time falling is safe. Falling does not mean you have failed (since this can mean you have overcome your fear). If the fall is clean go for it! If you feel that you are too far above your gear, place a piece and re-evaluate.
- Lead as much as possible. Mileage both indoors and outdoors will help you become comfortable on the sharp end. Clipping and placing gear should be second nature. The more comfortable you are on lead, the more you can focus on the moves of a climb.
- Mix up your climbing partnerships. It is just as valuable to be the capable leader of the group as the competent follower. A stronger partner will allow you to tackle more complex and difficult routes, while being the leader will force you take control of the situation and deal with more logistics.
Thoughts? Tips? Suggestions?