So you have a fear of falling. More than a body length above your last draw. From the corner of your eyes, you know the next hold is going to be a bitch. The next draw is within reach but you are in such a precarious position that there is no way you can clip.
This is when your brain starts to mess with you. It is telling you that you WILL fall and it is going to be so big that you are going to smash your face into the wall. You start to blame yourself for refusing to wear a helmet cause you didn’t want to mess up your do.
Next, your feet start to have a mind of their own. Shaking for unknown reasons and refusing to listen to your command. You had been trying this route for months and had fallen at this crux move so many times you know you’ll be fine. Now you are so close and there is no turning back. You are about to make your move at the crux and…… you grab the quickdraw…… You pull your rope to clip in and immediately you regret it. Your brain is screaming at you “What a f**king wuss!”.
Fear of falling
The fear of falling exists in all climbers. I’ve seen good climbers grab onto quickdraws or downclimb a move or two just to soften the fall. Fear is the reason why we do that. Doesn’t matter how good you are, you will find yourself in situations where you’ll chicken out.
I am not an expert when it comes to mental training. I have to admit I am quite the wuss at times when comes to taking a big whipper….. Okay, even a small one. However, there were times when I was able to do the unexpected. I was able to execute a hard and dicey move without clipping into the nearest quickdraw. I am quite sure many climbers will have a similar experience. Why 90% of the time we are fearful of falling and bail on the climb by grabbing the quickdraw or downclimb to rest on the previous protection? Yet there are rare occasions where we are able to climb past the crux and even skip a critical draw.
Why the occasional ballsiness? (Yes, ballsiness is a word)
Although it seems like ballsiness on my part for climbing past the crux. I got a feeling it was mainly because I knew that I had tried too many times and I won’t get any closer unless I finish the route on this attempt (plus everyone is watching and I didn’t want to “disappoint” or a simpler word ‘ego’). I believe this helped me to fully focus my attention on getting past the crux and not chicken out. However, easier said than done. In order to send harder grades one will need to replicate this mindset more frequently.
Alternatively, what you can do is get a belayer that won’t take in no matter how hard you plead. You will be in awe of the amazing endurance and courage you’ll have. However, being a responsible climbing instructor. I’ll have to emphasize that this method is not recommended. You will have to do it at your own risk. So make sure there is no risk of injury before you and your belayer decide to try it out.
This is my personal opinion on how to get your head in the right place to send hard routes. However, I am not a professional climber so I’ll share some tips by professional climbers and author of 1001 Climbing Tips Andy Kirkpatrick on overcoming the fear of falling.
Pro tips on overcoming fear
Being scared is a big part of climbing. If you are going to climb well you’ll need to cope with fear and anxiety. Just as you would take time to sort out your rack, you will also need to take some time into sorting out your head.
Very often before a hard climb, you’ll have anxiety which makes you want to give up even before you start. Instead of letting this feeling of deep dread and fear take over, flip the feeling and think of it as excitement. After all, it is supposed to be exciting.
The feeling of dread is understandable, what it is telling you is to be careful but not to turn back. Think of it as part of your psychological warm-up. But once you start it will settle down.
Sounds cheesy but many pro athletes do it. Listen to a motivational music track to psyche yourself up before you start.
Many of us fail long before we even get to the crux of the route. Because the very idea of doing the climb is enough to stop you. Don’t let what you think you know about the route get in the way of finding out the truth. No route is as long, as steep, or as blank as the route you have in your mind. Remember that even the greatest climbers put their trousers on one leg at a time.
Don’t view a hard climb as a whole, but break it down into parts such as pitches, sections, or moves. Break the climb down to one route, one pitch, one move at a time. Don’t let the weight of a climb crush you.
Practice practice practice
Reading and understanding what you must do is the easy part. The hard part is to actually do it. Based on what I witnessed, climbers who are very committed to sending a project and willing to repeat the crux sequence and take huge falls multiple times during a training session tend to do a lot better than climbers who only make a few feeble attempts on their project route. Hard work pays off.
The most effective way to overcome your fear is to just take the fall. It may hurt… so practice practice practice till you get used to the fear and the occasional pain from a good whipper.