Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unmotivate your fear: Flying and Climbing

Lately (as in the last 6 months) I've been delving deep into my head and exposing my weaknesses. When I turned 25, something very odd started happening to me, I began to fear. I grew up traveling with my parents. Car trips from our home in Louisville, KY down to Florida, Colorado, Canada, even Mexico. When I was 10, my father accepted a job and we all moved to Hong Kong and the travels we did from there, well, they were exotic. So, who'd a thunk I would start to fear flying in an airplane??? But it happened. Followed by a fear of heights and the ocean. WHAT!!! I started surrendering my will to my fears and instead of them just quietly backing down into the narrows of my mind, they ruled it. When we flew from LA to NZ last spring my fear of flying was at an all-time high. Every bump sent me into a near heart attack/ panic attack (and it was a very bumpy flight). My fear was starting to exhaust me. When we landed in New Zealand, I spent 3 blissful months until the prospect of getting back on the airplane entered my head when we were still two months from returning home, enter my anxiety once again.

Fear builds on itself.

When it comes to high ball bouldering, you have to trust yourself and before you try a climb look at it, know your ability and assume you can and will do it before you get on it. So I started small, got a little bigger, then a little bigger. My first high balls were probably really scary to watch as I lost all sense of technique at the top of climbs and my fear would send my feet skating and my hands clambering for the top (GASP). But the more I did the more I could relax when I got high off the ground. This sense of relaxation when the fear started to set in was a technique I started using in more than just climbing.

photo by Derek Thatcher

Replace fear with a positive feeling.

A few days before we set off back across the ocean on our 12 hour flight, I started meditating on the idea that flying was fun. I imagined myself tucked in an economy chair with clouds floating out the window. I didn't imagine a bumpy flight or Ava misbehaving. I meditated on the idea of a perfect, bump-less, relaxed flight. And boy do you get what you put out there. The flight home was about as nice and relaxing as a flight can get.
When we returned home I didn't have much time to think about my fears, with friends visiting, family to catch up with and summer in full swing. It wasn't until Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in SLC that I got to address my fears again. I hadn't taken a lead fall in, hmm, 3 1/2 years or so. I met up with some friends Jonathan Seigrist and Andy Mann and we decided we weren't going to let the intense heat keep us off the rock. But I didn't have a harness. Outdoor Retailer always comes through. I got a brand new Arcteryx R-280. Now I have to interject here. Have you seen these harnesses? Have you tried them? They are so barely there its like you aren't even wearing one. And the technology is serious. I do not worry about my harness. Part of my fear of heights is increased exponetially when I climb routes. It's not that I'm scared of the climbing, I'm scared that my gear is going to fail. I look at the rope as I clip it into the quickdraw and as it bends my fear says, "The rope is going to break!" Or as I'm staring at the anchors while I'm cleaning my fear says, "The anchors are going to blow." It's my unfamiliarity with my gear and the fact that I have to trust something other than myself and my spotters that motivates my fear. But that day out with Andy and Jonathan I asked them not to tell me grades and I lead everything I got on. My fear was in check. I took my first whippers in years and with these two as climbing partners I felt safe and motivated by something more... flirting.

Photo by Andy Mann

Fear can be secondary to fun.

This experience catapulted me into a new phase of my climbing: Rout'in!! I now have a feeling to replace my fear when I climb high balls or routes. I flirt with the rock and I have fun with it.
Fear builds on itself. Replace fear with a positive feeling. And say to yourself, "Have fun." That's what its about anyway right.


  1. This is a good article. You capture the essence of fear and how to manage it. My fear is prettyy irrational. I boulder at about V7-V8 but ask me to put a rope on and tackle a route I go to pieces. grabbing at clips, resting at every oppertunity. It's crazy and it happens on routes that if they were boulder problems I could confortably campus !! I have written an article about rock climbing psychology and overcoming a fear of falling which you may find interesting.

  2. Nice to read. I am 25 and JUST starting to climb. The curious thing is that I am not afraid of airplane flying or heights as such . . . but I am scared to death of exposure. I think that's pretty much it. Being a passenger in a car that's driving around the bend of a cliff edge is more terrifying to me than being in an airplane at 30,000 ft. So I don't know. I'm hoping that by getting into climbing, I will overcome the fear, bit by bit, starting with indoor climbing but hopefully before too long getting out there for more outdoor climbs (my two instruction sessions have been outdoors), which are no comparison so much more fun and beautiful. But I want to have the confidence that I can DO the moves that I need to do first, and then I think I won't be as scared.

  3. Knowing you can do them is the first step. The only way you can know that is by doing them. It's a catch 22. Just remember, while you are up there, you haven't fallen on these moves. Or moves like them. If you have accept that you did fall and you are stronger for it now. Accept the fear and move on. Take a deep breath and trust yourself. This is my pep talk that I have with myself all the time. It's a never ending journey and that's why it's so much fun. That one time that you suck it up and actually conquer the moment.


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