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Very strong fear of falling - looking for testimonials
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By Taylor Jenkins
Nov 18, 2011
I've been climbing since 2003 and struggling with a very strong fear of heights and a fear of falling, which I've been working to overcome more aggressively in recent weeks. I say I have a fear of heights in addition to the fear of falling because I experience fear when top-roping, climbing ladders, standing on tall buildings, etc. Steeper terrain tends to frighten me more, despite its relatively safer falls.

Here's how I've been trying to tackle this:
-Reading forum posts for advice and stories.
-I've recently begun reading The Rock Warrior's Way and implementing its suggestions. I've found positive self-talk while climbing to be very beneficial.
-I took a falling class at my local gym, which I was not able to complete. I took several falls with the bolt at eye level but I was not able to climb to a sufficiently high bolt to practice larger falls. Without fail, I would cruise the first three clips and panic trying to climb past the third.

Here's my plan of action, for now:
I am going to take as many falls at eye level as I can. If I have to do it 100 times, I'll do it 100 times. Then, and only then, I'll move on to falls with the bolt at waist level.

Long term goal: I trad lead 5.5 and below, but only very short single pitch climbs where the climbing is easy and there's very little height involved. My wife and I are making it a goal to train for some easy multipitch at Seneca in the Spring. Dealing with the exposure is the goal.

Did anyone, like me, struggle with a much stronger than average level of fear? Were you able to overcome it? Do you have any stories or tips to share?

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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Stabby
Look up Arno Ilgner
Arno
FB Arno

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By Taylor Jenkins
Nov 18, 2011
As I mentioned, I'm currently reading The Rock Warrior's Way.

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By BGreen
From Del Norte, CO
Nov 18, 2011
You may want to begin with your fear of heights instead of your fear of falling. Fear of exposure(this would explain the problem on overhangs....nothing below you)is similar to the fear of heights. I suggest spending extended time at a set of anchors or even just sitting at the top of cliff. The key here is time...it may take many hours of being present with this height or exposure. Use simple tasks such as tying knots, etc. while in these practice situations. These tasks will momentarily take your mind off of where you are. You are then "forced" to refocus on the exposure once the task is complete. This back and forth of mental focus can give you more opportunity per "session" to break through your fear.

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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Stabby
Taylor Jenkins wrote:
As I mentioned, I'm currently reading The Rock Warrior's Way.

Thats a start. He holds clinics all over the place. Thats what you want to hook up with. Hard to say anything on the subject that he couldn't say better.

Just remember, falling never hurt anyone.

































Its the sudden stop.

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By Crossing
From Breinigsville, PA
Nov 18, 2011
old rag summit
Taylor Jenkins wrote:
-I took a falling class at my local gym, which I was not able to complete. I took several falls with the bolt at eye level but I was not able to climb to a sufficiently high bolt to practice larger falls. Without fail, I would cruise the first three clips and panic trying to climb past the third.


Hey Taylor, have you been climbing with the same partner or group of people since you started climbing? for me knowing that I had a good trustworthy friend who I know could catch a fall (both on TR and lead) helped me overcome my fear. Motivation to climb a specific route really helped me as well, if I REALLY wanted to climb something I would try it (at least on TR). I really think the key to overcoming a fear of heights is to slowly desensitize yourself and keep each experience where you confront your fear positive. You should probably start addressing your fear of falling and heights by top rope climbing first, I don't think you should attempt leading until top roping and falling on top rope are commonplace and there isn't any fear associated with it.

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By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Hip trouble ...
My surprising recommendation is to go aid climbing. This helped my fear of falling and fear of heights more than anything else. Your mind will learn to trust placements, because you are actually standing on them. For me, my mind would never really trust that the rope and gear were going to hold if I fell. In aid climbing you have to rely 100% on your gear and ropes. If you lead aid climbing it may help a lot (did for me, anyway).

If you do an easy multi-pitch aid route, like in Yosemite, it may really help your fear of heights. Again you learn to trust the gear. If you start freaking out you just take a few breaths and notice you are clipped into a nice fat bolt. You have to take it in steps, though. Aiding the Leaning Tower can freak anyone out who has heights issues.

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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Nov 18, 2011
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after...
Taylor Jenkins wrote:
I've been climbing since 2003 and struggling with a very strong fear of heights and a fear of falling, which I've been working to overcome more aggressively in recent weeks. I say I have a fear of heights in addition to the fear of falling because I experience fear when top-roping, climbing ladders, standing on tall buildings, etc. Steeper terrain tends to frighten me more, despite its relatively safer falls. Here's how I've been trying to tackle this: -Reading forum posts for advice and stories. -I've recently begun reading The Rock Warrior's Way and implementing its suggestions. I've found positive self-talk while climbing to be very beneficial. -I took a falling class at my local gym, which I was not able to complete. I took several falls with the bolt at eye level but I was not able to climb to a sufficiently high bolt to practice larger falls. Without fail, I would cruise the first three clips and panic trying to climb past the third. Here's my plan of action, for now: I am going to take as many falls at eye level as I can. If I have to do it 100 times, I'll do it 100 times. Then, and only then, I'll move on to falls with the bolt at waist level. Long term goal: I trad lead 5.5 and below, but only very short single pitch climbs where the climbing is easy and there's very little height involved. My wife and I are making it a goal to train for some easy multipitch at Seneca in the Spring. Dealing with the exposure is the goal. Did anyone, like me, struggle with a much stronger than average level of fear? Were you able to overcome it? Do you have any stories or tips to share?


Yes, I've had that strong fear, and I'm still working through it. I could give you stories or tips, but that's not going to do much good, because the root causes and catalysts for this type of overpowering fear are different for everyone. There is no standard solution, as usually this type of fear is imbedded in you at an earlier age from some incident that occurred; most of the time the incident cannot be recalled, and only the fear remains. This isn't always the case, but it is fairly prevalent among acrophobia sufferers.

I started climbing about a year and a half ago, and part of the reason was to overcome my acrophobia. I followed the common progression of top-roping then sport leading. I struggle when trying to pinpoint exactly what I'm scared of. I've taken a couple decent whippers (more than 20 ft) and it seems like when I do, I get more scared. I constantly have to train myself to focus on the moves, not what the result of failing to perform the moves will be. For me, part of being able to complete this train of thought was developing a healthy trust in my gear, abilities, and belayer. The manner in which you gain this trust is not easy for someone that has acrophobia. It takes a constant, deliberate, and incremental progression that some don't have the patience and diligence for.

The key is not to bullshit yourself. I made that mistake for a while. I told myself after my first big fall, that it was all over. I was cured. Hooray. Horseshit. Then I tried to somehow defeat my fear by rationalizing it in several different ways, i.e. I'm scared of smacking the wall, there's a hold jutting out beneath me, I think my belayer might be distracted. Anything and everything to avoid facing the fact that I was still scared of plunging into the air, relying on a rope, gear, and a person wearing a device to catch me.

If I can give you any advice at all, it is to try to pinpoint why you're scared, move through the fear slowly and patiently, and to assess it honestly with yourself.

I wish I could tell you that one day you'll be over it, but that may or may not happen. I'm leading harder routes all the time, but I still find myself shitting a meat axe when I'm above my last bolt or piece of gear. It's diminishing slowly over time because I'm persistent and refuse to give up climbing. It scares the hell out of me sometimes, but I love it.

I thought about Arno's stuff, and I need to pick up that book; but I'm skeptical of a book teaching me something in writing to overcome something psychological. It's worth a try I guess.

BGreen has great advice about tackling acrophobia. However, I'm pretty comfortable now with hanging out at the top of a tall route with my toes resting on chips while I clean a route. My acrophobia has subsided significantly because of climbing. I still have a pretty strong fear of taking lead falls though. So much so that I'll either fail to commit to a hard move, or if I'm far above my last piece, I'll downclimb before I take a fall. I've had people suggest climbing grades above my ability so I'll fall inevitably, but that didn't really work. I either had my belayer take at a bolt, or I downclimbed to a more holdable stance. My point is that your acrophobia and fear of falling, although certainly correlative to one another, may not be one issue. You might be able to single one out and attack it, and in doing that, help combat the other.

Again, I don't want to give specific advice or a program to follow, but these things helped me:

-Climbing with a safe and competent belayer- CONSTANTLY
-Knowing your gear, it's capabilities and learning to trust it
-Forcing yourself to make slow progress and manning up to take bigger lead falls; no matter how long it takes.
-When you make a breakthrough, reward yourself.
-Surround yourself with positive, knowledgeable and patient climbers willing to help you through your fear. The right ones will push you when you need it, and not prod you when it's just too much. There's a fine line.
-Don't compare yourself to other climbers that seem fearless. Don't bash yourself, or let it turn into some self loathing affair.
-Training and getting stronger builds confidence. It will encourage you to keep progressing onto harder things. Example: If you top-rope 5.9 with relative ease, then leading 5.6 and 5.7 should be doable without having to incessantly worry about falling at the crux. Although you should be prepared to fall, leading a route or routes over and over, focusing on fluidity and technique will help you gain proficiency and confidence.

That's my two cents, and it turned into ten bucks. Sorry. I'm sure there are a lot of things I didn't cover, but these are the things that were the most pertinent in my situation. Good luck, and don't give up. You'll get there eventually. Take it slow, and have fun. That's the key.

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By Christian
From Casa do Cacete
Nov 18, 2011
They say (short-term) happiness = performance divided by expectations, so I would say also have reasonable expectations for how far you'll get in this process.

If you're genetically prone to this kind of fear I wouldn't ever expect to be like those climbers who seem to have ice water in their veins.

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By germsauce
Nov 18, 2011
Hippos kill people
It's important to remember that falls are actually safer on steep terrain. Climbing an overhanging route means you fall and swing into air. Climbing a 5.5 route typically means you have a ledge under you most of the time, making a fall potentially more hazardous. i read an article a while back where the premise was basically that 5.8 is the most dangerous grade, because of the hazards & obstacles typically underneath you while falling.

Arlo's book "espresso lessons" is quite good, and from what i understand a condensed version of the RWW. Good for people with short attention spans like me. I read it this year, and after 5 years trad climbing have become comfortable taking falls on my gear. As a result i'm comfortable on trad routes that i would never have dreamed of a year and a half ago.

I think the aid climbing suggestion is great. The gear holds! imagine all of the people who place gear every day all over the world and the minimal amount of stories of the gear pulling. you are not special, your gear will hold as well. start on bolts with a clean fall, and build up from sagging onto the rope to repeatedly falling with the bolt at your feat or even higher. (bringing a few cold ones to the crag with you may help as well).

good luck.

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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Nov 18, 2011
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after...
germsauce wrote:
(bringing a few cold ones to the crag with you may help as well).


+1

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By adam brink
From Boulder, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Arlo in all his magnificence.
Consider starting a daily practice of mindfulness meditation. The whole point of it is to let go of your thinking and emotions and it sounds like you are letting your thinking and emotions control your actions. Meditation was the best thing I ever did for my climbing. I went from worried about falling to being relaxed when taking big whips.

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By Larry DeAngelo
Administrator
From Las Vegas, NV
Nov 18, 2011
!
Taylor Jenkins wrote:
... a very strong fear of heights and a fear of falling, ...

This is a good thing. Almost all the bad things that can happen to you while rockclimbing (i.e. not alpine) can be avoided if you don't come off. Remember, if you do not fall, you will not fall to your death.

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By Keenan Waeschle
From Bozeman, MT
Nov 18, 2011
on top of the RNWF June 2012
aid is scary, but the feeling you get after thrutching for a few hours and succeeding on a aid pitch is awesome and you do learn to trust the gear. I've taken a few aid falls though and ripped gear (20ish feet) the good thing about aid falls is that you don't know exactly when they're coming. Giv 'er and get over that fear. after a fall you realize that it isn't actually bad at all

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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Nov 18, 2011
My navigator keeps me from getting lost
IMO, the best way to get over the fear of falling is to fall. That sounds overly simplistic, I know, and a bit scary but I don't think anything will truly help you get over the fear other than falling and discovering that it's (usually) no big deal.

And, the best way to do that is to intentionally fall in a safe setting. Pick a route that has a very clean fall. Climb a couple of feet past your last piece, let go, and push away slightly. Continually increase the length of the fall until your comfortable with the length of fall that you're most likely to experience when you're climbing.

And, do this occasionally. It will help you retain the comfort you've worked to develop.

Of course, there are some situations in which falling is not a good idea (i.e. above a ledge, right off the ground, onto the anchor of a multi-pitch route, etc.). Don't practice in those situations.

And, be mindful of where the rope is when you fall. For instance, don't fall when the rope is wrapped behind your leg. That can flip you over and lead to a bad experience, at best.

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By Brigette
From Seattle, WA
Nov 18, 2011
At the anchors.
Consider EMDR:

emdr.com/general-information/w...

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By -sp
From East-Coast
Nov 18, 2011
Buenos Dias!
Larry DeAngelo wrote:
...Remember, if you do not fall, you will not fall to your death.



Heh, heh, that shit is genius!

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By Frank F
From Bend, OR
Nov 18, 2011
It sounds like coping with exposure is as much a concern for you as actually falling. Perhaps you'll want to think about that.

There's a difference between forms of fear brought on by looking down a cliff face. One is an emotional fear, where you're thoughts are a jumble of uncertainty and potential consequences. That's the fear you want to confront since it doesn't lead to positive action or even necessarily keep you from harm. Another sense of fear comes from the realization that, yes, falling would definitely ruin your day, but because you're using a rope system and belayer, because you're thoughtful and careful, you're not going to fall or, even if you do, there isn't going to be a dire outcome. It's a healthy and rational fear that we might simply call respect for the cliff. In my case, part of my reaction to this level of fear, in addition to ropes, belays, and judicious selection of climbing partners, is to wear a helmet. It won't stop me from falling, but I'm more comfortable in my climbing motions because I am wearing one.

Besides reading Arno Ilgner's book, you might also pick up Dave McLeod's "9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes." One of the best little books on climbing out there. The topic of falling gets good coverage and you might compare what the author suggsts to your "100 falls" plan.

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By Rocky_Mtn_High
From Arvada, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Lamb's Slide
Wow, great thread for those of us climbers who have a deeply-ingrained fear of exposure. I believe it's really difficult for climbers who don't suffer from this psychological malady to understand how debilitating it can be. I started rock climbing a couple of years ago when I was 50, and I still remember the time back in Elementary School when my knees started shaking as I tried to stand up on a balance beam, believe it or not! My parents still cannot believe I got into rock climbing (neither can I, for that matter :-)

I moved to Colorado about 18 years ago and started climbing the 14ers. Eventually, I became more desensitized to my fear of exposure, though I am still very cautious when scrambling or traversing on exposed rock. The first time I got to the Narrows on Longs, I had to turn around. Eventually, crossing the Knife-edge ridge on Capitol was one of the most exhilirating things I have done (though I wasn't loving it at the time, and I confess that I made out my first will before I tried it!). Logically, I know I am unlikely to fall when I am hanging on to the rock in exposed places, but psychologically, I am not so convinced. However, by constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I have become more desensitized to my fear.

That holds true for rock climbing. It took me a long time to overcome my fear of climbing high even on an indoor wall, while on top-rope. But the more I did it, the more comfortable I have become. I love the challenge of leading on trad and sport climbs, but I still get fearful when I get above my gear. I take comfort in the knowledge that I am firmly attached to the rock and likely won’t die if I fall. All I can suggest, as others have done, is to climb on routes that are at or slightly above your current level. Climb a lot to improve your ability and to move your comfort zone. Also, to minimize the risk of falling, I tend to put in a lot of gear, especially because the 5.6-5.8 climbs I usually lead tend to be slabby and ledgy – and thus higher risk in case of a fall – than harder climbs. However because it takes longer to place more gear and actually makes the climb harder, I am trying to make a deliberate effort to run out my pitches more than I am comfortable with (when I can convince myself I am not likely to fall), especially because you don't always have a choice. Sport leading can help with that, since you are relying on bolts. In any case, it is so awesome to complete a climb that you weren’t sure you can do, and the times when you find yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to climb harder than you’ve done before if you’re not going to fall – well, those are peak moments and why I can’t wait to go back for more.

I suspect that for us acrophobic climbers, there is a special sense of accomplishment after completing a climb because we have had to overcome the psychological challenge, as well as the physical challenge. Good luck, and climb on!

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By J. Broussard
From CordryCorner
Nov 18, 2011
Young Good Free Face, 11b
sweaty hands





just thinking about my own dilemmas in this regard
just keep getting at it; desensitization is right around the corner

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 18, 2011
Sack transplant, it's your only hope. Or maybe try one of those male enhancement products that you can find in your spam folder.

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By Rocky_Mtn_High
From Arvada, CO
Nov 18, 2011
Lamb's Slide
Will S wrote:
Sack transplant, it's your only hope.


Is yours available? I'd be interested in purchase or trade.

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By Andrew Buchan
From New York, NY
Nov 18, 2011
Get in over your head on WI 4 and fall 10 feet onto a screw your 2nd day leading ice.

Seriously though, I think your idea is right to practice falling onto bolts. However, I'd recommend you just pull it together and tomorrow walk into your gym like a boss, immediately lead a body length past the 3rd or 4th bolt on the route of your choice, be panicked but don't show it, and hop off. Problem solved.

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By Grover
Nov 18, 2011
Larry DeAngelo wrote:
Remember, if you do not fall, you will not fall to your death.

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By Keith H. North
From Englewood, CO
Nov 18, 2011
A short M4 climb in the School Room @ Ouray
The best climbing advice I have ever gotten was from J Star at Rock'n and Jam'n 1. "There's only one way to get over it." It's true, the only thing you can do is take falls to get over the fear of falling. Just take time and work up to it.

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By Sam Lightner, Jr.
From Lander, WY
Nov 18, 2011
The Shield
I've taken a lot of falls, some over 30 feet and one near 60. I think your fear is justified. Also, all humans are born with a fear of high places... probably a trait from when we lived in trees.

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