Friday, 2 May 2014

A girly guide to fears of falling

In my mind falling and failure are linked, but not in the way one might expect. I’ve been climbing all my life, but only in the last 3 years have I really got into sport climbing. Coming from a trad background, and taught by my parents I had never pushed myself into places where I was likely to be falling off, and up until a few years ago had never fallen of EVER on ANYTHING. This developed into a huge fear of falling off, something that I have tried to overcome this year. I’ve managed to come to a point now where falling off is not the failure, but rather failing to push myself until I either fall or succeed on a  route.

After a fairly unsuccessful 6 month trip two winter ago, getting more and more frustrated with myself as I failed to perform, it became clear that this was due to my inability to climb above a bolt due to a paralysing fear of climbing off. After talking to lots of my girlfriends it became pretty clear that I was not alone in this. Allot of the frustration comes from knowing that you could and should be trying harder, but the fear is holding you back. I’ve decided that I’ve now come on enough  to share some of the things I have found helpful with the world of the interweb. (Apologies for the fairly girl specific points in advance)
A picture of the amazing gorge of Mascun Superiour, Rodellar. Because I can

1)      Climb with people who you trust, are attentive and understand you
Possibly alot to ask on a daily basis. I mainly climb with my boyfriend at the moment and this is NOT who you want to be working on your fear of falling with, as it is much too easy to get frustrated and take out your anger in yourself on them. Not great for your climbing or your relationship! Luckily I made a load of progress this summer going climbing in a big bunch of girls, before I came away on a long trip with my boyfriend. I find that the approach a bunch of girls will take to a day out climbing is very different to a day with a bunch of guys, everything is a bit more relaxed and less macho grade orientated.
Jonny having had fallen off the Delfin AGAIN-he seems to have no fear!

2)      Start small
Fall practice is fairly essential  and at some point you will have to start trying. However there is no need to throw yourself in the deep end. Just deciding not to clip the chains at the top of a route and lobbing off is unlikely to do anything for your head. Start by just slumping on to the rope on a top rope, then let go, then let go with a bit of slack in the system. And I’m not talking about once, or on session on one day. Do it a couple of times every time you go climbing. Once you feel confident with that start working up to jumping off on lead, below the bolt to begin with, and then gradually work up until you are falling off higher and higher. Don’t expect overnight miracles, its going to take time and patience. 

3)      Warm up properly
I find this important, as it gets not only your muscles, but your head warmed up and ready to climb. Start on a route you find easy and gradually work up to harder things. There’s no point in starting the day cold and scared, as things are unlikely to get any better. If by the time you get to a hard route you have already done a couple of harder moves (but ones that you feel happy on), got warm fingers, arms and toes,  and successfully completed a few routes already you are going to feel alot more confident. The same applies if you have just scared yourself half to death, chill out, get on something easier and relax a bit.

Duncan warming up in Collegats

4)      Project routes
Great for increasing confidence. Try not to work things on a top rope, allow yourself a clipstick, but if you can go between bolts-do it! Once you have the moves sorted you know that you can do them, and you know that there is no reason why you shouldn’t be doing them above the bolt. Choose projects that you really want to do, and then go for it. If you get scared above a bold, stop and think for a moment. You know that you can do the move, so go for it. I can guarantee that even if you do fall off going for it you will feel better than if you grabbed the bolt.

Me setting off on Magic Festival-must have fallen off the top of this route about 5 times before I held on to the top

5)      Boulder
This may seem counterproductive on first instance. However, I found that bouldering really helped my confidence. When bouldering you move dynamically and do harder moves than you would do on a rope. Having the confidence to know that you can do harder moves really helps when you are about to go for it above a bolt and may be just enough to give you the bravery to make the descision to keep going up, rather than hanging on a bolt.

Bouldering in Albarracin ©Jonny Baker

6)      Climb ‘go-ey’ routes
Also an odd one, but I’ve found myself much more confident on routes where I don’t have alot of time to stop and think. If your brain is totally engaged in getting to the next hold, there’s no space left to think about falling off! You might be at the top of the route before you even know it.

7)      Enjoy yourself
Remember the reason why you climb; because it’s fun! If ever you start feeling unhappy with yourself take a step back and try to work out why. Once you have worked out why, find a solution and apply it. For instance, if you are beating yourself up over grabbing a draw instead of going for it, climb up to that draw, do one more move and then try and jump off. Even if you don’t manage it that time, it’s still progress!  

Looking happy even after a mega alpine route

Measure your climbing days not by grades achieved, but by how hard you tried. Even if you don’t achieve your route that day, come home knowing that you tried your best that day, and any effort you put in today will be training in the bank for tomorrow.