There are two types of fear: survival and illusory. The former is healthy and helpful while the latter is not. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two fears. Arno Ilgner, The Rock Warriors Way.
Years ago, climbing at the mecca of long moderate routes, Red Rocks (near Las Vegas in Nevada) I was having a great time leading a long easy wandering crack, occasionally putting in a piece of gear and enjoying the solid holds and simple moves when I suddenly encountered a more difficult stretch of climbing and could not find any gear placements. At the same time, I looked down at my last piece, which now seemed kilometres away and watched as it gently rattled out of the crack and slid down the rope. The large jug holds my hands were on and the big buckets my feet were in abruptly shrank to the size of pennies loosely glued onto overhanging slab. If I fell now, it was conceivable I would actually hit the ground from 20 metres up. All the fun was gone, now I was simply afraid.
Feeling small at the belay ledge on Dark Shadows,
Red Rocks, NV
Fast forward half a dozen years to just last week and we are climbing ring bolted sport climbs on the Southern Tablelands. I am poised below the crux sequence on a long red slab, my right foot on a sharp arête, the left toed into a small face hold. The next move is obvious and there is only one way to do it. Lift the left leg and smear onto a small hold, then stand up using the wall for balance only, there are no handholds. I hesitate for a long time, looking down the arête. I am a few metres above the last ring bolt, and wonder, if I fall, will I slide down the face or topple off the arête and slam back against the cliff as the rope comes tight. The former will result only in some abrasions, the latter might break a leg. I feel again that familiar frisson of fear.
Doug enjoying Fresh Baked Daily,
El Portero Chico, Mexico
Rock climbing is much more a mental game than a physical one. Inching your way up steep and overhanging rock faces is neither natural nor normal and there is a very real and imminent need to distinguish between "survival and illusory" fears and to act appropriately. If you really are in danger of severe injury or death, the best thing you can do is act quickly to get out of the situation. Place some gear, down-climb to a better stance, retreat altogether; these are all legitimate actions. If, however, the fear is merely illusory, you may fall, but a fall is safe, or so highly unlikely that the risk is negligible, it's time to commit and move forward with confidence. You cannot faff around endlessly in a cycle of fear and futility until your strength is wasted and you fall off.
Dany styling at Smith Rocks, OR
The beauty of climbing as a metaphor for life is that the feedback is so immediate. A simple weight shift to the left or right might bring you back into balance and make that seemingly difficult move easy. You might feel as I did with one foot on the arête and one on the slab, that I had trained hard, I felt strong and confident, the crux move was balancey, but I am good at balancey moves, I simply needed to press down on my leg and move up with confidence. Two moves after that and I was latching a big jug and clipping the next ring bolt.
Doug experiencing the incredible lightness of being
on Watchtower Chimney, Mt Arapiles, VIC
Life is a lot like climbing. You need to recognize real danger and act appropriately. Change your mind, change your habits, fix whatever is broken, make the danger recede. If, however, you are afraid of something with no real power to hurt you, coil your legs under your body, tighten up your core, and spring up with all the power that you have to latch that big jug hold. You got this.
Feeling small on the big slabs of
Memorial Route, ID
All those years ago in Red Rocks as my last piece rattled uselessly down the rope, I was afraid, but I also knew that the climb was well within my pay grade. A few more moves and I could place a bomber nut, my fear was wholly illusory, I grabbed the next jug, toed into the next bucket, moved up a few metres, fiddled in a tricam, finished the climb and whooped with joy.
Sunset over Mitre Rock,
Mt Arapiles, VIC