/ How do you deal with The Fear?
First, apologies to those who were within earshot on Sunday. You were probabaly expecting a peaceful calm day, after all, Loch A'an and the surrounding crags were silent under the snow and ice, the clouds were dampening any other sounds which may have strayed so far into the heart of the Cairngorms... except my shouting, whimpering, cursing, the sound of my heart beating wildly, the squeaking of an ever tightening (thankfully tightening, not loosening) sphincter muscle, and the roaring as a cataract of sweat poured from my sweat glands...
The details are not that important, but briefly, I had gone off route, was teetering, off balance, on tenuous hooks above dodgy gear, brain starting to reject rational thought and getting seriously into panic mode. I maintained just enough sense to stop, look harder for some gear (of whatever quality), then continue up - retreat was not an option - and get myself into a similar situation but just a bit higher up.
Even trying to account for my state of mind, I was quite pleased with some of the moves I made (in retrospect!) so I would say I had some basis for, shall we say, 'concern' or 'interest'. However, in all cases, when the gear was in, the move wasn't as bad as I'd built it up to be, and certainly didn't deserve such foul language.
I wish I could calmly assess the situation, trust my gear or not trust it and climb accordingly. Basically, I wish I had more control of myself in these situations.
How does everyone else cope when the get The Fear?
P.S. Saw a Ptarmigan glissade for quite a long way down below the Shelterstone crag - they are one cool customer!
Breathe deeply - at least three of the biggest lungfuls i can manage (difficult if spindrift is coming the other way). Give myself a very stern talking to. And hum - something to quieten the little voice that's saying 'You're going to die if you do that' - my earworm of choice is 'Singing in the rain'.
It's all better than the alternative which seems to be 'Oh f.... f..... f..... f..... ' which neither calms me down nor gets the air in.
I try not to get out in the first place.
mostly natter about the most inane and unrelated things to my belayer, like the best techniques for baking bread or the increase in tuition fees.
I appear to have a little self-preservation part of my brain, which when in extremis, pops out of its hidey-hole and says
"now, you might not have been entirely wise to get yourself into the situation you are now in, but panicing is not going to get you, or me, out of it either. Now quit being a gibbering idiot and do something constructive, please"
Not sure where this part of my brain is usually. Sipping tea on the porch, perhaps, but its been useful on occasion.
I find the worse "fear" is when youve got into the situation, where you have become aware that you are rapidly getting out of control, you have sewing machine leg, the next few moves are very committing, you can't reverse your moves, and your strength is sapping rapidly to the extent that hanging on with one hand seems impossible whilst you search the crackless rock to try to get some gear in, and you have to decide to keep moving over the hard bit before strength fails completely. It can be character building. This scenario gets compounded a hundred fold as your last bit of gear falls out below you......
Gritting your teeth and going for it has always worked, it isn't something that's enjoyable at the time, but the subsequent adrenalin rush and feeling of relief following it is way up there with the gods.
What was the gist of what he was saying?
I wish I could overcome my fear, have had to refuse the lead and not swing leads at times.
Very annoying really, since as soon as I was seconding I did it fine.
I also have not taken the lead and very vividly remember thinking "Well thank the sweet baby jesus I didn't get talked into leading this" :)
> I find the worse "fear" is when youve got into the situation, where you have become aware that you are rapidly getting out of control, you have sewing machine leg, the next few moves are very committing, you can't reverse your moves, and your strength is sapping rapidly to the extent that hanging on with one hand seems impossible whilst you search the crackless rock to try to get some gear in, and you have to decide to keep moving over the hard bit before strength fails completely. It can be character building. This scenario gets compounded a hundred fold as your last bit of gear falls out below you......
> Gritting your teeth and going for it has always worked, it isn't something that's enjoyable at the time, but the subsequent adrenalin rush and feeling of relief following it is way up there with the gods.
Great descriptive summary Trangia .
I used to thrive on fear or possibly threatening situations but not so much now in a climbing context , still handle certain potentially fear full situations quite well I'm told & never panic for me thats pointless as is screaming ( shouting maybe but never screaming ) , I just find that extremely annoying & upsetting for others.
Try to evaluate the situation , rationalise it then act as best & efficiently as you can in the circumstances.
Having a good laugh at the stupidity of the situation helps me relax and calm down a bit.
Psychologists use similar techniques where you think of certain [positive] mind sets whilst pinching yourself, the idea being that in various situations, you can pinch yourself and you are instantly reminded of the pre-recorded [positive] mindset.
OK, and what if you are hanging on by your fingernails?
(I ask only for information!)
Ha, no, the gist was "make sure you're happy with every aspect of the ascent before going for it", so that means conditions, weather, gear, your belayer, feeling good, confidence in your abilities at the grade, knowing the route (if not onsighting) etc etc etc.
If one of these things is playing on your mind then you reduce the chances of climbing well and increase the chance of the fear kicking in, and if they all start to go wrong (domino effect) it will go tits up.
Keep hanging on until you get to a foot hold! You could also try centring yourself which basically involves relaxing all those muscles not required to hang on. There are two steps to doing this. When you are in bed at night and nice and relaxed, tense and then relax every muscle starting from your feet to your neck via your hands and arms and get used to what they feel like when tensed and then relaxed. Next, you find a nice easy boulder problem / traverse and practice being as relaxed as possible.
I think the point of all of these techniques is to be really body aware so that in an adverse situation, you can default to a known positive state of mind and posture rather than getting stressed and out of control.
I usually seem to get into this situation when soloing.
It has been painful once or twice...
I remember reading that Mark Twight spent a lot of time off the mountain doing relaxtion techniques whilst clipping carabiners. His idea was that he was behaviourally conditioning himself (ala Pavlov) to associate the noise of clipping onto a rope with feeling more relaxed and at ease. Sounds like horseshit tbh, but the guys a legend.
Personally I try to control my breathing and get confortable. Allow things to slow down and concentrate on the route. Think more about what I need to do and not let my mind wander onto what will happen if I fail. I know that it feels desparate because I'm getting scared, but that doesn't mean its beyond me. I know that if I get that under control, I'm more likely to be able to unlock the moves and move on.
This used to work. Hpwever, since I became a parent, I pretty much do everything I can to avoid these situations.
> I remember reading that Mark Twight spent a lot of time off the mountain doing relaxtion techniques whilst clipping carabiners. His idea was that he was behaviourally conditioning himself (ala Pavlov) to associate the noise of clipping onto a rope with feeling more relaxed and at ease.
Actually I can well understand this.
I mentally rationalise as much as possible. In my mind I am thinking things like
"I've climbed this grade before so I can do this climb"
"That ledge is miles away, the gear will catch me before I hit it"
"This is a hard move but at the grade this route is, there must be either easy climbing or bomber gear straight after so I can use a lot of strength doing it"
"I put in so many micros there that at least 1 of them will hold"
etc. etc. etc.
I think it's all down to fooling yourself (but not badly enough that you end up in a life threatening situation). In the easier grades, even well protected climbs have plenty of areas where a fall would be quite unpleasant so you can't really afford to be concentrating on the fall and the consequences.
Some people find rationalising or ignoring the subconscious recoil in horror easier than others and I think everyone gets better at it with practice.
This is a very interesting thread. Thanks for bringing it up.
In similar situations, I tend to breathe heavily and repeat a RATM lyric in my head: "F... you I won't do what you tell me" over and over again.
Not a particularly calming song but somehow forces me up as I battle with my own balls.
The two best coping strategies I find are:
- (courtesy of Andy Kirkpatrick's 'Psychovertical') saying to myself "in this moment I am fine" - you can say it every two seconds if you want, but realizing that you are OK right there and then in that moment takes away from the fear of what might happen and allows you to think logically about the next move.
- And secondly, to break the climb down into it's components. Ask yourself if this single move is harder than anything you've ever done before. Often it isn't (you'll have pulled off a 6a/8b/whatever move at the climbing wall before), so it allows you to put the next move into perspective.
Either way, you're still alive and you're still having fun!
I was clutched by The Fear on a route this summer. For the first time in my life I screamed for a toprope but no one gave me one so I finished it off.
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