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The Courage to Climb Down
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By Scott M. McNamara
From Tucson, Arizona
Jan 16, 2013
One Way Sunset
Several recent Arizona threads got me thinking about this topic.

My biggest opportunity for growth in climbing, at this point in my dotage, is dealing with fear. (Thank you Arno!)

Occasionally I blunder onto routes that are run out---as are many of the older S. Arizona routes.

These routes ask me to make judgments about my belayer, my internal self talk, my desire, my strength, my endurance, my ability on that given day.

When fear consumes my attention, then I know I need to climb down.

I have been in accidents, twice. I have been around accidents. They are miserable for all concerned.

Recently, I watched a good friend climbing a route, well below his ability, climbing into ground fall potential. The route was chossy and had not seen many ascents. The pro descent but spaced.

I cannot say if he ran it out because:

1. He was fearful to stop and place;
2. He felt pressure because the old guys were watching;
3. He wanted to impress;
4. He felt solid;
5. Other factors;
6. A combination of these factors; or
7. None of the above.

I suspected if I asked, I would not get a clear answer.

I have been guilty of these sins, but at this stage in my life, I hope my judgment sharper, my susceptibility less to what (I imagine) others think of me.

It occurred to me that sometimes it may take more courage to just climb down.

What do you think?

Scott Mc

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By Unassigned User
Jan 16, 2013
I have had to back off of climbs twice, once because the runout was too much for me with no promise of pro ahead, and another time on Fote Hog. Fote Hog I was actually on ball bearings, the .10bR to the left of Fote Hog. Both times it took a little bit of mashing my ego to back off but I am glad that I did on both. I mean at the time I thought I was backing off of a 5.6.

I am a young climber and I hope to be a old climber someday, my mentor who taught me to climb also taught me that climbing is not about proving yourself, it is about knowing yourself and when you have that bad vibe, just climb down. You can come back later.

That is my thoughts.

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By Keenan Waeschle
From Bozeman, MT
Jan 16, 2013
on top of the RNWF June 2012
suck it up buttercup, if you don't solo yer a pussy.

On a serious note, some of the best routes I've ever done have required me stay focused and careful, as a slip would be bad news. I climb for myself, not to impress others, although that statement is absolute bullshit depending on who I'm climbing with.

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By Devin Fin
From DURANGO
Jan 16, 2013
dream canyon fun!
always climb up ... if you got the strength to go back down you should sack it up an use that strength to move up to your next placement . bolt . good ledge if not fall climbing....

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By Christian
From Casa do Cacete
Jan 16, 2013
Coup
He might not even know himself, or be willing to be truthful, so how could you possibly know that any response from him would be accurate?

I guess on chossy routes you can still choose how you use the handholds to minimize the chance of yarding one off, but still...

"For the courage and temperance of other men, if you will consider them, are really a contradiction.

How so?

Well, he said, you are aware that death is regarded by men in general as a great evil.

Very true, he said.

And do not courageous men face death because they are afraid of yet greater evils?

That is quite true.

Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.

Very true."

Plato, Phaedo

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By Unassigned User
Jan 16, 2013
Christian I have not dabbled in philosophy in a long time but that, that was elegant. You'd think Plato might have climbed a runout route or two himself.

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By Andy Hansen
From Longmont, Colorado
Jan 16, 2013
Intruder, 5.11+. Zion National Park. Photo: Matt K...
Sensible climbing should not be confused with courage. Personally, hearing stories of the great John Gill climbing to the crux and down climbing to the ground numerous times before pulling through the crux is inspiring. Gill undoubtedly had the strength to pull through the crux the first time but climbed mathematically and reasonably. Would you call Gill a coward?

This idea of "sacking up" is a bit ridiculous. There is often times a lot more at stake than pride or courage. Downclimbing is a skill developed for good reason. The mentality of "sacking up" probably kills more climbers every year and invites the unskilled to "just go for it" in the wrong situations.

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By Tom Mulholland
From #1 Cheese Producing State!
Jan 16, 2013
Whiskey-a-Go-Go
It's a very interesting topic, and probably very personal. I will preface the response with the admission that I haven't downclimbed, and I know it's a skill I really need to practice.

That being said, I'm thinking of a few situations where downclimbing was a real consideration. It was never on a big cozy ledge, although neither was it in the most taxing situation. It involved considerations about finishing the descent in the dark (if downclimbing), the difficulty of reversing some moves, the danger of advancing more, the difference between the grade and my ability, how much farther the next protection was, whether my second could lead the pitch, and a whole lot more variables I'm sure.

With all those things in mind, it seems like the retreat or continuation should be a carefully reasoned decision. But it never was for me. It was always a gut feeling, and I feel like the only way to develop that feeling and that self-knowledge is through putting yourself into those situations.

But then again, I never decided to retreat. Never got hurt (knock on wood), but I'll never know if it was really the right decision. But it's always nice to dance with the fear and come out on top.

Edit to add: I really really believe that 'going for it' is not for everybody, and you should only do it if your confidence overpowers your fear. Also, I might have something wrong with my brain.

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By Brigette
From Seattle, WA
Jan 17, 2013
At the anchors.
I certainly do a lot more hemming and hawing and experience a lot more self-doubt when I'm deciding to back off a route than I ever have when deciding to keep going. For me, the consequences of a bad fall are just not worth it. However, with the majority of my climbing partners, I really don't want to own up to feeling that way. I feel that it takes a lot more emotional strength to back off than to fight my way through.

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By Suqui
From asia
Jan 17, 2013
Brigette wrote:
I certainly do a lot more hemming and hawing and experience a lot more self-doubt when I'm deciding to back off a route than I ever have when deciding to keep going. For me, the consequences of a bad fall are just not worth it. However, with the majority of my climbing partners, I really don't want to own up to feeling that way. I feel that it takes a lot more emotional strength to back off than to fight my way through.

Lady, if you are going to take risks do it on your own terms! Nuf said! You are not very smart to bother what your partners may think!

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By Superclimber
Jan 17, 2013
J Hazard wrote:
I am a young climber and I hope to be a old climber someday, my mentor who taught me to climb also taught me that climbing is not about proving yourself, it is about knowing yourself and when you have that bad vibe, just climb down. You can come back later. That is my thoughts.

That pretty much sums it up.

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By Christian
From Casa do Cacete
Jan 17, 2013
Coup
Suqui wrote:
Lady, if you are going to take risks do it on your own terms! Nuf said! You are not very smart to bother what your partners may think!


Yeah, 'cause we all know human behavior is completely controlled by logical syllogisms. lol

We are social creatures, the desire for social approval was selected for in the evolution of the human brain because it could and still can bring concrete benefits to the owner of that brain.

Whether they care to admit it or not, pretty much every climber has been affected at one time or another by what onlookers might think. How male climbers may climb a little more boldly when there are attractive women watching (and vice versa) is just one example.

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By Suqui
From asia
Jan 17, 2013
Christian wrote:
Yeah, 'cause we all know human behavior is completely controlled by logical syllogisms. lol We are social creatures, the desire for social approval was selected for in the evolution of the human brain because it could and still can bring concrete benefits to the owner of that brain. Whether they care to admit it or not, pretty much every climber has been affected at one time or another by what onlookers might think. How male climbers may climb a little more boldly when there are attractive women watching (and vice versa) is just one example.

hey hey, I know all that! I'm just picking on a pretty lady here! lol

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By Geir
From Tucson, AZ
Jan 17, 2013
Toofast
Hey Scott,

Good thoughts. For me, some of the most memorable experiences are climbs that I have had to back off of one or more times before succeeding. Choosing to climb down on a day that one is not feeling ready may well set the stage for an even more rewarding experience later.

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By Ben Griffin
From Durango, CO
Jan 17, 2013
Bitches get Stitchez, Golf Wall, Durango, CO
Hey. You could always just start bouldering and sport climbing. Climbing is inherently dangerous and that is not going away. Every time you sack up and do a climb your putting yourself in a possible dangerous situation. This is why we are so addicted to the sport to begin with.

As we all develop as climbers we learn to read risk on the rock better every year. You learn were your limits truly lie. The danger of being a climber is always there and will always test you from time to time. Learn as much as possible about climbing and you will climb for a long time and you will climb well. Have Fun!

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By Scott M. McNamara
From Tucson, Arizona
Jan 17, 2013
One Way Sunset
As Chouinard wrote in the 1972 Chouinard Equipment catalog:

"Besides leaving alone what you cannot climb in good style...having the humility to back off rather than continue in bad style -- a thing well begun is not lost.

The experience cannot be taken away. By such a system, there can never be "last great problems" but only "next great problems.

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By Ryan Hill
From Oakland, CA
Jan 17, 2013
I have found that climbing has put me into situations that are necessitate a high amount of physical and mental control. Often these situations are not what I planned to enter into, but for some reason (over my head on a route, poor route finding, lack of gear, poor weather, etc.) I am forced to deal with a situation that is more dangerous than normal. At those times I make a judgement call of continuing or climbing down.

Knowing that these situations are always a risk I tend to push my comfort level on routes that I am comfortable on. This means climbing faster, placing less gear, and/or skipping holds. I enjoy climbing into the unknown, but the unknown is dangerous. Practicing for that danger in a relatively controlled environment prepares me for the unavoidable situation where I will face fear.

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By slim
Administrator
Jan 18, 2013
tomato, tomotto, kill mike amato.
climbing down doesn't take much courage, flying down on the other hand......

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By greg t
Jan 18, 2013
ledge
I learned to climb in a very bold style. I rolled the dice a lot, and won. It wasnít until I lost that I changed my perspective on things. The sound of your own body smashing into the ground is a hard thing to shake from your conscious. Over time Ive come to realize that climbing to me isnít about the summit. Itís about the climb itself. Ive backed off countless routes, with generally never any regrets. The best day of climbing is when you can still wake up and go climbing the next day.

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By Morgan Patterson
Administrator
Jan 18, 2013
Stoked...
greg t wrote:
I learned to climb in a very bold style. I rolled the dice a lot, and won. It wasnít until I lost that I changed my perspective on things. The sound of your own body smashing into the ground is a hard thing to shake from your conscious. Over time Ive come to realize that climbing to me isnít about the summit. Itís about the climb itself. Ive backed off countless routes, with generally never any regrets. The best day of climbing is when you can still wake up and go climbing the next day.


greg - noticed u have some cool shot of u climbing in CT. Did u learn to lead here in CT? Mind if I ask if you had your accident in CT as well and if so what route?

Thanks,

Morgan

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By Alex Washburne
Jan 18, 2013
I eat crack for breakfast.
We often talk about the need to be aware of the risks involved in climbing. To most, that means the need to be aware that we could get injured or die. To me, after being with a friend calling his mom saying sorry and that he's afraid to die, it also means the need to be aware that we also risk the hearts of the ones who love us.

I recently led an emotional pitch on ice where there was no protection for the upper 2/3 of the route. I didn't downclimb, but 10 feet from the top, when a fall would almost surely mean death, I thought of my dog and how he'd live in a perpetual state of uncertainty wondering when I'm coming home, and I thought of my family and how they'd react to the phone call.

I'm not happy with my decision to continue the climb. "It's better to turn back 1000 times too early than 1 time too late."

At least that's how I feel. Fingers crossed that we all have the chance to bend it (it= the odds) like Beckey and climb 5.6 when we're 90 years old.

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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Jan 18, 2013
greg t wrote:
I learned to climb in a very bold style.


Yeah, me too. From the ground up. On a toprope. Pretty bold, huh?

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By Ryan Hill
From Oakland, CA
Jan 18, 2013
greg t wrote:
The sound of your own body smashing into the ground is a hard thing to shake from your conscious.


This is a disturbing thing to even think about. I can't say I've ever thought about the sound that would make, but now I'm a little disturbed. I assume you are back to climbing now.

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By Rik
From Tucson, AZ
Jan 18, 2013
Skull
Come on Scotty, we all know that if you back off it's only to make us lesser climbers feel better about ourselves.

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By greg t
Jan 22, 2013
ledge
Morgan, I am from CT, but I didnít start really climbing until I moved to Utah. If you liked those photos, you should check out the latest issue of Climberism. I moved back to CT for the summer and put together the article. Hereís a link: issuu.com/climberism/docs/issu... pg 19
So yes, I still lead climb all the time. I had a bad fall in Zion, UT about a year and half ago. Blew two pieces of gear I knew werenít good, and took a 25fter to my head / back landing right next to my belayer. Bounced off that ledge, and onto another ledge a few feet below. I have a few more details on the climbs post. Desert Shield.

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