A Very RigSend Guide to Sport Climbing Part II: Don’t Fear the Whipper
Let’s cut right the chase this week. Climbing is inherently scary. Anyone who doubts that is just posturing. C’mon, heights are scary; falling is scary; trusting the gear is scary. When we decide to rope up, we are going against almost every instinct we have. However, thanks to a few basic tenets of human psychology, climbing doesn’t have to be scary, and when you are focused on the moves rather than how gripped you are, your climbing ability will soar.
If your comfort zone isn’t growing it is shrinking – Live and breathe this mantra. There is no middle ground. With every decision you make, you either make yourself more bold or timid. It is easy to fall into the trap of making excuses about routes, “Oh yeah, I meant to get onto that route but didn’t have the time/conditions were bad/whatever.” Every time you do that, you are killing your potential. It is so easy to come up with excuses, which is why we do it so much. Excuses would be fine if they only affected your performance that day, but they don’t. Make an excuse one day, and it is twice as easy to make it the next. I have been through periods where my lead head went from bullet proof to embarrassing in a short time because I let excuses make the best of me. Instead, make the harder choice. Building up a solid lead head is uncomfortable. Embrace it.
Fall Practice – This will be uncomfortable. Get over it. If you have access to safe indoor lead walls, make it a habit of never clipping the chains. Instead, pull up some slack and jump off. This way, falling becomes normal. You know for a fact that you are going to fall at some point on the route, so you remove almost the entire unknown factor. If you really do your homework and stick with this, you can easily rack up over a hundred decent falls a month. If you don’t have access to a nice cushy gym, you can do this outside as well. Just make sure you are taking safe falls with nothing to hit on the way down. A great exercise is to find a safe but intimidating fall on route you are working on and take the fall intentionally a few times. No matter how you do your fall practice, follow this principle; discover your fears and make them normal. No one is afraid of their daily routine.
Focus on the climbing- No matter how solid you get, you are going to get yourself in situations that are a little hairy, whether you are looking at a 30 foot ledge fall or a 40 foot clean air whip. The best thing to do in these situations is to not think about it, but that is much easier said than done. To divert you attention, you are going to need something as strong as your body’s innate desire to live to focus on. I choose technique. The advantages are two fold. Focusing on technique allows you to climb better than you would otherwise, and since devoting attention to technique takes so much focus, you will have very little left to spend on being scared. When I employ this technique, I usually like to chill at the last safe rest and clear my head. Once I feel rested, I make the decision to begin climbing with complete focus on technique. Try to “click” into this mindset. There should be no space in between your resting mindset and climbing mindset. Once you make the decision to climb, commit to it wholly. Obviously, you need to be used to paying full attention to your bodies feedback for this tactic to be effective. If you are not doing active warm ups where you are putting serious focus on improving, this would be a great area to start with.
That is all for this installment. If you have any other tips, tricks, recommendations for the community, feel free to share them. Building a strong lead head isn’t rocket science. It is all about making the hard choice consistently and refusing to settle for excuses or the easy way out. Stay tuned for part III: Resting and Pacing.