Getting back on the sharp end

I am quite scared of lead climbing. I wrote about it in a Blogtember challenge post ‘Fighting fear’ and how I’ve been very nervous on lead since decking out on a trad climb in the Peak District. Since writing that post, I’ve been ruminating over my fear, and it has been tickling the back of my mind.  Reading Shauna Coxsey’s blog post, ‘El Miedo De Caer – The Fear of Falling’ was profoundly influential. She wrote about her experience of returning to sport climbing as a tool for training and how foreign it felt. Her acknowledgement of her fear of falling and the mental battle she went through was a real eye-opener to read. I really empathised with her analysis of why she shouted ‘take’ and decided not to push to the next hold. She wrote,

What is it that we are scared of? Why do we put ourselves through it? Is everyone a little bit scared and some people just hide it well? I began to analyse what it was I was afraid of and caught myself red handed. When Chris shouted up ‘It’s not that far, you can easily do the move’ I found myself thinking ‘I know I can, but I don’t want to. Because if I do then I will be higher with another move to do to another unknown hold. And what if it is bad, what if I panic, what if I miss it, WHAT IF????’

I was already feeling positive to begin to challenge my own fear in leading, and this post helped confirm my decision. A chat with Tom Greenall finally confirmed my decision and now, I’m trying to integrate at least 2 sessions of lead climbing in my training each week.

I feel like I am now in a position where I have enough sympathy with myself and my fears to not feel bad about shouting ‘take’ and having a rest on the bolts. This is not a failure – it’s part of the process of returning to a sport and a different style of climbing that requires a whole different toolkit of mental and physical weapons.

On Wednesday, I decided to start the season off. I was surprisingly excited about my new venture and really looked forward to seeing how I was going react. Would I shut down? Would I overgrip and thug my way up the routes? Would I even enjoy myself? I decided not to set my limits too high and aimed to do 10 routes, mainly around the 5+ region. I wanted to start leading immediately, so I didn’t want to get too focused on the grades, and simply enjoy the movements. I did want to achieve at least one 6a in the first session.

Well, Diane roped up and started on a 5 in the Furnace. She did it was ease and I remembered how to lead belay (yay!). I warmed up on a White 5, and focused on my movement. I wanted to be smooth, balanced and using my legs and feet. I knew that breathing would be key, so I focused on breathing out and keeping in balance while clipping. This way I wouldn’t overgrip and tense up. The 5 felt super easy – even when I was high up – and I didn’t feel out of my comfort zone at all.

Diane then started up the dizzying heights of a 6a. She came down and said that I would have no problems at all with it – in fact, it was easier than her first warm up route. I had a look, and remembered that I was training – it didn’t matter if I needed to use other holds, so long as I got to the top of the wall. I was working on endurance today, not falling.

I started up the route and Diane was right, it was easy. There were no horrible moves, no iffy holds, or off-balance clips. I came down feeling awesome and pleased with myself.

About half way through the session, Tom Greenall and his wife, Michelle started routing as well. I knew that they may pop down, but it was nice to have another pair who were just getting back into the route mindset and facing similar pump/endurance/head issues as me and Diane.

The next climb was a 6b. I managed the bottom part of the route, but my endurance (and my head) stopped me from doing the top. My forearms were pumped, and the holds were greasy. I probably could have done some of the moves, but the risk of slipping and falling was too much. I didn’t want to fall as that could jeaprodise all the good feelings I was having at the end of the rope.

I climbed 10 routes, and towards the end of the session it didn’t really matter what grade I was on – I felt pumped and tired at the same point. I guess this is a good thing – I was feeling as mentally happy on 6b/c as a 6a but just physically tired. We climbed for about 1 1/2 hours and by the end I was feeling pleasantly achy.

I am really psyched about routes again. I love the feeling of climbing smoothly, getting into a rhythm and having to read routes in order to conserve energy. All I have to do is find some climbing partners now – Diane is starting her training schedule for the Bouldering World Cup next year, so may not be able to route as much as I want to.

Probably one of the last times I was on a rope. Orpierre, 2009. Photo: G Matthews

Some stats:

  • Lead 2 5s
  • Lead 3 6a clean
  • Lead 1 6a+/b clean
  • Lead 3 problems mixed – 1 7a (ended on a 5+); 1 6 b/c (changed to 6a); 2 6bs (changed to 5 and 6a respectively)
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