Success Story: Falling Without Fear

Success Story: Falling Without Fear

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On January 11, 2018
  • Comments

The Front’s first falling clinic concluded last Wednesday (Jan. 10th) with participants learning how to assess risk, fall more comfortably, and push themselves to new heights on challenging climbs.

One climber in the class had taken a ground fall some years earlier and had just gotten back to leading again with the desire to learn the difference between his real and “phantom” fears. His partner was interested in pushing herself on harder climbs and yet found herself saying “take!” or down-climbing when the climbing got harder even though she thought she could do the moves and that the fall might be safe. The third student had climbed in college, but after becoming a mother of 6, she found herself more risk-averse despite wanting to climb again. She was especially concerned about lead-belaying her husband, who outweighs her by 70lbs.

Falling is the natural consequence of climbing, and many climbers waste attention thinking about falling while they are climbing instead of focusing on the climbing itself. We need to assess the risk of a fall we could take, of course, and decide if that risk is acceptable to us, though very often climbers confuse perceived risk with actual risk. This confusion leads to an inaccurate perception of risk, decreased performance, and climbing plateaus.

Aja Lead Climbing

Master climber and author of The Rock Warrior’s Way, Arno Ilgner, helps climbers distinguish real from perceived risk by suggesting we decide if we are in a “yes fall” or a “no fall” zone at any given point on a climb. If we are in a “yes fall” zone, we have decided that falling is ok, and therefore we do not listen to doubts like “I feel pumped” or “maybe this is too hard for me”. In this case, we should commit to the moves until we physically fail, or reach the next rest or protection.

If we are in a “no fall” zone, however, we have decided that falling would not be ok, and therefore we listen to doubts like “I might hit that ledge” or “I have no gear for that finger-crack section” or “I have never fallen off a roof in the gym before.” If we accept the risk of a no-fall zone and are appropriately confident that we can continue climbing and not fall, we proceed, or if we determine the risk to be too great, we retreat and re-examine the risk another day.

Climbers in last night’s class each used incremental practice to learn how to fall with less fear by learning what they can control. They practiced breathing, looking, and positioning during progressively longer falls before getting on a challenging climb to test their skills. The first climber learned that by practicing these elements over and over, he could dissolve his phantom fears surrounding all falling and more effectively examine the various risks that are involved on a given climb. His partner proceeded to her challenge climb and fell off the crux without saying take or down-climbing. She also learned the importance of tying neat knots and keeping her hands off the rope after she got a pinch on her palm by grabbing her tie-in knot during a fall. After taking progressively longer falls herself, the third climber belayed the instructor while using a friction-increasing device made by Edelrid called the Ohm, and grinned ear to ear as she barely raised off the ground as the heavy instructor came softly to a halt on the other end of her rope.

« Along with our Falling Without Fear clinic, we offer classes for everyone from a beginner to advanced climber. Learn more on our climbing classes page.