Take a minute to analyze your fear of falling. Many students tell me they aren’t afraid of falling per se, but rather they are afraid of letting go. Once they are in the air, they feel resigned to the fall and the fear disappears. Others say they aren’t afraid of falling but are afraid of injury. They are afraid of what will happen after the fall, even if they don’t logically believe the fall is dangerous. These two kinds of fear are slightly different.
Fear of letting go is a fear of losing control. Once you fall, you cannot control what you’ll hit, how long the fall will be, or how the belayer will respond. Your mind resists leaving the comfort of being in control. Once the mind is forced to give up that comfort, it shuts down and goes into a habitual passive mode.
When you’re climbing a crux at your limit, you can’t control whether or not you’ll fall, but you can control how you breathe, where you look, how you relax, and how you hold onto the rock. You can also control these elements when you fall. You can’t control the fall, but you can continue to breathe, look down, stay relaxed, and maintain proper falling form. Making this shift from having attention focused externally on the fall and what you cannot control, to internally on these elements and what you can control, keeps you active in the process and helps you respond.
The nagging fear of injury is created when your mind misinterprets the fall consequences because it does not have a base of experiential knowledge. Perhaps you have been injured taking a fall, which further distorts how your mind interprets falling consequences. One fall that caused an injury is not enough experiential basis for assessing falling consequences.
If you allow your mind to assess the fall consequences without any falling experience, you will likely determine it to be either safer or more dangerous than it is. You cannot determine the fall consequences accurately from intellectual knowledge; you must have experiential knowledge. Your mind’s conception needs to be grounded in actual experience. Many kinds of falls can be taken in relative safety. Experiential knowledge of such falls is necessary in order to focus your full awareness on challenging climbing. Obviously, there are true no-fall situations where it’s best to stick to intellectual knowledge–you don’t want to be practicing these! However, you can gradually work through many types of falls, expanding your experiential knowledge and your comfort zone.
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The Rostrum, Yosemite Valley

Take a minute to analyze your fear of falling. Many students tell me they aren’t afraid of falling per se, but rather they are afraid of letting go. Once they are in the air, they feel resigned to the fall and the fear disappears. Others say they aren’t afraid of falling but are afraid of injury. They are afraid of what will happen after the fall, even if they don’t logically believe the fall is dangerous. These two kinds of fear are slightly different.

Fear of letting go is a fear of losing control. Once you fall, you cannot control what you’ll hit, how long the fall will be, or how the belayer will respond. Your mind resists leaving the comfort of being in control. Once the mind is forced to give up that comfort, it shuts down and goes into a habitual passive mode.

When you’re climbing a crux at your limit, you can’t control whether or not you’ll fall, but you can control how you breathe, where you look, how you relax, and how you hold onto the rock. You can also control these elements when you fall. You can’t control the fall, but you can continue to breathe, look down, stay relaxed, and maintain proper falling form. Making this shift from having attention focused externally on the fall and what you cannot control, to internally on these elements and what you can control, keeps you active in the process and helps you respond.

The nagging fear of injury is created when your mind misinterprets the fall consequences because it does not have a base of experiential knowledge. Perhaps you have been injured taking a fall, which further distorts how your mind interprets falling consequences. One fall that caused an injury is not enough experiential basis for assessing falling consequences.

If you allow your mind to assess the fall consequences without any falling experience, you will likely determine it to be either safer or more dangerous than it is. You cannot determine the fall consequences accurately from intellectual knowledge; you must have experiential knowledge. Your mind’s conception needs to be grounded in actual experience. Many kinds of falls can be taken in relative safety. Experiential knowledge of such falls is necessary in order to focus your full awareness on challenging climbing. Obviously, there are true no-fall situations where it’s best to stick to intellectual knowledge–you don’t want to be practicing these! However, you can gradually work through many types of falls, expanding your experiential knowledge and your comfort zone.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Andy Thompson

    Hi

    In his book “9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes” Dave Macleod devotes a chapter to falling. He suggests that “the main message is to practice falls day in, day out for months and years…”. and that this only volume of practice was “enough to stress proof confidence to mak good, clear decisions about moves while right on the limit of falling, in situations where the fall was potentially unsafe”. It’s a long chapter (almost 20 pages) so there’s lots in it However my question is that this amount of practice seems way too much for a twice a week climber like me, do you agree with his view?

    1. Arno

      Hi Andy, If you fell as much as Dave is suggesting then, as a “twice a week climber,” you wouldn’t get any climbing done. But, his point is clear: Falling must become so familiar that no attention is distracted from climbing. The only way to do this is to fall A LOT. I suggest just incorporating falling a little into your warm up so you do it regularly. That’s a great start.
      Arno

  2. Camilo

    the more one practices falling the bigger the comfort zone gets and more experience is gained. when climbing a hard part in a route, it may be a dangerous falling zone. with the experience gained i can determine if i want to continue climbing or get down (if i consider the risk is too high). up to when should i climb. how can i know how much i waqnt to risk?? does it depend on personality maybe??

    1. Arno

      Hello Camilo, I go into this in this blog topic: https://warriorsway.com/no-fall-yes-fall/
      It depends on how much experience you have with falls similar to what you are currently facing. We all have different levels of skill with falling. So, we need to look at our level of skill. Then, it is OK to push a little outside that level of skill, but not too far.
      Arno

  3. Tom

    So I lead easy trad stuff in Yosemite at 5.6 and 5.7 level. Even if I put a lot of gear in (which I do) there are sections where I would fall say 20ft+. Since this is at 5.6/5.7 level I am guaranteed to hit stuff on the way and get badly scraped. I cannot wait till I progress to harder stuff where falls don’t turn me into a bouncing ball. However, for now I am at the level I am at. I don’t fear fall itself as much as the fact that if I do fall I will definitely don’t look pretty and get injured.

    This is a bit of a problem with my risk analysis as per my warriors way I should analyze the risk and if its acceptable I should commit. I try to hedge things by convincing myself that I have never fallen on easy 5.6 so the chances of a fall and an injury are low. I used it on Snake Dyke in Yosemite where run-out is like 100ft but route is almost like a ladder and chances of slipping are small… yet consequences of a fall would be rather bad… no fall zone is like the whole route.

    I am not sure whatever above logic is correct. What mechanism should beginner trad leaders use in risk analysis of a fall? It would be nice to have a little flow chart. Also, practice falls here are not an option since anything more than a trivial fall equals some kind of injury proportional to fall length.

    Not sure if it helps if I mention that so far other than practice falls I have taken very tiny trivial falls.

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