Challenging my fear of falling at the Foundry Climbing Centre

I had another awesome climbing session last night.  Now that I’m happy climbing 6as and some 6bs, I really want to push into 6c/7a region as that is where I will get more out of my climbing and endurance for bouldering. So, I decided to practice some clip drops to reduce/manage my fear of falling.

What is a clip-drop you ask? It is a way to overcome a fear of falling by dropping off the wall as soon as you clip a bolt. Mick Ryan and Kate Phillips wrote an article on that described clip-dropping as

‘[climbing] a route at a climbing wall and when you reach a safe height you clip your rope into a bolt, then simply let go and fall. You then climb to the next bolt, clip it and fall, until you reach the anchors at the top of the wall. There are variations on this theme but that is essentially it.’ [source]

Karl suggested that I try this after my last climbing session on Wednesday and this week I decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and give it a go. After warming up on an easy 4+ and 5+, I climbed up a 6a that I have done a couple of times. After the 2nd bolt (we were in the furnace, so I wanted to avoid any chance of a fall), I clipped the 3rd bolt and let go. It was fine. I was a bit full of adrenaline, but I knew that I wasn’t going to go anywhere. The 4th clip was exactly the same – I was still clipping from below the draw, which meant that I was in no way falling any great distance. However, I really had to make myself take my hands off the wall. I did – and I was very pleased with myself that I did. The rest of the climb went the same way – climb, clip, drop, climb, clip drop until the draw.

The 2nd route that I tried was the 6a+ that I led last session. I had to take a rest on it last time, and there was a bit of it that I remembered not liking at all. I also remembered having to clip quite far sideways from the draw. To clip-drop this would be a really good challenge, as I would do a bit of a pendulum drop.

I had a bit more difficulty in clip-dropping this route. It wasn’t climb, clip, drop, climb, clip, drop at all. It was more climb, clip, think about letting go, dropping, climb, clip, think about letting go, dropping. I was especially reluctant to drop when I was clipping at the lip of the roof. I was still below my draw (I think) but it felt different – more scary. By the time I got to the move which I hated last time, I was full of adrenaline. I did it first go, and then paused. Should I clip-drop? I was quite far left of the clip and there would be a drop. I let go. I dropped a way and it was fine. I pulled through the final moves and lowered down.

I’m with my progression – clip-dropping wasn’t as bad as I thought that it would be. After chatting with Stu and Karl, I’m going to take this slowly. I don’t want to push myself too far, and simply associate fear with dropping again – I lost 4+ years to this. I want to be happy to climb above a draw and do a ‘scary’ move. To get there will take a long, slow progression, but if I can still find sympathetic and patient partners I will do it.

I didn’t do any more clip-drops that session. We moved to climbing 6b and above, and I wanted to try to lead these clean. I onsighted a 6b and apart from the final move, it was fine. I knew I could do the moves and fresh from clip drop, I felt really comfortable.

I found the 6b+ more scary. I was pumped and getting tired by this point, so that had something to do with it. The bottom of the climb was fine. It was a case of finding the right feet and pulling through the moves – there were no unpleasant holds or clips. The top section was different. The crux was getting established on the vertical wall, and this required a high left foot, rolling over with the right hand, crossing through with the left, and then going out to a really crap left sidepull. On lead, I was not happy at all. I didn’t like my feet, I couldn’t get any real purchase on my left hand on the side-pull and the next hold was a big undercut. After getting to the top on rainbow holds, I lowered down and did the sequence on top rope. I realised that I needed two high feet to feel comfortable on the side pull, and to pull up and over the undercut (aka undercling). Getting two high feet isn’t fun, and I’m not sure how’ll I’ll feel after on lead, but I did the top sequence clean twice on top-rope.

We then moved onto the 6b that I flashed last week. I flashed it again. Yay me! By this time I was getting quite pumped and tired. Both me and my partner did two more climbs and I held a fall as he went for a 7a. It was time for food and I was very ready for it!

This was one of the best leading sessions that I’ve had. I have definitely improved – when I started I was unable to lead a 6b clean. Now, I’m leading 2 in one session, and working a 6b+ happy on a top rope. I know that this linear progression will have hitches and stagnate, but right now, I feel in control, happy and like I’m getting what I want out of my leading. Thanks Tom Greenall for the suggestion.

For those of you who are interested, here’s a video about clip-dropping by Mick Ryan and Kate Phillips [source]:

Some stats:

  • Led 1 4 (warm-up)
  • Led 2 5s (warm-up and cool down)
  • Led 1 6a
  • led 1 6a/b
  • Led 2 6bs
  • Half led 1x6b+
  • Clip-dropped 1 6a & 1 6a+