Dealing with the Fear of Falling

The fear of falling–Lame. The other day I mentioned that I had gone bouldering for the first time and didn’t get very far because of this nagging fear. It frustrates me to no end. Like attempting to jump off a high ledge into water, but each time you brace yourself for the jump, you just can’t get your feet to go. You yell at yourself and try to shake it off, but you just can’t budge.

Butterflies in the stomach, fear that makes your hands shake, vertigo that clouds your judgement. Yep, I have a fear of heights. Yep, I love climbing. Inconsistent? Maybe. Or maybe not.

I found a great article on one of my new favorite blogs. It’s a climbing blog that’s set up kind of like Dear Abby. A climber wrote in to ask about how to deal with fear. The author, Steph Davis, gives some really good tips on how to deal.

Looking ahead, I know that this fear is something I’ve got to deal with. I know it’s going to be a slow process and I’ve spent some time thinking about how I’m going to go about tackling it. In addition to getting used to falling while bouldering, I’m also looking farther down the road to when I start lead climbing. You can take rather large falls while lead climbing and I know that is going to slow my climbing down, just because of fear. Most climbers that climb 5.12s on top rope, only climb 5.9 or 5.10 while trad climbing (placing your own protection), because it’s a whole other animal. Sport climbing (using bolts already placed in the rock) may not be as scary as trad climbing, but it still takes a toll on your ability to climb because of the fear factor.

In the article, there is a comparison between the two different approaches to getting over this fear business. One, is to go for it and the other is to take it step by step. The latter helps you develop good habits, not freak yourself out, and generally climb with greater confidence. I think I like this method rather than just going for it. As a woman, I have less of an inner voice telling me I’ve got to do things or I’m a wuss. But it’s still there. While the men around me are probably more apt to just going for it and will probably excel quicker because of it, I’m convinced that I will get over this fear thing eventually. When I do get there, hopefully I will be a strong, confident climber with great technique.

This article explains the process of learning to fall while lead climbing.  First, you fall with the quick draw (the gear that connects your rope to the bolt as you climb a sport climb) at your face, then at your chest, then below your feet, etc. etc. Each time, you get higher and higher above where you rope will catch you, so you learn how it feels. I imagine the same process could work for bouldering. Fall from a low place and work your way up so that you get an idea of what it’s like to fall. I like the sound of this and I think it’s totally doable. Right?

Well, I’ll never know unless I give it a try.


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