El Miedo De Caer

El Miedo De Caer – The Fear of Falling

At the beginning of October I set off from home in my brand new car courtesy of my new sponsor The Climbing Hangar.

I did not want to go. So spending a month in the beautiful, majestic village of Santa Engracia at the incredible Casa Mauri Apartments was not a hardship in any way. And as far as downsides to a job go this I think is a pretty good one. However, I knew how unfit I was and how my recent experiences on the end of a rope had been. The drive through Terradetes is insane. The mass of bright orange and grey limestone stripped through the dense forest laden hills was overwhelming. Yet the feeling of nervousness not excitement hit me.

I have spent so much time clipping bolts in the past, countless days doing laps up and down a wall and I have probably even spent more days sport climbing on rock in the UK than I have bouldering. Making the transition to bouldering was not so much a conscious decision that I made. From a very young age I loved bouldering but there were no bouldering competitions for youths’ back then so I focused on sport climbing, I trained hard, I put a lot of time in and I was extremely passionate about it. And yet now sport climbing seems like an entirely new sport to me.

I did not go to Spain for a holiday or a break or for fun. I went under my coaches influence to train.

Going to the crag on the first day felt like meeting up with an old friend. Only a friendship that through your own lack of contact has become a little stale and extremely awkward.

I got scared, I got too hot, I got grumpy, I got pumped and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My car says ‘professional climber’ on the side, I felt as far as I could possibly be from professionalism. It was so frustrating to enter back into a world that had once felt so comforting feeling lost and useless.  I had expected my ego to take a hit, I knew I wasn’t fit and I didn’t expect to be pushing my limit. But I had not expected the total utter shut down that I received.

I used to wonder why people got so scared when leading. In fact I would go as far as saying it used to annoy me a little. It made no sense to me why people would put themselves through such a traumatic experiences. It is rational to have a fear of falling? I guess it is but then surely we trust our gear and we trust your belayers otherwise we would not go up the wall. So what is it. I have taken huge falls in the past and many of them and never once received any sort of injury from falling, never once had my equipment fail or my belayer drop me yet when I reached a move that I for some unconscious, unexplainable reason decided was ‘scary’ that was it, I wasn’t going any further. Stupid. A little battle would take place in my head over whether or not to shout down to my belayer, my grip would tighten, my forearms getting more and more pumped until that unforgivable word ‘TAKE’ would come out of my mouth followed by the deep sense of disappointment. Psyched, fearless 10 year old Shauna would be disgusted in me.

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????’

Like with most things it takes some time to get used to and sure enough I found my confidence growing (towards the end of the second week!). I didn’t take a single whipper, I didn’t climb anywhere near to my limit and I didn’t find the love I once had for sport climbing that I once had. I did managed to get pumped a lot, I did push myself out of my comfort zone and I did have fun.

But it still confuses me where this fear of falling came from. Is fear a learned behaviour or something we have naturally? I saw some of my friends get so scared they couldn’t move at all and I saw some of my friends practically throw themselves off the wall at every opportunity. It is normal to be fearful of the things you don’t know? No matter where fear comes from it is definitely something that we can overcome. But to overcome fear we need to have many other many other attributes and motivation is massively key. We need to have the motivation to push ourselves.

Climbing presents so many physical and mental barriers. There are few sports that can challenge you so diversely and intensely.  I came to Spain to train. I am leaving with much more than fitness and I’m already motivated to come back for more next year.

Whilst here I managed to climb a few really cool routes. My proudest achievement which may seem a little insignificant to many was my onsite of ???? 7b+. 30m of steady climbing with a few exciting sections throughout. I got to an okay rest half way up the wall, my forearms burning and my body fading from the 30 degree heat. I looked down to the guys below who looked like ants and wanted nothing more than to shout ‘take’. I even whispered ‘take’ knowing they couldn’t hear me and shaming myself into not saying it louder and carrying on climbing. I must have rested for about 10minutes. It was my very welcomed, delightful first experience of actually recovering on a route.The next moves looked hard and every time I looked up I started panicking. Not only did the moves look hard but the next clip was really far away. I think I let out a little whimper whilst climbing the section. I’m not sure if it was my stubbornness or my ego or my fear that got me to the top but somehow I managed it and welcomed the intense sickly pump that came with clipping of the chain.

I also climbed 2 8a’s one second go the other first go, 2 8a+’s both second go an 8b which I did on my third go.




4 Responses to “El Miedo De Caer

  • I really enjoyed this blog post, I am recovering from a trad injury myself, I took a long fall and hit the ground a few months ago. Very similarly to your own experience I climbed without fear of falling and didn’t really understand how people could be so fearful they would be paralyzed on the wall. I am only now recovered enough to try climbing again and my confidence has taken a big hit, as well as my physical abilities. It is good to hear about others who have gone through similar experiences and to see that even the most professional climbers can go through it too. I really enjoy your blogs keep it up.

  • HI Shauna
    thanks for a refreshingly honest blog post, I know many climbers will be able to relate to it.

    In answer to your questions, yes, feeling scared when up high is a very normal reaction, as is fear of the unknown and even fear of being out of control (fear of fear almost, when we are scared about panicking and losing control). These are all ways we have evolved to keep ourselves safe.

    You discovered the best way to overcome the fear is to keep gently challenging yourself to stay with situations which make you feel scared. This is known as ‘exposure’ in psychological terms, and has the best evidence base for overcoming anxiety. However people often make the mistake of pushing too far and too fast, or they find it too difficult to make the first step, which is where alternative approaches likes CBT can be helpful. It sounds like you got it just right in terms of pushing yourself when feeling scared, so I would anticipate that next time you sport climb, you will find it a little easier, provided you don’t leave it too long!

    All the best and happy climbing

    Rebecca Williams
    Consultant Clinical Psychologist
    Smart Climbing

  • It’s fascinating to hear your experiences on routes. I feel I have a very similar outlook when it comes to bouldering vs sport climbing. I think it comes down to having had so many falls without injury while bouldering whereas with sport climbing I rarely climb hard enough to fall unexpectedly. When I do feel like I can’t continue then I start to freak out.

    Do you get to the point of climbing at your limit by the end of the four weeks? Do you think forcing yourself to continue when you are scared and taking whippers is a good way to overcome this feeling?

  • It is really refreshing to read this sort of honesty from a professional. And it is equally refreshing to know that a professional goes through the same things that a lot of us developing climbers have to. my first outdoor experience found me on a relativlely easy, but tall and exposed route. half way up i pulled a hold loose and that was it. never fell, just started shaking and couldn’t recover from the fear of falling after that. now, every outside route i climb is a series of small victories, evey move, every clip leaves me a little more grateful that im still on the wall.

    fear is funny. the older i get the stronger it gets and the harder i have to work at doing things that used to seem easy. as a former pro bike rider my younger self is certainly embarassed considering the things ive jumped off of and on to! but at what point does this struggle with overcoming new fear sideline us? itd be interesting to hear from some other pro’s on the subject as well.

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