"I'm just so afraid of falling right now. It's really affecting my climbing, what can I do about it?"
So first up - has it always been like this, or is it something has has come about recently? If so, try to identify why. Change in belayer, recent scary fall, witnessed an accident? If it's always been like this, then you have to train away the fear with practice. Mental exercises and visualisation can only do so much.
I truly believe climbing is 80% mental and 20% physical. So regardless of all the training we do on the bouldering wall or in the gym, if our biggest weakness lies in the mental arena, we're not going to improve out there on the rock. So what can we do?
- Establish climber-belayer trust
If you don't trust your belayer, you might as well not leave the ground. I often hear things like this "Well, I was with a group of newbies and they hadn't belayed a leader before so I couldn't climb anything above grade 16". This is a load of crap. You either trust your belayer 100% or you don't. So if they're an inexperienced belayer, you spend extra time with them on the ground, teaching them the principles of belaying a leader. Personally, I feel better when my more inexperienced belayers use autolocking belay devices such as the Faders Sum. Climb up and slump on the first bolt so they get the feeling of what a fall will feel like. Spend the time and teach them well. They will appreciate it, and you will gain a reliable belayer. If you have doubts as to their ability, teach them until your doubts disappear.
- Dynamic belaysThe art of belaying has changed in the last 10 years. It used to be that the climber would fall and the belayer would reef in slack and sit down or run backwards to take up rope. This was great for limiting the length of the fall, but was also good for smashing the climber into the wall and breaking their ankles. These days in a modern sport-climbing scenario, belayers should give their climber a dynamic belay. Providing it's a clean fall and the climber isn't going to hit anything, as the climber falls, the belayer either stands tall or jumps slightly (for light climbers) as the rope takes up, which has the effect of slowing the climber down more gradually. This takes the jarring impact out of a lead fall. Practice this technique - it is vital!
- Take test falls
If you're scared of falling, you need to take safe falls to prove to yourself that falling is no big deal. So, you need to find an appropriate route. Something not overly hard that you can at least dog your way up. Preferably something overhanging or something with a bolt on a bulge so you can fall into clean air. A good route for SE QLD climbers is something like Slider (22) on Mt Tibrogargan or perhaps Dysentery (17) at KP. Remember, you're not interested in ticking the route. You're here to take falls, so come up with a plan with your belayer i.e. "I'm going to climb to the 6th bolt but not clip it, and then I'm going to fall and you'll give me a dynamic belay". Then put your helmet on, get on and do it. Start small, with the clipped bolt at your chest, then waist, then knees, then feet, and finally get above the bolt. Take multiple falls of increasing size. It will be scary at first. Keep doing it until you reach a level of comfort in the process.
- Take REAL fallsNow, take the skills you learned in test falls and apply them in a real situation. This means, choose a route which you know is going to be hard for you and on which you probably will fall. It might be the route you took test falls on, or it might be something a bit harder. It should be something again which is well bolted and offers safe falls such as Squealer (23) at Mt Tibrogargan. You don't want something with dodgy gear, evil ledges or nasty blocks. Pick your route. Now, before you leave the ground, discuss the route with your belayer, talk about where you might fall and where they should be paying extra special attention. Now get on and go for it. If you think you are going to fall, do not grab the draw and do not yell "take!". You may call "watch me!", but keep climbing until you actually fall. If you manage this, congratulations. You are well on the way to mastering your fear of falling.
I hope that was useful. If you've got any suggestions, real-world examples that may have worked for you, or any other advice to share, please feel free to post them here.
Training for climbing: fear of falling and anxiety (Climbing Coach blog - UK)
Beating fear of falling in 5 sessions (Dave MacLeod)
Fear of falling dictates your technique - yes you too! (Dave MacLeod)
|Ethan is not afraid of going LARGE in the quest for the hardest route in China.|