Just over a year ago I had a really bad trad accident (entirely my fault) which ended up with a compound fracture and full dislocation of my left foot. Fast forward a year and thanks to an amazing surgeon, an amazing physiotherapist, and a lot of boring physio work, and I'm basically back to normal. Certainly, the foot not longer holds me back in climbing, and I've been training like a lunatic since February and am pretty fit. I'm also in excellent shape, weight-wise.
And yet, AND YET. If I'm leading and I get towards my limit, my head goes pretty quickly. So yesterday I Alzheimer's flashed Downtown Julie Brown (6c) and felt super strong and confident. I then got on Wolfgang Forever (7a) and had a bit of a nightmare. Even on a well-rested RP attempt, instead of just climbing up through the crux I now knew the beta for I faffed around, adding in about 17 unnecessary moves, duly getting pumped out mid-crux (though actually if I'd just pushed harder I almost certainly had enough in the tank to do it). Same thing happened on my long-standing bogey route Jurassic Shift (7a) two weeks ago. (With trad, it's about E1 that this sets in; I used to find E1 generally cruise-y)
It's abundantly clear that I'm physically strong enough to climb these routes, but my mental game is in the toilet. This is personally frustrating because head-game used to be one of my best assets, allowing me to climb above e.g. my Lattice predicted grade on physical scores alone. (It's also probably what got me injured in the first place, of course...)
Anyway, I think I know the answer here: I need to get on hard routes more regularly, and just fall off them more, and keep doing it until it becomes normal again.
However, I'm wondering if anyone out there picked up any other useful tricks I might try to apply along the way? My girlfriend says I shouldn't be so hard on myself and should stop shouting at myself that I'm a pathetic wuss whenever I rest on a bolt but that isn't going to change, we need to be realistic here.
> However, I'm wondering if anyone out there picked up any other useful tricks I might try to apply along the way? My girlfriend says I shouldn't be so hard on myself and should stop shouting at myself that I'm a pathetic wuss whenever I rest on a bolt but that isn't going to change, we need to be realistic here.
One of my top tips is to take the positives from any climb, so I reckon your girlfriend is worth listening to! Made a big difference to my climbing...
You don’t say what the head game issue is, are you worried about hurting yourself again?
I just don't want to fall off, and I feel like I'm at a level of difficulty where I could fall off - and I don't want it to happen. So I'm thinking about falling off, and how I'd rather not (even though I know I'll be fine), rather than just climbing. Going in to cruxes I'm over-gripping and up on my shoulders.
With routes where I don't think I will fall off, I'm generally fine. It's not so much that I think I will get hurt - I rationally know that I won't - but I guess, yeah, part of my brain is saying NOPE, and that part gets a lot louder when the climbing gets harder.
I've made myself do falling practice at the gym and it's been fine. It's not falling per se that bothers me, it's just suddenly when I'm climbing something harder I get this invasive obsession with falling and it cramps me up completely.
Your point about taking the positives is a good one though. I am trying to focus on how I am fit enough to climb 7a no problem, so imagine how well I might be able to climb when I've got my head back, etc. My footwork wasn't (total) garbage for once yesterday, so that was nice!
Your girlfriend has a point.
What you need is a good bit of mileage at a lower grade. That's the way to get your mojo back, and it won't be rushed returning. It will come back, though in its own time.
You can't hurry a good job. Just get some things ticked at much lower grades and enjoy what you do and things will return.
I had a similar issue in specific circumstances after an accident 10 years ago. I think one thing to be careful of is simply forcing the issue - this can work if you're not actually that scared, just hesitant, but if you're genuinely really scared all it will do is reinforce the trauma. For me what worked was to identify what it was about those situations which was causing it (unsurprisingly it was things which were approximately similar to the accident) and then to find low stress ways to reintroduce myself to those situations.
It's easy to place a lot of pressure on yourself after time out, you can feel like you've wasted enough already! If you can redraw your boundaries for success it can help a lot. Ultimately I started going out with very minor goals, in the same way I might if I were redpointing something hard. In my case this meant finding insecure, slippery moves and trying them in situations where the stress wasn't too high - bouldering with a good landing, or on toprope, and just repeating the process gaining confidence in the situation. The goal was simply to feel comfortable, to feel confident on the moves, or even just confident to fall onto a toprope.
My emotional regulation after my accident had regressed to that of a toddler - I was genuinely close to tears on a toprope on some routes, while happily leading 7a and E4 on others, which made it all the more frustrating, until I thought it through more carefully and applied a gentler approach to the places that were causing the issue.
> I've made myself do falling practice at the gym and it's been fine. It's not falling per se that bothers me, it's just suddenly when I'm climbing something harder I get this invasive obsession with falling and it cramps me up completely.
Every time you find yourself in that situation, let go of the rock. Don't retreat, and don't try to desperately fight your way to the next bolt. Just fall.
If you stay on the rock and don't take a fall, you're re-enforcing the subconscious assessment that falling in that situation is not OK.
If you take the fall, you're showing your subconscious a) that there's nothing to fear in that situation, and b) that the result of creating these feelings will be a fall, not the fight or flight response it's looking to generate.
But if you do find yourself retreating to the bolt don't beat yourself up about it - that won't do you any favours - just resolve to fall the next time.
A different set of circumstances but some elements the same. I smashed my leg up skiing and found my head gone when I went back to trad (and I mean really easy trad). I had visions of falling and metal plates sticking through my leg. I left it a while and did other things. When I went back to it six months later the 'visions' were gone. That at least meant I could think about climbing rather than falling. Of course injury, business and covid intervened, but giving yourself time to get your head in the right space is important. Hope things improve.
I think you and your girlfriend are both right. Yes absolutely get out on more hard routes outdoors and take falls when you get pumped, or get lost on a route, the head game will defo improve with mileage.
And also don't be so hard on yourself. Remember why you climb - because you enjoy it, so enjoy it!
You're a good climber and, deep down, you know you are. When you started climbing would you have been happy with the level you're at now? Course you would have!
Of course you want to improve and naturally it frustrates you when you don't send something that you think you should, and you feel like your head has gone to shit and all of that, but that's climbing.
It happens to everyone - you ever seen that Alex Honnold video where Hazel Findlay is belaying him and he's proper scared because he hates bridging? If Honnold can shit himself once in a while, then you can too.
And anyway, if everyone could send anything they want and never get an attack of the heebie jeebies on a route then where would be the fun in that?!?!?!
It's all part of the process, just keep climbing, keep pushing the edges at the of your comfort zone and you'll keep improving, you know you will.
Final thought, let me tell you a story, it's about you but you probably won't remember it... First time I ever clapped eyes on you you were high up on a route in Kalymnos, I think it was a (6B in Arginonta Valley Fire Wall but that's a guess) you climbed up past this bulge and kept on trucking and climbed way, way above the bolt that you'd missed or maybe even 2 of them, your belayer shouted up to you that you'd missed it and you did lots of shouting and swearing but didn't panic and down climbed, clipped the bolt and shouted down "But the climbing was just so good"
And I was impressed with that and though thought "fair play to to that fella, great climber with bigger balls than I've got". That was what? 2016? I've improved a little since then, you're probably twice the climber now than you were then and that because you've kept doing the right things all this time. Keep doing them and you'll be fine, you don't need me, a far shittier climber, to tell you that!
Do you think then that it’s more of a “fear of failure” in terms of ticking the route?
The reason I’m digging is because I think to really get the solution, the problem needs to be understood. All too often people just say “you need to fall off more”, and whilst that is sometimes the case, it often isn’t that simple.
These things are never easy, and predictably you've got a whole range of different and sometimes conflicting suggestions. To summarise the problem, you are happy to fall off at the wall if you've decided to do so in advance. Climbing easy routes outdoors isn't a problem, just ones where you think you might fall off. As you say, fear of falling is clearly the issue, and doesn't seem to be resolved through practice falls at the wall.
I don't think mileage at easy stuff is the answer. My suggestion would be that the only way is to force yourself to get in those stressful situations of doing hard moves on lead, but try and make sure the situation is not only objectively safe but not too bad psychologically. So try sport routes at your (onsight) limit where the bolts are relatively close together. Don't give up on trad, but take the same approach. Try routes which you should find hard (getting up them is in doubt) but make sure they are really well protected (e.g. cracklines) so again you can fight the weakness of fear of falling off hard moves, but right next to good gear. Once you get used to doing hard moves where falling is a possibility, this should be a significant step forward.
That’s really good advice, thanks!
Ahw man thanks for that!
Ha I don’t even remember doing that in Kalymnos. Probably because it wasn’t the last time something like that happened…I’m fact I know it wasn’t.
Yes that is definitely part of the problem. I always had that, actually, but it feels worse now. Indeed the fact I’ve cramped up really badly on two 7a in the past few weeks, whilst happily redpointing 6c+ back in April, is probably quite revealing (I redpointed 7a+ and almost onsighted 7a the day before my accident, which is probably significant in my unconscious mind)
Thanks Michael, missed your comment last night but that sounds spot on.
I broke my foot as a much less experienced climber in 2015. Got surgery; still have a plate in my foot. Definitely took me a while to overcome the fear, and I can totally understand the urge to self-flagellate when underperforming. Lots of good suggestions here about re-acclimatizing yourself to the possibility/reality of falling, but maybe the best one is trying to come up with climbing goals other than sending hard — and maybe even seeing this as an opportunity to work on things you might not have otherwise. Tom Randall has said that he always comes back from injuries stronger than ever because it forces him to focus on weaknesses. Dave MacLeod has said he started climbing more boldly because repeated finger injuries kept him off harder routes. Not saying do that exactly, but you get the idea. And I mean, isn’t it great just to be out on the rock again, on glorious summer days like these?
Head-pointing is worth a try.
Throw a top-rope down something hard-ish and you’ll probably do it first go. Get back on the sharp end and if you’re anything like me, you’ll think what was all the fuss about.
It helped me improve my head game. Once you realise the moves aren’t that hard, the brain starts to move back into auto pilot mode.
That and loads of mileage. Mileage does wonders for the mind.
Yup, I allowed myself to just enjoy climbing two 6a’s in the sunshine, when previously I would have been frustrated that “this is dragging down my logbook average”…Definitely better this way around, and could be a good thing to come out of the accident.
Have you read, Espresso Lessons by Arno Ilgner?
“The most challenging moment in rock climbing is when your mind doubts whether or not you can continue climbing; knowing when it is appropriate to push through this doubt and when to back off is critical for taking appropriate risks”
Espresso Lessons aims to help climbers improve their mind game. It may help you.
Not a bad suggestion (headpointing) if it's doing hard moves onsight which the OP is struggling with. It does have its own mind games but is at least something to consider. Thinking of the OP, I would probably pick something runout but safe, rather than ultra serious! No point picking a stitch-up crack though, might as well be onsighting.
Don't beat yourself up. It is entirely reasonable to be wary. There is a huge difference between knowing what could happen next (after falling) and experiencing it. Personally after a head smashing straight to hospital fall I found comparing my abilities with yesterday rather than the day before the fall eventually resulted in finding that I was climbing better than before the fall.
In my experience one helpful thing to try and identify the precise situation where your performance is being impacted rather than just general considerations. For example I sometimes have issues at the start of a climb, but when I thought about it further the precise situation is when I am not sure of the the sequence/ route reading, can’t see the first good gear and the footholds slope (unless it has jugs) - all the moves are well within my leading capabilities.
I can then tailor my ‘coping strategies’ when I see the situation (which sometimes includes walking away from the route or preclipping on sport routes!). Eg when starting consider how easily I can reverse the moves, look at the landing carefully, placing some gear which is not helpful but gives psychological protection.
Hope this helps.
P.s I don’t lead high e-grades or anything.
> ....., so I reckon your girlfriend is worth listening to! Made a big difference to my climbing...
Mine too, she's great, not too keen on the spankings though.
> Try routes which you should find hard (getting up them is in doubt) but make sure they are really well protected (e.g. cracklines) so again you can fight the weakness of fear of falling off hard moves, but right next to good gear. Once you get used to doing hard moves where falling is a possibility, this should be a significant step forward.
I'm terrified of falling, but I don't think crack climbing is much of a remedy for me (maybe great for the OP). Mainly cause I don't like it, but also, if you're terrified of falling you just end up sitting on the gear instead of falling off. It's really hard to find perfect trad routes for falling off if you're a scaredy cat like me, cause the route has to make you commit (hard moves above good gear) but have not too much of a run-out and a safe fall zone. Mostly it doesn't work out like that - when you're really scared of falling, every potential fall looks like an unjustifiable, inverting, head-smashing nightmare even if it's probably fine. There's usually a way to sit down rather than fall off - when you're super-scared you get really really good at down-climbing!
Part of my problem is that the majority of trad falls I've held have been quite bad: no bad accidents but I'm currently nursing nasty rope burn and bashes from catching a factor 1+ ledge bouncer with added block-ripping; the other week it was a double-gear-popping inverter; there's been an ankle-smasher a few years back, and I've been flipped upside down myself more than once (and I very rarely fall off). So my experience tells me that falling off trad route is just not a very good idea, unless you're right next to the gear obviously.
OK it may seem unhelpful to ham-up the dangers of trad climbing on this thread, but it's my experience and I've done a fair few mid-grade trad routes over the last 20 years. There's lots great advice on here and I'll chew it over myself
> Have you read, Espresso Lessons by Arno Ilgner?
> “The most challenging moment in rock climbing is when your mind doubts whether or not you can continue climbing; knowing when it is appropriate to push through this doubt and when to back off is critical for taking appropriate risks”
> Espresso Lessons aims to help climbers improve their mind game. It may help you.
All of the above. In Over thirty years climbing I’ve climbed my best when I’ve trusted my own ability to make “the call” , reverse to the gear or push on . Reversing to the last piece of good ( I just reread my post and inserted the word good here , it’s very important to make the post read correctly ) gear is NEVER the wrong call . Pushing on sometimes is / was even when the outcome is fine. For me , consistently making the right call when leading trad Is one of the joys of climbing . In my experience climbing with someone who never makes the call to say “ not today “ usually ends one way . Well bolted Sport climbing ( on sight ) of course , is very different and requires a totally different mindset . Doing both well is very difficult and I think I ve only had a couple of periods when I can genuinely say I could do this . Usually for me it’s one or the other as, for me , the game is very different . Jumping practice has helped both mind games a lot . I think Dave Mccloud says in 9 out of 10 climbers that it should be a part of every wall session no matter how well your game is going . Again this has worked for me . I used to regularly make a once a week trip to a local “ big “ wall . Often the process of working a route on the main wall would involve taking multiple falls from a bothersome clip. Once being scared of the fall wasn’t an issue , then unsurprisingly , making the clip became much easier . Obviously all sorts of caveats apply to jumping practice and it’s down to you and your belayer and what the wall is happy with . It’s much easier to do it outside on quiet evening at your local sport for all venue, knowbodies liability radar is then twitching .
Sorry to hear your head is playing up. You are in good company as I suspect a lot of climbers have suffered from this at one point or another.
Ciro’s advise is the one I’d echo. Take the falls which are scaring you on sport, but only when these are stretching your comfort zone but completely outside it. So reverse a move or two until the fall feels uncomfortable but not terrifying if necessary.
Remember to engage with fun side of climbing when you are battling with head game issues as it does affect that performance which can disheartening. Happy routes, with great people in beautiful places is perfect medicine for the frustration of your head not allowing you to do routes you know you are more than capable of.
> Yup, I allowed myself to just enjoy climbing two 6a’s in the sunshine, when previously I would have been frustrated that “this is dragging down my logbook average”…Definitely better this way around, and could be a good thing to come out of the accident.
Haha! Don't worry. I generally include all my low-grade puntering and dnfs in my logbook to be transparent with myself, and anyone else who might look, about just what a shite climber I am. Life's too short dude.
This is something that's happened to me over the last few years. A couple of bad falls, a deck and some ledges, and even some inversions on sport routes in spain have left me unable to push myself above gear. Bouldering F7a but unable to bring myself to make moves on hvs's.
Moreover, my own knowledge of this has often made climbing just stop being fun. I'm constantly comparing myself to the numbers or a prior version of me. My third outdoor lead was an E1, and I didn't really even think about it. Now the extremes scare me, despite knowing I can climb 7b sport.
The thread has been helpful. I suppose I'll contribute the theory we use to justify paying soldiers to go caving, climbing, skiing and the rest. The idea goes that fear is ubiquitous, and developing coping strategies is a good thing, whether the fear is a fall or someone trying to shoot at you. The argument behind this is that you have a boundary space in your head game where you are emotionally stretched, and beyond this you just go into panic. Nothing is learnt when you're panicking. The intent is to push the area of stretch out through repeated exposure to stimulus that is difficult, but does not cause you to go into panic. After a while, the line between panic and discomfort just moves outwards.
So what does that mean? Well, aside from experience on rock always making you a better climber, perhaps this suggests that endless mileage at HS isn't going to cure your head game. What will do is climbing a BIT below your limit. If you panic at hard moves on an E1, get on HVSs.
> endless mileage at HS isn't going to cure your head game. What will do is climbing a BIT below your limit. If you panic at hard moves on an E1, get on HVSs.
Dunno about that. If you're getting scared on hard moves, the solution cannot be to avoid them. If the head game is totally shot then I accept that you've got to go easier to continue enjoying it. But that's different to solving the problem.
> However, I'm wondering if anyone out there picked up any other useful tricks I might try to apply along the way?
I've got 2 tips that spring to mind.
My head game was holding me back so I started doing fall training at the local climbing centre. The first couple of times I did this my head game actually got worse! WTF that's not supposed to happen. So I re-read all the articles and re-watched the YouTube videos and realised that I was forgetting to do the breathing! I was wrongly tensing up my body and holding my breath when I fell which was training my stupid subconscious brain to learn the opposite of what I wanted it to. So I went at it again and made sure to release big relaxing out-breaths as I fell, keeping my body relaxed and enjoying the feeling of letting the rope catch me.
Second thing I found interesting: I was watching an old interview with Johnny Dawes and I was amazed to hear him say that when he's on a difficult move he'll often imagine the fall he's about to take and think about it as he does the move. He said understanding the type of fall he might take helps him relax. This was interesting because I had been doing the opposite; trying to not think about falling. I'm now playing with both techniques to see how it feels.
I'm no expert. Just a couple of thoughts. They might help!
>Second thing I found interesting: I was watching an old interview with Johnny Dawes and I was amazed to hear him say that when he's on a difficult move he'll often imagine the fall he's about to take and think about it as he does the move. He said understanding the type of fall he might take helps him relax. >
Can't imagine that working for many climbers! It can definitely help confidence to eyeball a nearby good bit of gear and think "that's fine". But having told yourself that, surely best to just concentrate on the moves.
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