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Fear and Me: Experiencing Fear While Bouldering

“Crap, crap, crap! I’m not stable; I’m way high up. I’ve got to come down.”

Climbing up a blue problem on the comp wall.

Frequently these thoughts enter my mind when I climb high bouldering problems. The thing is, I’m still scared of heights while bouldering. I don’t know why, but after climbing up to a certain height, I become afraid and start to worry. Somehow, I notice how far up I am, and I freeze up. This occurrence happens when I’m on a new problem I haven’t sent yet or have attempted the problem but can’t finish. I stop climbing and then begin downclimbing.

Although I had done better since my fall last summer, there’s plenty of room to improve. There are roadblocks I still can’t break through.

Mental Dilemma

One question that does cross my mind is, how do I get down? I do try to map out how to come down before I boulder. However, sometimes it isn’t obvious, and it doesn’t help my anxiety out. Most of the problems, especially on the comp wall, don’t have downclimb holds close or good holds to use to get down nearby.

Usually, one ends up having to use the same holds they climbed up on or looks for some that will work to lower. I’ve had to do this to downclimb numerous times. There’s the possibility that because of the limited ways to come down, they don’t help my dilemma.

Attempting a V3 on the comp wall.

You might ask if it’s an issue of “environmental context,” but it’s not. I’ve climbed at Climb UP gym for about three years, and I’m comfortable climbing there. I know I’m a good boulderer. My technique has improved. I’m trying harder problems or at least attempting them in the gym.

I understand that the feeling of fear is healthy, but it can hold you back. Doubt creeps in and takes over your train of thought. Most of the time, it makes the situation worse. I do still tend to overthink when I climb. My brain won’t stop thinking about worries, and then panic takes over.

Although during some sessions, I do have breakthroughs. Either my brain stays quiet, and I can send or at least get higher on the problem. Or if it does start to get in the way, I mentally tell myself “you’re not falling here.” Then it works. I should try to remember to think of that every time I start getting nervous high up on the problems.

What Can I Do?

In my Competing with Fear article, I list some pointers that I think helped me out at least somewhat in preparing for the New Year’s Eve bouldering comp at Threshold back in December. One of those pointers is not to panic. There have been several times where I don’t stop and calm myself down when I’m up high. I don’t know why I forget to do this because I know panicking makes things worse.

Another helpful pointer I mentioned is safe dropping and jumping. I think because I haven’t been practicing those actions. Lately, that’s hindering me a little and possibly making my fear of heights worse. Those are things I should be doing anyway while I’m bouldering.

“Let the Body Climb”

A friend and I were discussing fear not too long after my fall. She sent me an article written by professional climber Hazel Findlay that talks about her struggle with fear and how she tries to overcome it. Findlay mentions the body knows what to do. However, the mind distracts you because it’s a “worrying mind.” What she means is “whatever you personally get worried about—it may be fear of falling or fear of failure—it serves only as a distraction from the climbing and learning process.”

Also, in the article, there’s a mantra Findlay recommends climbers learn which is “let the body climb.” Findlay admits she’s never used mantras, but this one stuck with her and helped her as she’s climbed. The mantra helps her calm down when she’s over-thinking. It’s simple and to the point. It’s one I’m interested in adopting because of its sensibility and simplicity.

Time Will Tell

As you can see, I have a long way to go for overcoming my fear of heights while bouldering. It will take time and who knows when I’ll get past it? I’m going to try to take my advice about handling the fear and the anxiety. Then work on it and hope for the best. If you have any useful tips or information about getting through fears, let me know in the Facebook comments for this article.

Until next time, happy bouldering.