People tend to say there is no way to rock climb if you’re scared of heights, but is that true? Are all rock climbers not scared of heights or falling or any of the logical fears that one might have in a sport that involves scaling vertical rock walls? Of course not! Fear is a natural part of climbing that all climbers have to deal with.
Understanding how to manage your fear while rock climbing is a skill that takes time to develop and hone. In this article, we’ll be helping you through that process and giving you some of our top tips on overcoming fear while climbing. First, you’ll have to figure out what your fear is and then start to work on overcoming your fear.
The Importance of Overcoming Fear of Climbing
Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity, so while it’s good to have a healthy amount of fear, being controlled by fear can make your movements more rash and less controlled. Ultimately, making climbing more dangerous for you.
Understanding what part of falling scares you, acknowledging that, and working through it is essential to continue with a healthy and safe climbing practice. For example, if you are terrified of falling, you may end up making such tiny moves that you wear yourself out before you make it up the wall. You could also start locking up your muscles, making it more likely that you will get hurt if you do fall.
This approach doesn’t just apply to a fear of falling. Figuring out what aspect of the risk or hazard scares you the most allows you to specifically target that fear. If you understand why you fear something, you may be able to control it enough that you can limit the fear without putting yourself in more danger.
What are Some Dangers of Climbing?
As we said before, climbing is a dangerous activity, but there is a lot you can do to help mitigate the inherent risks of climbing. Here are some of the biggest dangers of climbing:
1. Human Error
A large amount of the dangers of climbing come from simple human error. One of the most famous climbing accidents, for example, is forgetting to tie a stopper knot at the end of your rope, thus creating an open system that you can fall out of. If you remember to tie a stopper knot, you mitigate this risk, so the danger comes from human error.
There are many ways to help ensure you and your climbing partners stay safe while you’re out climbing, but the biggest one is to always double-check yourself and others. Having a system for checking all your safety details before you leave the ground for each climb is one way to help minimize the danger of human error.
2. Natural Hazards
Natural hazards include the weather, rock fall, and animals. In short, this category is the things that you can prepare to meet but you and your partners can not control. The best way to mitigate these hazards include being prepared and knowledgeable about your climbs and what to expect from the day, including weather and temperature, and simply wearing a helmet.
Making sure you have a good plan and all the necessary tools in case of an emergency will help you feel better if you have to deal with a natural hazard. From a small natural hazard like a lot of bugs biting you to a big natural hazard like getting stuck on the wall in a storm, if you are prepared and do your research, you can help mitigate your risks.
3. Issues with Gear
Another big danger of climbing is gear failure. Many climbers don’t realize that each piece of climbing gear you use has its own lifespan and should be retired after a while. Soft goods, like ropes, harnesses, and the webbing on trad gear, can only last around 5 to 10 years, and not retiring it after this time can increase the risk you face while climbing.
Paying attention to how old your gear is, the condition of your gear after every climb, and how you clean and store your gear can help ensure your safety. Issues with gear are not particularly common since they are so easy to combat, but they do tend to lead to pretty serious consequences if they happen.
What is the Most Common Fear When Climbing?
The most common fear that climbers have is associated with a fear of heights but is actually a fear of falling. Typically when asked, people will say that they fear heights, but when asked for details, most climbers actually fear falling from heights, as opposed to heights themselves.
Overcoming the fear of falling while on top rope is relatively easy since, as long as your gear, anchor, and belayer are all good, it’s mostly a mental fear, meaning that there is a low risk of bodily harm. Overcoming the fear of falling while lead climbing can be more challenging since even a safe fall can still hold some risk of bodily injury or harm.
Like most climbing fears, the best way to get over a fear of falling or to rationalize with yourself enough to basically get over it is to do it. Falling over and over again in a safe and controlled scenario is a great way to help build up your tolerance for the action. There will probably always be a slight fear of that initial rush as you let go of the rock, but with time and patience, it will become a much more manageable fear.
3 Tips to Overcome Your Fear When Climbing
There are so many options for overcoming fear when climbing, and a lot of them depend on the specific fear that you are trying to overcome. Overall, there are a few tips and tricks that tend to help when it comes to getting over climbing fears. These are some of our favorites:
1. Learn about your fear
Figure out exactly what part of your general fear scares you. That will give you a better idea of how to practice managing that fear and if you can change anything in your climbing practice to mitigate that fear.
2. Find a safe way to practice managing your fear
Practicing falling is an easy example of practicing managing your fear, but you can do this with other fears as well. If you are scared of hanging in your harness, make sure you have a comfy harness and find someplace low to try hanging for a little while.
3. Take your time and work through your fear with support.
Remember that working through your fear will not happen overnight or even in one or two weeks. Overcoming fear can take years of hard work, but it will get easier as you go along. Try to have a good support system to help you along, take your time, and stay positive!
For example, if you are afraid of falling while sport lead climbing, this is what those three steps might look like for you:
1. Take some time to figure out exactly what specific aspect of lead climbing falls scares you.
Is it the sudden rush when you drop off the wall, the jolt when your harness catches you, or something else? Knowing this will help you figure out how to calm your body down best and if there are any gear changes you can make to help minimize your fears.
2. Practice falling in a controlled place with a trusted belayer.
Think about practicing on a slightly overhanging section of a gym wall that you are comfortable on. By having a slightly overhanging fall to work with, you will have more time to relax and less slamming into the wall. Of course, if this isn’t the part of the fall that bothers you, then find a different climb that works for you to practice on.
3. Make sure you take your time.
Working through a fear won’t happen overnight, and you might only be able to do one or two practice falls each time you’re at the gym, but don’t let that discourage you. With time and support, you can overcome anything!
Wrapping Things Up: How to Overcome Fear When Climbing
Overcoming fear is hard, but every climber fears something. Fear is built into our very beings and is completely natural. Understanding your fear and practicing managing it is the best way to overcome fear when climbing since making all fear go away is not realistic at all.
Hopefully, we’ve given you the tools you need to start your journey of overcoming your climbing fears. Just remember that every climber has something they fear, so you are not alone on this journey. Take your time and ask for help if you need to because overcoming fear is a hard thing to do.