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Fear of falling

Without an inbuilt fear of falling off things you’d probably not be around to read this blog, and I certainly wouldn’t be here to write it. We’d both have fallen from some high point many years ago and thus finished ourselves off. So from the outset I hope we can agree that to some degree we all share a common basic instinct compelling us to try our utmost to avoid unplanned encounters with the floor.

But if, like me you’re a climber then you will also be quite familiar with that feeling of being high off the ground, struggling to maintain contact with the wall. In climbing it’s very easy to get ourselves into positions where there is a strong likelihood of not being able to complete the vertical challenge.  One of the keenly addictive aspects of climbing is that feeling of satisfaction when we manage to complete a challenge that we never thought we could. When we ‘keep it together’ and move though the pump and negative thoughts, past a tricky section to reach the finishing holds. It’s magic when it all comes together.

But often it doesn’t work quite like that and we end up hanging on the rope.

Luckily for us, modern climbing ropes and well made safety gear mean that falling off doesn’t need to equal hitting the floor. It very rarely does. Despite the fact that we are usually quite safe for many climbers (and I include myself among them) this instinctual fear of falling off inhibits our performance, sometimes quite unnecessarily.  We fail to even try hard, or worse still we fail to enjoy the climbing experience because we are wrapped up and consumed by a fear of falling.

Our brains didn’t evolve with 10mm dynamic ropes, gri-gri’s and expansion bolts so it’s no wonder that once we’re off the floor with a falling potential below our feet the brain will start to revolt.

There are so many ways to work on addressing this challenge once you’ve identified it as an area for improvement. Lots of them are to do with controlling the mind or Ego, others stem from practicing good movement, yet others from practicing the falling off process and becoming accustomed to trusting the rope.

Here are a few things to think about adapted  from Arno Ilger’s book, The Rock Warriors Way. The thoughts below are largely from his section on Analysing the Challenge – Risk Assessment.

Of course there are plenty of situations in every discipline of climbing where falling can result in injury but the first step towards taking the fear of falling under control is to be being realistic, become a pro at conducting measured assessment of the risk in each situation. This needs to be quite dispassionate because as we know, sometimes falling off is a very bad idea but sometimes it’s totally fine.

Firstly (Ilger says) take a good long look at the route before you leave the ground. Working out where the gear is going to be, rest opportunities, easy and tricky sections. What about this route is going to be challenging for you? What information can you get from the guide book?

Next, don’t kid yourself instead be realistic and honest what are the consequences going to be if you fall? Are there ledges or corners you’re likely to swing into or is it a nice ‘clean fall zone’. This is a fairly straightforward process but does require experience, once you’re good at this then you can move forward to the next steps armed with the knowledge and facts you’ve gained. This knowledge is often tempered by the information you already gained about the route. For example the likely hood of a fall may be very low even when the consequences are very high this assessment of the risk is what leads some people to decide that soloing a climb is an acceptable plan.

Then there are considerations of your self as climber; are you capable of the moves? are you feeling fit today? Do you have good motivations for wanting to do the route? How’s that shoulder injury healing up?

Arming yourself with answers to all these questions before you begin a climb is a good start towards being able to enjoy climbing without too much unnecessary fear of falling. And we’ve not even left the floor yet, there is a lot to think about!

Check out our falling clinics if you think that learning more about this could help move your climbing forward.