Getting on with it

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 mutt 01 Aug 2022

Ok so I have come to realize that I have a problem with prevarication on difficult moves. When I'm climbing something that I can't immediately see how to succeed I prevaricate until I'm tired and then I retreat. If I can see the way forward however, and if there is any difficulty or marginal gear I prevaricate for ages before pushing on. How can I persuade myself to just get on with it when the situation requires it?

Perhaps this is just the usual head game fear-of-falling problem but I usually (eventually) push through when the risk of falling manifests so .....

Post edited at 17:34
 peppermill 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Head out and do a load of sport climbing? Get used to hard moves on rock in a safer (I'm not trying to say it's completely safe, before I get flamed by the masses!) environment.

I find it helps at the start of a season heading out and doing loads of scrambling at grade 3/Mod helps massively with the "Trad head" and just getting on with the route.

 Iamgregp 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:


Joking aside that's probably something we've all experienced from time to time.  Part of climbing really isn't it?

I've sometimes find saying "F**k it" to myself and just going for it works for me, but we're all different.  Find a mantra that works for you!

OP mutt 01 Aug 2022
In reply to peppermill:

I've climbed a lot of sport in the past and have come to the conclusion that it does nothing to address the fear of falling in a Trad situation. In fact I happily lead a slate 'e25c' on widely spaced bolts with no prevarication the day before I backed of an e15b and prevaricated on an e25c when both were adequately protected Trad routes. That was just last week.

Post edited at 17:45
In reply to mutt:

I once considered writing a paper on procrastination but managed to put it off

Back on topic.  I'm quite lucky in that I seem to be able to spot the moves reasonably quickly and put them into action especially with regard to foot placements. At least most of the time. If I don't I run out of steam becaause I'm not very strong.

 GrahamD 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Get yourself a belayer with a ready whit.  Regular calls of "shit, or get off the potty" help focus the mind.

 Andy Hardy 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Do loads of bouldering?

OP mutt 01 Aug 2022
In reply to Andy Hardy:

That just makes me a better climber. It does nothing to address the resistance to pushing into the unknown or into danger. I know this because I boulder more than I trad climb.

 MischaHY 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

I'm not sure prevaricate is the right word in this scenario. Sounds more like hesitation than evasion. Some careful fall practice on trad gear will likely be helpful. 

 Andy Hardy 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

I thought your problem was not being able to figure the moves quick enough?

 mike123 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt: try this . It’s worked for me in the past . As you place gear give it a score out of 10 . 0 being useless , 10 bomb proof . The degree of prevarication you are allowed is based on the score . Your attitude to risk will dictate the correlation between score and prevarication . For me , when I was climbing well , it was something like : 

9, 10 - none allowed , the gears good , get on with it 

7,8 - a small amount out  of self talk and brief internal dialogue , possibly one muttered  MTFU , 

5,6 - lots of self talk , possible mild swearing  , loud evocations to a diety in which I don’t believe 

3,4 - more of the above , possible strong Anglo Saxon cursing , possible loud self loathing 

1,2 - as much and as long as necessary , lots one way discussion with belayer about how sh1t the gear is , down climb to the last good bit a few times . Lots of self talk . Lots of swearing in several languages . Not that I speak several languages but I do know lots of swears ( as my kids call them )

 alan moore 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

I found soloing was really good for this. Doesn't have to be anything hard or outrageous.  The fact that everything is 2 grades easier without all the gear on, and your climbing sensibly instead of hanging around in awkward positions putting gear in, means you tend to motor on through wondering what all the fuss was about.

I found that now, when I'm leading, I have a.much more positive attitude about moving on and keeping the flow going.

 joeramsay 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Do you think that you're more scared of taking lobs, or of failing to do the route? Or something else? Rhetorical question really, but it's not clear from your post, and it's defo worth having a serious think about what it is that makes you start dithering, since different mental barriers need different approaches to break them down.

It might be worth seeking out some reading on mental training - I suspect you're not going to get an easy answer on here, so you need the tools to understand what's going on inside your own head that is holding you back. Mental training is well fashionable atm so there's quite a few options - I liked The Rock Warrior's way (particularly the Espresso Lessons follow-on), but you do have to be prepared to wade through quite a lot of Jedi shit to extract anything useful from it, and I'm sure more useful books have come out since.

 C Witter 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:


1) place two good bits of gear and get on with it

2) have poor or no gear, but know you can do the moves

3) know that it's a bit bold, but the fall will be safe, and summon the commitment

4) realise that the gear is shonky, the fall dangerous, and the moves fluffable, so back off.

Don't be ashamed of choosing option 4, as it will keep you intact.

 Kevster 01 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Various ideas.

Once backed off. Top rope it.  If it's fine then lead it. Learn it's ok by positive reinforcement. 

Or, take the challenge head on...

Pick routes you can fall off ok on when trad. You know the sort....

Millstone style swallow a rack at any point cracks. 

Sea cliff with a wet finish. 

Long vertical routes with basically good gear. 

High crux routes. 

Hide from the issue

Or climb more in your comfort zone on trad and get so solid its cool as a cucumber time. Just gotta be happy with cruising and not pushing 

Make the issue small .. 

Climb several solid grades of sport better than you try to trad. I used to lead 7a sport onsite with good success. 6b was a warm up which I expected to onsite without issue. 

Made E2 and even E3 far more comfy to lead. Especially knowing I could physically do laps of the crux without issue, or climb the crux the hard way and still be good. 

Never tried it. But I'm told doing some aid climbing helps your gear heat and selection no end. 

Fwiw. We all suffer to some extent with head game. Isn't the head the actual challenge anyway?

Have fun.

OP mutt 02 Aug 2022
In reply to C Witter:

> Options:

> 1) place two good bits of gear and get on with it

> 2) have poor or no gear, but know you can do the moves

> 3) know that it's a bit bold, but the fall will be safe, and summon the commitment

> 4) realise that the gear is shonky, the fall dangerous, and the moves fluffable, so back off.

> Don't be ashamed of choosing option 4, as it will keep you intact.

A lot of good suggestions from everyone thank you.

The last climb I did the situation was probably 4 on this list but I eventually lead it. The route before was 3 and I backed off. So I guess that means I am actually quite brave but nevertheless I could be better if I could cut out the hesitation. 

 MeMeMe 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

This may seem counter intuitive but treat carrying on as 'just having a look', that way you're not having to mentally commit yourself, but actually once you've 'had a look' you'll probably have either passed the immediate difficulty or at least have a good idea how to.

 DannyC 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

It's an interesting question as my instant reaction, like most posters here, is that you somehow just need to push on and go for it. The modern culture seems all about being willing to take the fall etc. And surely one of the finest feelings in trad climbing is the time-stands-still moment when you're committed above gear. 

Except, when I step back and think about some of the most competent and successful (E5 and above) onsight trad climbers that I know, a large proportion of them are actually very slow before cruxes. In fact, many of them have a remarkable ability to identify awkward rests, get weight on their feet, straighten their aims, tap that suspect hold, chalk up, find a higher bomber placement - then move at speed. 

The inverse issue is that I've seen quite a few people get themselves into predicaments by climbing near their limit, getting into positions where they are too pumped to place gear. In fact, I'm sure I've been there myself and it's a grim feeling! I suspect this is a particular issue for people moving from sport into trad, but that's just a hunch. 

I guess I'm saying that it can perhaps be too easy to think that the answer to climbing hard ground is always going fast, when actually it's a lot more nuanced. It's about mastering the ability and fitness to move with consideration, assess stressful situations, and then accelerate at the right times. 


 C Witter 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

It's not always easy to tell for sure which of the above scenarios you're dealing with, and there are many shades of ambiguity between them. I think the important thing is just to know you have options and sometimes it is ok to just trust your climbing, other times you can trust the gear, but it's quite rightly never going to be an easy decision to climb hard moves in a dangerous situation.

There are other scenarios, no doubt, e.g. "I will risk this short difficult and bold section because I know it gets easier above" or simply "because I really want this route" or "because I've climbed myself into a position I can't retreat from and now I need to hold it together" (never a good one!!)...

But, I don't really think headgame is about pure willpower so much as a rapid assessment of the options.

 jezb1 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Learning to manage the prevarication is for sure one way but also improving your endurance may help too?

Some of the best onsighters I know can hang on for a boringly long time, figuring stuff out before committing to the moves.

 Jon Read 02 Aug 2022
In reply to jezb1:

> Some of the best onsighters I know can hang on for a boringly long time, figuring stuff out before committing to the moves.

Exactly this ^^^ -- the best trad masters I know are very adept at moving up AND down back to rests, building up a clutch of gear placements that they're happy with, before finally figuring out the move and committing to the climbing above. This can involve downclimbing half the crux section!

In reply to mutt:

That is my biggest issue when onsight climbing. I second-guess myself until I am too tired. I have been doing more sport climbing to try and improve this.

In reply to MischaHY:

Unfortunately, that only helps if the underlying cause is fear of falling, rather than fear of failure. For example, I'm perfectly happy falling on my gear, but I end up failing because I do not want to fail, hesitate when going into unknown territory, pump, and then actually fall. This got better on years where I was spending a lot of time on rock and (perhaps understandably) worse when I didn't. This year I've switched to just getting out on bolts as much as possible to try and get out of that head space without the added stress of doing it on trad on routes I actually care about.

Edit: Amusingly enough, the closest I've come to properly f***ing myself was downclimbing 2/3 of a route taking the gear out, from the crux to the ground, because I really wanted the onsight and I had faffed around long enough that I knew I wouldn't be able to do it. It meant solo downclimbing the last 6m while terminally pumped, which was not clever.

Post edited at 10:25
In reply to mutt:

What state is your mind while you are pondering the options? is it anxious or calm and relaxed. 

You could try things to help focus the mind to make choice's quicker,

The double breath technique helps this, as it re sets the brain to allow for a more rational decision making process, this works really well with anxious thinking.

Or try speed climbing, do routes that are easy for you and try and do them as quick as you can (staying safe you can even start on sports) and then build up the grade. It just changes the focus can make you read quicker and process quicker, this may be better with calm and relaxed think. 

 henwardian 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

When you watch an Adam Ondra sport onsight with chalk all over the holds, he's seen every move from the ground, probably spent an hour or two trying to envisage every move and, well, lets face it, he's the best climber in the world and it's on bolts. So he moves fast, only tries to rest when there really is a rest and just seems to know the moves perfectly without ever having done them before.

But for a UK trad onsight with no chalk, you should expect to spend a long time resting and trying to read the next section/see the next gear. All the guys I've climbed with who can/could onsight mid E-numbers have moulded resting and downclimbing into an art form, take a look at the video of Nick Dixon trying to onsight Margins Of The Mind, he spends 4 hours on a single pitch and it's not even a really long pitch. I've regularly belayed people for 2 hours or more on single pitches and a couple of times 3 hours.

You say "when the situation requires it" but really every situation has to be carefully judged - do you climb on, try to fiddle more gear in, downclimb, hang on the rope, shake out - there are a lot of options at every given moment and developing the stamina to be able to hang on in an awkward place and properly evaluate which of these options is the right one is an essential part of becoming a good trad climber without opening yourself to unacceptable risk of injury.

There are a few tricks of course. If you are cragging and you know the last part is hard and unprotected, you can take all your gear off your harness and clip it to the last piece at the last rest so when you go for it, stopping to try and fiddle useless gear is simply no longer an option. If the gear is good and the fall is clean, verbally tell yourself this repeatedly on the rest as this helps subdue the subconscious part of you that is just sensing fear. If you are certain you are on-route and the grade is within your abilities, telling yourself that there must be holds and/or gear that you can't see is a useful way to get a bit of extra confidence - if you have a tricky crux above, there must be something good afterwards or else the route would be graded harder (more of a tactic for routes that have had plenty of repeats though, or else you are only relying on the first ascentionist which is dubious at best!). Downclimbing, even a number of meters to a good rest (or even the ground) and taking a good long time is an essential tactic, I've seen people whose decision-making process is either "go on" or "give up" and lack the tenacity you need to really onsight at your limit.

Dave Mac published an e-book ages ago with a lot of stuff about how to onsight harder, could be worth a purchase for you?

Do you climb with a lot of young guys with less experience? In my experience these guys often a) haven't had something go badly wrong for them yet, b) bounce better because they have young bones, c) are more full of testosterone, d) don't have wives/children/careers to worry about and/or e) some combination of the above. If all the people you climb with go a lot faster on the onsight and they are a similar age, experience and level to you or you find yourself taking a very long time even on routes that are very easy for you, then maybe you do need to speed up a bit but I'd still check with all the trad climbers you know that this really is an issue for you and not just a feature of trad on-sighting when you are injury averse.

 henwardian 02 Aug 2022
In reply to alan moore:

> I found soloing was really good for this.

I don't know about this. For me, there is such a big disparity between what I'm prepared to solo (solo, as in, fall = death, not solo, as in, 10m routes that could be called highballs) when I'm on form and what I'm prepared to try and lead when I'm on form that I don't feel the solo experience contributes anything much to the lead experience. I guess it could be different for different people though.

 DenzelLN 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Not read the rest of the post but for me it got that bad that I had a paddy and sold my trad gear a few years ago - I couldn't even bring myself to tie in on second sometimes.

Anyhow, I've been bouldering 4/5 times a week since and got fairly strong and was pestered to going Malham early in the season. I have found that climbing fairly hard (for me) where you don't have time to hesitate has done wonders for my climbing.

I have just (this past week) returned to trad and have found it has really helped. And I am pretty sure it is due to the difference in difficulty between what I am happy to have a go at on sport (7a ish) which is a long way from what I'm happy to try and on-sight trad wise.

 Exile 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

If I'm climbing at a grade I can normally do I tell myself to believe in the grade, it should be ok, and plough on. This usually(!) works, but is obviously easier if near good gear, I can see an obvious set of jugs / easier climbing coming up. It also comes easier as the season goes on and I get more successful ascents under my belt - so milage also helps. 

 mrjonathanr 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

> I've climbed a lot of sport in the past and have come to the conclusion that it does nothing to address the fear of falling in a Trad situation.


Agree with you on this. Having to commit is a part of what makes climbing so special. In a sense what’s being tested is not your physical grade, it’s your psychological one.

Best advice I can give is to drop your grade a tad, so that you can feel intimidated but with enough margin to push through. Then nudge the grade up.

 neilh 02 Aug 2022
In reply to henwardian:

I would back the recommendation on soloing as it backs up the head game.

 wbo2 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt: I'd comment that most people don't solo too close to their limit so what you learn there isn't terribly relevant to the head game you need to play when climbing near your limit, and you might actually fall off.

If you can't see how to do it, then prevaricating might be the best thing to do it.  You might fall off anyway, but you might spot a way to do it.  Also ,spending time assessing the situation when pro isn't so good, and the outcome uncertain doesn't strike me as a waste of time.

Are your (experienced) belayers complaining?  

I would say that once you've decided what/how to climb something, get on with it.

 Andy Moles 02 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

I feel like I could write a whole article about this (maybe I will!) because I used to be really bad for it, and I'm not any more.

There's no single pithy answer to what's made the difference between then and now, but a few thoughts:

First, and only because it's a necessary caveat, sometimes it's best not to push on! Could be a matter of safety, could be you're just not feeling it that day, but making that decision swiftly can be equally as valuable as the decision to commit.

The ability to be decisive comes down to being clear and honest with yourself. In the tangle of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to climb something, this can be easier said than done. The bottom line (if you can get to it) is, do you really want to climb the route? If the answer is yes, then the decision is already made before you leave the ground: you're going up, and you're only hanging around if you're actually recovering at a rest, or genuinely having difficulty figuring out the moves, or if some unexpected factor leads to a decision to back off.

Partly this is habit-forming. If you're accustomed to stalling every time the going looks uncertain, it's hard to break out of that. It's easier to form good habits by climbing things that are safe (like sport climbing) and obvious (like cracks). Change your rhythm, learn the habit of defaulting to upward movement. For me, climbing long multi-pitch routes where there is some actual time consequence helped with this as well.

Another question is whether what's holding you back is fear of falling or fear of failing (or both). For me in the past it was often more of failing. I could go longform on getting over that as well, but the short version is: there are a lot of climbs in the world, who cares if you fall off this one? Climbing is far more enjoyable than hanging around, and enjoyment trumps success (though ironically you'll probably succeed more often as well).

Post edited at 13:38
 seankenny 02 Aug 2022
In reply to Andy Moles:

> I feel like I could write a whole article about this (maybe I will!)

Please do! Sounds like it would be a good read and useful for a lot of people…

Post edited at 13:41
In reply to alan moore:

> I found soloing was really good for this. 

But soloing is about doing stuff with falling unthinkable, whereas pushing on a above gear is about entertaining the possibility of falling off. I don't see how it can help (certainly never helped me anyway and I've done loads of soloing!).

In reply to mutt:

For me, when I am climbing badly it is probably a matter of climbing lots and dropping my grade if necessary until I am climbing better. When I am climbing well it usually comes down to whether I want it badly enough (and even then backing off can sometimes be the correct option).

 David Alcock 02 Aug 2022
In reply to henwardian:

> take a look at the video of Nick Dixon trying to onsight Margins Of The Mind

I think you meant Neil Dickson. 

In reply to mutt:

For me I just try to pre-empt it. Before I even get on the route I think about what I'm going to do when I get to the crux section, just get myself in the right headspace before setting off. Ultimately, it's just a case of mastering your emotions, staying rational and calm, making the decision to commit, and get on with it.

I've found scrambling un-roped doesn't do much for my head game....but climbing lower grades with a rope and running it out works better. Getting used to being on a rope with decent enough gear that you won't die, but with a serious enough fall you really don't want to do it, is better!

 henwardian 03 Aug 2022
In reply to David Alcock:

> > take a look at the video of Nick Dixon trying to onsight Margins Of The Mind

> I think you meant Neil Dickson. 


 Quickdrawmgraw 04 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

Lots of good advice and anectdotes . I found believing in the grade works . At e1/e2 possibly also e3 (I just haven't done that much yet ! ) There is a hard bit followed by a natural rest and or gear, even if its out of site, you just have to work out the moves and be ready to work out how to get comfortable above gear whilst you place more or move on to a better hold/stance also believe in the stars, the higher the stars the better the hold after the hard bit, and the more enjoyable the crux sections will be !  

I must try this at e3 🧐...

Is anyone free next week in the lakes or wales ? 

My own method of procrastination is that i'm enjoying e1/e2 too much ...

 Michael Gordon 04 Aug 2022
In reply to mutt:

As said above, it depends on the situation.

If the gear is good, tell yourself that and make yourself go for it. Obviously good holds above, a ledge / potential rest / top of the crag, or good-looking gear placements above, help immensly with this.

If the gear is poor, it's a different kettle of fish and it's all about staying in control - moving up and back down to rest and get used to the holds/moves certainly helps. When/if the time comes to commit, you've got to be pretty sure that all will be OK once the good-looking holds are reached!

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