/ Losing your bottle
I've climbed for over 20 years and trad climbing has always been my passion, much more so than sport or bouldering.
I was walking and chatting with a friend the other day and we realised that we were both suffering from the same thing when we went climbing. I still feel like a climber, so still feel motivated to go out but I don't want the fear. Almost without fail I now get half way up a route and start to think, 'do I really want to be here?'. That's even on a route 3 or 4 grades below my previous limit. This niggling thought tends to spoil my experience. The fear used to be exactly the reason I was there.
My mate has the same thing, despite having climbed to a very high level on very serious things in the alps and further afield. We both had some pretty intense experiences that may have had an effect, him having an accident and me climbing something that I feel tipped me over the egde a bit.
I have a family now, and am less risk averse for sure, but that niggling doubt still tends to spoil my experience. Are we just getting old? Is bouldering the way to go? Are we just not climbing enough any more? Do you thrive on risk less when you are happy and settled?
Just wondering if others had had the same experience?
I find I go through phases. Sometimes I'm raring to go and feel no fear at all but then I go through spells of thinking "This is really stupid. You could get seriously hurt for something that is absolutely pointless and stupid."
I've found times when easy climbs were difficult because I didn't have the psych confidence. Problems in life seemed to lead to problems in climbing.
When I was getting loads of climbing practice and everything was going well in life then I was climbing well. The sudden flash of the "what-if" thoughts were put to one side as I found I could make the move and succeed.
It was always trad climbing though - bouldering was never the solution for me.
This has happened to me slowly over a number of years. I used to climb Hvs/ E1 on a good day, now aged 57 I enjoy nothing more than long V diff mountain type routes or leave the kit behind and go for a walk.
I’m sure you will get advice about pushing yourself to get back on hard stuff. I would say do what you enjoy, there is nothing worse than that feeling of dread approaching something your not comfortable with. If you have a new family and different priority’s accept that (but continue to enjoy the hills).
Off and on all my climbing career. Never lose sight of the fact that climbing is supposed to be FUN. From time to time you will be shit scared, and overcoming that fear gives you a great physiological boost, but if it becomes the norm rather than the exception it's time to think about why and what you are dong there.
I've been climbing for over 50 years and over that period I have lost quite a few friends in climbing /mountaineering accidents. Every time a mate has died, its been a tremendous shock, but in every case it's not been because they were pushing the boundaries of their ability, but they've died in silly accidents, generally on relatively easy routes when their guard was down. The only exception to this was when two friends vanished together in the Alps many decades ago. Their bodies have never been found and their deaths remain a mystery.
I experienced both sides of this on two consecutive pitches earlier in the year. Led a bold route at the limit of my ability and felt really good, pushing myself up scary moves. I then seconded up something I have led before, and just felt like I didn't want to be there.
It really made me realise how much your state of mind affects both enjoyment and ability, and for me what is needed is much more time on the rock, until I am back to being comfortable with the movement and the gear placements.
Additionally in competitive sport (running in my case) you spend a lot of time and effort getting your head in the right place. Routines will start a couple of days before the race, mentally getting into the right gear to do well. Especially with short (day) trips I often neglect to do this, arriving at the crag/campsite still thinking about work, having forgotten to chuck my water bottle or approach shoes in the car. A good routine might be to lay out everything you will take, and sort out the rack the night before you set off. Have a read of the guide book and earmark a few routes before you go, and visualise yourself leading one of them nicely.
Also afterwards think about what external factors contributed to you feeling bad on a route. For me it was that I was cold and it was getting dark, and perhaps I had expended all my bravery on the prior lead. Once you know what throws you off, you can avoid climbing in these situations, or choose to second or climb something easier.
It is also possible to train yourself to stop an unwanted train of thought (the sort where you are repeating to yourself "I don't want to be here..."), typically by having a quick routine that you go through to break out of it. You could for example realise you are in the wrong mind frame that you need to stop, check the racking of your nuts/slings, visualise yourself above the next move, yell "Just do it, you wuss"*, and then climb on.
Personally I am still at the stage where I enjoy feeling fear, but overcoming it and climbing well, so perhaps this advice is less applicable if you would prefer not to experience it at all.
*Other phrases are available
Edit: incorrect word
I'm sure kids have something to do with it, and I do have a very small baby currently. It can't just be that though coz the other child has been around 13 years, and I've climbed my hardest routes in that time. Interesting to hear people's take on it. Maybe it's just a phase, or maybe we just need to adjust our goals and be happy with that.
I have had the same experience. The question is 'Why would you expect to feel the same about an experience over twenty years?' Young men seek thrills, push themselves, compete and challenge. The testosterone is high. Then, one day, at the bottom of a steep ice pitch, it changes. It doesn't seem right. Something is telling you to change. Its normal. Its why older men don't take as many risks. Maybe, it is just getting old. It feels unsettling and sad. But it is also an opportunity to change, as you point out.
It's called the Seven Ages of Man, and one just needs to face up to it.
> ....they've died in silly accidents, generally on relatively easy routes when their guard was down.
Maybe then, it's better to climb yourself scared? When you're on edge and your guard is up, you are much safer than when you think you don't need to pay attention?
I read this and thought - fair enough, some people get less adventurous with age, may be I will as well one day. Then I looked at your profile and turns out you’re 34! That’s a prime age for climbing and you’ve got at lest another decade before age starts catching up with you!
It’s easier to pick up injuries either age but in terms of actual climbing you could still be getting better if you put the time into training and getting out - plus you get to leverage your experience. Admittedly harder with kids but even then you can still climb at a decent level if you put a reasonable amount of time in. If you don’t have much time for getting out, side enough your grade will slip, particularly on trad.
If you get ‘the fear’ on bold routes, fair enough but just climb safe routes instead. Whereas if you get it on all routes, even safe ones, you probably just need to get our more often and take some safe falls (start at the wall).
> It's called the Seven Ages of Man, and one just needs to face up to it.
Or fight against it.
> I read this and thought - fair enough, some people get less adventurous with age, may be I will as well one day. Then I looked at your profile and turns out you’re 34! That’s a prime age for climbing and you’ve got at lest another decade before age starts catching up with you!
> It’s easier to pick up injuries either age but in terms of actual climbing you could still be getting better if you put the time into training and getting out - plus you get to leverage your experience. Admittedly harder with kids but even then you can still climb at a decent level if you put a reasonable amount of time in. If you don’t have much time for getting out, side enough your grade will slip, particularly on trad.
> If you get ‘the fear’ on bold routes, fair enough but just climb safe routes instead. Whereas if you get it on all routes, even safe ones, you probably just need to get our more often and take some safe falls (start at the wall).
I'm the same age as the OP but I subconsciously and gradually went through the same psychological change about 10 years ago. Starting out climbing I was only into trad and enjoyed pushing myself most on bold routes; since my mid twenties I've no longer wanted to do them. I think a huge amount changes from your mid twenties to mid thirties (whether or not you have kids, this could affect your climbing - I've had my first in the last 12 months.) This doesn't mean I no longer love climbing (on the contrary, I do even more of it now than in my early twenties and I'm much better both physically and technically) but that I put my focus away from trad.
Everyone is different. My only hope is that when I get too old to do hard sport or bouldering, I still have enough mental oomph left to do the well protected trad routes, just not bold ones. It wasn't clear to me whether or not the OP was including very safe routes in his post's scope. For me, ido them (ie, any trad) very rarely now, but I think I would atsti enjoy safe routes if I did; I just have other priorities.
So i think I disgaree with your first paragraph but i wholeheartedly agree with the rest.
Edit: having a small baby definitely makes time more precious, making it more difficult to find time to get out, and increasing the possibility of feeling ''I should be at home helping my wife" (or just "I want to go home because I'm missing them") while out. Bouldering this doesn't matter because its ideal for a half day, but i can imagine it would compromise a full trad day. Perhaps OP these feelings are mixing in your mind too, reinforcing any negative thoughts about the climbing, especially if itsi a route you weren't massively psyched about to start with?
I'd just go climb well protected routes for a while - doesn't mean they can't be hard. If you can only bear bold grit slabs then that might be tricky but otherwise there's a wealth of well protected climbing out there into the high E-Grades so long as you're willing to get pumped!
This has definitely helped me to get some perspective on it. Some very considered and valid opinions coming through.
My thoughts after reading through:
I suspect there is quite a divide now between the climber my experience tells me I am, and the climber my current mindset tells me I am, and these need to re-align somehow.
I suspect a lot of it is lack of mileage and the minds natural self preservation boundaries resetting. Having climbed fairly hard trad routes I'm continually surprised that I get scared on VS's now, which feel like they should be a walk in the park. But actually clinging to the side of a rock that steep is scary, and if you haven't been doing that much it seems logical to be scared. Building up to leading extremes takes a lot of time and commitment to clinging to rock, which I'm not doing at the moment.
Certainly through my teens and early twenties I had an unhealthy fascination with risk which didn't just manifest itself in climbing, and I suspect this is true for many people (perhaps more men). I'm glad I survived those times and don't want to go back!
Beautiful (harder) routes still inspire me and naturally there is an urge to get on them. But hanging around at crags as much as possible, going to the wall just to stay strong and desperately trying to find climbing partners all the time does not inspire me. I want to spend time with my kids, family and friends and see new things.
With all that in mind perhaps I can give myself a bit of a break and reframe my climbing a bit. Probably important to go climbing when I genuinely want to go climbing (and climb fun things) rather than when I think I should.
> I have had the same experience. The question is 'Why would you expect to feel the same about an experience over twenty years?' Young men seek thrills, push themselves, compete and challenge. The testosterone is high. Then, one day, at the bottom of a steep ice pitch, it changes. It doesn't seem right. Something is telling you to change. Its normal. Its why older men don't take as many risks. Maybe, it is just getting old. It feels unsettling and sad. But it is also an opportunity to change, as you point out.
I think you pretty much nailed it Heartinthe highlands.
Hi, just out of interest, do you get out and climb as regularly now you’ve got a family? ‘The Fear’ seems for a lot of people to be inversely proportional to how much they get out. My experience is that there’s a minimum amount of outdoor climbing necessary to manage it.
if it’s not this, then changing priorities, jobs, family commitments are the usual suspects. It’s possible that as others above have suggested, Hange sport focus, say bouldering. However, I’ve found that if you take up bouldering, then if you take it seriously you swap one fear for another, in this case fear of failure especially if you’re working a project. Sport is all about fear management, hope it gets better.
ps I’ve found Jerry Moffat’s Masterclass book to be excellent for the psyche side of climbing.
I haven't worked out what's going on with The Fear for me. Last year I'd not consistently climbed indoors over the winter and we had a really crap rainy summer so while I did get out maybe once a week, it was rarely on anything I was actually psyched for. For the whole summer I climbed badly and in a state of abject terror - in fact it started out OK and just got worse and worse.
I've just come back from my first trad climbing trip this year after a pretty consistent (for me) training season indoors. I was doing routes I was really keen for, in great conditions, with a really solid partner I've climbed with for years: I was happy as Larry, doing big steep adventurous routes with choss and birdshit to deal with while 40m up an overhanging wall.
So for me I think the psychological and physical aspects are very deeply intertwined. If I'm not getting pumped and feel physically good, then I've got confidence. If I know I'm not fit and strong I get instantly terrified as soon as I have to pull on some holds.
Or maybe it's just completely random and I should try prayer or voodoo or something...
"Having climbed fairly hard trad routes I'm continually surprised that I get scared on VS's now, which feel like they should be a walk in the park."
Sometimes underestimating a climb can effect the head, especially if you're expecting it to be easy and are then not giving it your same focus that you would be on a harder route.
"I suspect there is quite a divide now between the climber my experience tells me I am, and the climber my current mindset tells me I am, and these need to re-align somehow."
Nailed it in one. It takes a while to reconcile yourself to the confident, agile, strong climber, happy above gear, that you once were ...with where you find yourself now. Let go of ego, forget cruising grades, build up outside. I think outside is key. I took a long break whilst my kids were younger and it's taken ages to commit to moves I know I can do and start realising some potential. This is all compounded by a tendency to romanticise how good you once were. Chances are 15 years ago I was enjoying a VS or HVS like everyone else, the bigger grades were the exception not the rule. Let go, enjoy!
I get this at the start of every season, understand that it'll happen this one, so drop even more grades just to get my head back in it. Once I get clocking up the vertical distance again it goes away and I wonder why I don't get on harder stuff.
I don't think I've ever been more or less confident, just aware that my physical condition is not what it was 20 years ago and I simply don't have the strength or stamina I used to. So decisions about whether to push on or back off usually come down to that. I've always been terrified of falling - but when you know you won't fall its easier to push on.
Fun is indeed what it's about. Top roping single pitch routes is great fun.One is not required to be a hero.Getting a sense of flow from top roping may motivate you to lead occasionally,and top roping will improve your fitness.Better to top rope than not climb at all.
> Or fight against it.
Well, of course you fight against ageing and keep as fit as possible. I still really enjoy hill-walking but because of an eyesight problem no longer enjoy rock climbing at all. I know many people who have some kind of ailment who decide the best thing to do is to 'move on'. When one door closes another opens, or one certainly enters a new 'room'.
Some days I can climb at my top grade and enjoy the feel of it. Other days (or possible a different time on the same day!) I suffer from attacks of the 'fears'. Some times I can talk myself out of the fears, others I just need to give in and hope for better times.
Silliest bad day: led VS, HVS, E1, needed to get someone to run round and rescue me off a Diff! Funny old day gave amusement to lots of friends!
The head is an unpredictable piece of the body!
> Certainly through my teens and early twenties I had an unhealthy fascination with risk which didn't just manifest itself in climbing, and I suspect this is true for many people (perhaps more men). I'm glad I survived those times and don't want to go back!
As you get older you become more focused on the inevitable approach of the Grim Reaper. When you are young it seems to be so far away that you consider risk taking to be part of the fun of living. A bit like Pensions - so far in the distant future the temptation to live for the moment overrides planning for the future.
Because at my age I know the Grim Reaper is not so far away now anyway, I'm more reluctant to lower the odds and doing anything that might hasten his arrival.
Life is too precious, and the older you get, the more precious it seems.
As others have said, you can still change your focus more from risk taking to lower risk enjoyment.
You are changing. Embrace it. When i started climbing i was in a bad place mentally and i needed the highs that i got from climbing at my limit. In other words i needed the fear. Now i am a happily married family man and being self employed i cannot afford to get hurt. Now i dont want the fear. I still climb and really enjoy it but i am now a member of the indoor bouldering and outside top roproping club and it suits me fine
I havent been climbing long, but i go from confident, to doubting myself all the way to flailing on a severe and back again to being confident in a single session.
Aside from the climbing, i really enjoy the social aspect of it all and the general vibe of the climbing world. Im happy to keep flailing around on easy stuff with occasional spurt of confidence, if it means i can stay involved with people that have become friends and enjoying just getting out there regardless of what ive climbed.
I guess everyone is different and while in general most people will get less bold with time, this will happen earlier for some, later for others and not at all for a few. I'm 37 but don't (yet) feel like I'm getting less bold - still into trad, winter and alpine and trying to push the grade in all of these types of climbing. It depends what your motivations are - I like the adventure and the psychological challenge of trad, winter and alpine (sometimes best enjoyed in retrospect!). There's certainly risk and sometimes objective danger but you do the best you can to manage it through experience and ability. Over time you get better and managing the risks (recognising that zero risk doesn't exist) - on the other hand, the less trad you do, the scarier it will feel simply because you aren't used to it. So it's a case of getting good at what you do and like doing (hence I'm rubbish at sport and bouldering!).
I can see your point re children and I'm very impressed by people who have small kids but still manage to get out climbing regularly, particularly trad and winter.
It’s tough to climb hard. It takes a lot of time to be fit enough. It’s harder to climb hard and bold at the same time. Some can do it. But our mantra is mortgage and kids, maybe I should try it first. Not many of us are sponsored climbers and nobody has anything to prove. We should only try stuff if we want to and if we have the desire. Desire to climb hard and bold routes is the main barrier not ability. Having a break helped for me and doing other stuff helps. But, I am very single minded and have people around me with equal drive. You can climb hard into your older years, my hardest routes were nearer to 50 than 30. Be patient, the desire comes and goes. Enjoy what you are doing and one day you will think I what to do that and off you go again.
When climbing at my limit, I find I’m too scared to be scared...I.e. I’m focusing so hard on not dying, I don’t have time to be scared. But it’s not really much fun*
The problem is with easier grade climbs, where I’m not really engaged, and I get bored.
The challenge is to find the “Goldilocks zone”; scary enough to be engaging, but not so scary you wet yourself...
*P.S. Contrary to what some have said, climbing is NOT meant to be “fun”; It’s much more important than that.
Agree, physical prep is key, especially endurance for trad. Many other things as well of course but physical prep is one of the factors you can control.
> The problem is with easier grade climbs, where I’m not really engaged, and I get bored.
Ummm ...you could try climbing without using your hands ...
The thing with risk is you can see it either as a threat which implies it should be avoided or a challenge to be overcome, which where part of the reward and exhilaration from cllimbing comes from. So it's key to see the climbing you do as a challenge.
If you're doing less climbing than before then I think it's natural to find things more scary. And fear is a powerful emotion that try to get you to rationalize yourself out that situation. Maybe stick to safer, less runout routes or as you say just go bouldering. Climbing is beautifully diverse so do whatever makes you happy.
I think it's natural and good to be more risk averse if you have a family. There's plenty of ways to go out and enjoy climbing without taking serious risks.
I agree that 'bottle comes and goes, or your approach to risk changes. Fear one day, excitement or satisfaction from controlling it the next.
Some years ago, after recovering from an accident, I tried forcing myself to climb and sometimes just burst into tears below the crag. Be patient and desire or fun comes back. If you love climbing, then just focus on the bits you are enjoying stress free: top rope, boulder, second , do easy climbs, do hard, physically draining laps............etc......lots of options. No need to get on the Macho life on the edge train if you're not at thought station.
I've seen some pretty unhealthy threads and opinions on UKC over the years. This defies them all. Thanks for all your replies.
> *P.S. Contrary to what some have said, climbing is NOT meant to be “fun”; It’s much more important than that.
I think I would put it as saying that climbing can be fun, but that there is so much more to it than mere fun.
Excellent thread anyway.
> I've found times when easy climbs were difficult because I didn't have the psych confidence. Problems in life seemed to lead to problems in climbing.
Was the same for me. Series of major personal traumas knocked me for six and with that went the confidence. It's only just coming back in trad 12 years later - just as the natural instinct to survive as you get older really starts to kick in ;)
When you've got the confidence you don't get the fear. In life as well as climbing... you can harmonise both and build your resilience with sarcastic banter, cheese, oatcakes & sloe gin
11 years ago tomorrow(29th of April.) I had a major fall, where I fell upside down head first, hit my head, and somehow my helmet was ripped off (minor laceration to ear part of it.) then hit my head again. I fell ~14 metres. Probable cause was checking my gear, whilst inadequately hanging on with my other hand, then several other bits of gear ripped.
I was in the neurosurgical hospital's high dependency unit for several days and left hospital after neck surgery and 11-12 days. I was off work for 6 months, but I actually went climbing before I went back to work.(First climbs were seconding VSs at Kern Knotts) I had to do that in my own mind to avoid being scared to go back later.
Now I still bear this in mind, but I have climbed quite a bit since then up to about the standard of before the accident(HVS/E1), and there have been times when I've relished the challenge of a harder route(for me that is, not for some people on here.), and other times when I have had my doubts and quailed somewhat. After finishing a more challenging route, I've felt much better, and this is what de-stresses me. So there is gain in that, since my job can be very stressful at times. So these things have to be balanced against each other.
I think that the way I want to continue is by gradually building up my abilities each season with more work indoors and working up the grades from S/HS maybe on the same day if my stamina allows. Just being out on a blue sky day can inspire and help you climb better due to an improved neuroendocrine axis (brain transmitters/hormones help enormously.)
If I had not climbed in the last 11 years, I would have been a less good person, and weathered the storms less well. So don't limit yourself too much.
A year or so after the accident, I estimated that in terms of cash turnover etc with my business, that it had cost me circa £100,000. Now I actually think that it had a longer term effect and that figure may be higher. Yet without climbing would I still be relatively sane?
Sorry about the length of this.
Margo Hayes has redpointed her third 9a+ with an ascent of Papichulo 9a+ at Oliana, Spain. The line was first climbed by Chris Sharma and is a 50 metre endurance-based route.