Thoughts on fear and climbing from 8 climbers

We had some really interesting and constructive discussions at the women’s climbing night last week about fear & lead climbing. I thought I’d keep the conversations by asking some friends how they overcome their fears while climbing.

Conversations edited for length and clarity.

1. Kaitlyn: Some days I’ve got loads of confidence, others not so much.

“I’ve often wondered if other women are afraid while lead climbing or if it gets better with experience. I’ve been climbing for over 5 years and big falls and lead climbing still scares me.

The underlying factor that either propels me forward to send the climb or risk a fall compared to ‘taking’ and coming down is confidence.

Some days I’ve got loads, others not so much. It really influences how I climb or how hard I climb.”

2. Kyle: I try my best to take a deep breath and assess my risk.

“Since I had a bad fall, I have let fear take a big role in my comfort level while lead climbing. My body remembers and doesn’t want it to happen again.

I would say my overcautious fear response can get me in trouble at times because I doubt myself. I try my best to take a deep breath and assess my perceived risk versus actual risk.

I used to love falling. It was part of the sport and I thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself and risking a big whip. Now, however, I avoid anything I could fall on.

It’s an interesting switch and I definitely miss my old ways. I want to push myself.

The need, I would say, is my desire to “get back to where I was.” Except I would say it’s more about getting back to enjoying climbing without fearing the very necessary component of agreeing to go up on lead: I may fall.”

3. Liz: If it goes badly, it sticks with you.

“For me it depends on the headspace at the time. If I walk into the gym and I am feeling well, then maybe I deliberately try and push it. It feels good. It goes well.

If it’s already a stressful day and you go out climbing, it pushes that edge of fear.  And if it goes badly, it sticks with you. If I back off, I feel like I was limited by that headspace.”

4. Hannahbess: Climbing through fear is a kind of meditation.

“Sometimes it suddenly feels like I do not have a rope or harness on. It feels like i am free soloing, even though I am not. That can happen on a 5.7. It has nothing to with the grade of the climb.

When that happens, I try to push through although I have been known to have some spectacular panic attacks. I am climbing on adrenaline.  I am climbing through tears, not being able to see clearly, feeling like I am going to pass out.

Climbing through fear I feel really good about afterwards. Climbing through panic is not like that at all. I don’t feel a sense of achievement at the other end.

Climbing through fear is a kind of meditation. It’s something you have to practice to get good at. I have gotten quite good at talking myself down so I can keep climbing.  Most of the time i feel better if I keep climbing than if I decide to come down.”

5. Arthur: I feel afraid sometimes, but not often.

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“I feel afraid sometimes, but not often.

Exposure is what really does it. If I look at the rock, I feel like I am inside again.

The scariest thing is climbing is an arete cause you can’t really do that.”

6. Bernard: I would like for my mindset outdoors to be as good as my mindset inside.

“I am often terrified when climbing outside.

When climbing indoors, I’ve learned to trust the system and through practice in a controlled environment. I’ve developed a habit of focusing on solely on the movement and not worrying about my safety.

Nothing is as controlled outside. There is weather. Rock comes in different shapes. Most of the grades I climb outside are not overhanging or vertical. Falling on slab is less familiar.

I would like for my mindset outdoors to be as good as my mindset inside. The only way to do that is to engage with fear and practice overcoming it.”

7. Natalie: I really feed off of my belayer.

“I really feed off of my belayer. If I have someone who is totally positive, the falls aren’t as bad. If I have someone who is silent and just kind of staring at me, I get myself worked into a bit of a state.

I get super nervous around the second piece of gear on trad. And I usually need someone to remind me that I’m fine further up.”

8. Jes:  I want to push myself because I love it, not because I feel like I should.

I’m often a little bit afraid while leading, which I think is a healthy thing to push through.

But sometimes I feel dread. Sweaty hands, pit in my stomach, absolutely no enthusiasm or desire to proceed.

I usually only feel that way when someone is rushing me or pressuring me. Or if I’m hungry, mentally or physically tired.

I have decided to stop when I feel that way whenever it is safe to do so.  I want to push myself to do harder and riskier things because I love it, not because I feel like should be able to do it.

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