I first started rock climbing in a gym. Gym climbing can be scary at first. A lot of people have issues with the auto belay systems, but it’s an easy fear to overcome. I never had an issue with rock climbing being “scary” for me in a gym. The environment feels super safe mostly. The floors are these thick pads that cushion any kind of fall, the entire place feels like a foam house. When I started to get into lead climbing or “sport climbing” is when I got my first taste of fear.
I had been in my “Climb Fit” class for about 6 months, when my coach Mario put me on lead for the first time. A quick break down of “Top Rope" vs "Lead / Sport Climbing”: on top rope the rope is fixed either to anchors at the top of your climb or wrapped around a tube in a gym. Lead climbing is when you clip your rope to “quick draws” that attach to the wall. It’s still super safe, there’s just a small chance that you could fall and scare yourself. On my first time I was super clumsy with my clipping, but I was able to make it to the top. I got to the top and yelled “TAKE!” down to my belay partner which was Mario. “Take” is the universal word for the belayer to take up the extra slack. Mario however yelled back up “Nope!” in return. This turned into my first ever lead fall from the top of a route. I let go of the wall and fell about 10 feet before I felt the rope catch and I met Mario in mid air. This may sound scary and even reckless on Mario’s behalf, but in reality it was all very controlled and not nearly as crazy as I thought it was at the time. This is a tactic used to get over the fear of falling, because once you know how to fall you’re not afraid to go for big moves on lead climbs. It makes you a better climber in the end, it’s just the initial scare that sucks.
Fast forward 6 more months and my first chance to lead climb outside comes up in a trip with my friend Alec. We were headed out to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas. I went into the trip with the mind set that I would do awesome leading outside, because I had been crushing in the gym for 6 months. When it came down to it, I was petrified to leave the safety of the second clip and go 5 more feet to the 3rd clip on a 5.10a. It was heart breaking, not only was my confidence in my climbing severely diminished, but I had gone into this trip with a group who all thought I would be able to lead climb. I got through the rest of the Arkansas trip on top rope doing nothing harder than a 5.10c probably, and headed home with Alec and his family.
I got home and had to re-evaluate my climbing. I had finally realized the distinction between gym climbing and real rock climbing. I told myself that I was either going to get over my lead climbing anxiety or give up rock climbing as a whole. So I kept training in the gym on lead climbing with my coach. Three months later I had a short trip planned with him to get back outside and try leading another time.
We got out to the wall, and he tells me to warm up on a 5.9 before we do any hard stuff. Before I got on the wall, Mario told me to go through a mental check list of anything and everything that COULD go wrong in this climb, and I did. Broken legs, broken arms, getting knocked out, falling to the ground, literally everything I could think of. After I had named off everything that could go wrong he told me to say “That’s fine” to myself. After that, I hopped on the route and froze up on the second clip, but instead of freaking out and letting my mind wander from what I had to focus on, I just said “whatever” (Which is my version of "that's fine"). After that I was able to move my feet up and go onto the next holds. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it, that I can say “I could break my legs, and that’s ok”, but that’s the attitude that I think you need. I love what I do. I love the risk involved. And I love the feeling I get when I can overcome what my mind tells me is impossible with the word “whatever”.
These situations can be found in a lot of different scenarios besides rock climbing. If you’re trying to ask a girl (or guy) out on a date, and your mind is like “No way dude, are you kidding me? She could say no, or worse!”. But if you were to lay out all the negative things that COULD happen, and say “these aren’t that bad”, or just that you accept them, then you can overcome the fear you have. I think overcoming fear is necessary to grow as a person. If I hadn’t been able to overcome my fear of falling while lead climbing I wouldn’t be climbing right now, and I wouldn’t have this awesome web site that you’re reading this on now. From seemingly small internal victories come larger outward accomplishments.