FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

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How to Conquer Your Fear of Falling

The fear of falling is common — but you can get past it with the right mental training tools and support from your climbing community. If you struggle with the fear of falling while lead climbing, join Sandy Morris for the Zen Of Falling Workshop on Wednesday January 10th at 7:00 pm at FA Avondale!

For most climbers, there is no greater feeling than attempting a new route, journeying into the unknown and proving to yourself that you have what it takes to overcome the route’s physical and mental challenges. And most of the time, we do just that. But for many climbers, the fear of falling, particularly the fear of “taking a whip” while lead climbing, is very real and extremely debilitating – sometimes holding them back from finishing a route they are physically and mentally capable of completing. The good news is, getting past this fear is absolutely achievable with a combination of strength training, mental focus, and a little help from your friends.

A recent conversation with Sandy Morris, a First Ascent Learning to Lead and Gym to Crag instructor and 18-year climbing veteran, reminded us that it is important to distinguish the fear of falling, or basophobia, from the fear of heights. The two aren’t the same, and for most climbers, acknowledging the difference is the first step to getting back on the wall after a fall or an injury.

When Sandy started climbing, she loved climbs with ample exposure. The feeling of air all around her made climbing exciting and fun. After a couple of injuries, however, Sandy had to work through her own fear of falling and make her way back to climbing through rigorous mental re-training and physical strength training. Sandy developed a thoughtful approach to overcoming her basophobia by acknowledging that the stronger she felt physically, the easier climbing became. She also recognized that basophobia was largely a ‘head game,’ one that should could control with the right mental tools. In her new workshop, The Zen of Falling, Sandy will help those with basophobia to reclaim their power on the wall.

Here is a list of things Sandy suggests for moving past the fear of falling:

  1. Head to the gym! Getting back on the wall is the first step in conquering your fear. You cannot really address your fear of falling until you start to climb regularly.
  2. Understand what you’re afraid of is falling, not heights. The part of your brain saying, “Dude, you shouldn’t be doing this,” is holding on to the feeling of past injury or the fear of the unknown. Getting up on the wall will remind you that height is not the problem.
  3. Understand that the fear of falling isn’t such a bad thing. Fear is what prevents us from taking unsafe risks. Assessing risk and making good choices is what keeps you safe, and confidence in your ability to climb without getting seriously injured allows you to keep on climbing. The key is to understand where that fear originates and not allow it undue control over your thinking once you’ve assessed risk and chosen to move forward with a climb.
  4. Start climbing in a corner. Exposure adds to the rush during a climb – and the fear factor. The more exposed you are to open air, the more intense your fear will feel. Dihedral climbs (where you’re climbing in an inside corner) will make you feel protected and confident. Once you gain confidence on dihedral climbs, you can start to try vertical face climbing, then move to overhangs and arêtes (or outside corners) – the most exposed climbing terrain.
  5. Take practice falls. The only way to build trust that your equipment and belayer are trustworthy is to trust them and take a fall. The hardest part is letting go. Once you’re sitting safely in your harness, you realize that your belayer’s got you. 
  6. Lean on your climbing community! Knowing you have a group of friends that share, or at least sympathize with, your fear of falling will help you conquer your fear. Talk about your fear with your friends before a climb and ask for their encouragement, then let them cheer you on as you get moving.
  7. Build strength. A combination of cardio and light weight lifting will help you get into top climbing shape. The stronger you feel, the more confident you’ll feel on the wall. Combine your strength training with intense stretching through yoga or a similar activity. Getting strong, flexible, and agile will give you an edge during a climb.
  8. Reprogram your brain. This is much easier said than done, but mental training is just as important as physical training when you are working to overcome basophobia. In The Rock Warrior’s Way, author and climber Arno Ilgner discusses unjustified fears in climbing and provides step-by-step guidance on how to assess risk, improve mental focus, and put fear in its place.

Through The Zen of Falling, Sandy will help students get comfortable talking about their fear of falling with other climbers so they are encouraged to get past it. “In my head, I just have to have a little talk with my brain constantly, reminding myself that my equipment is in good working order and my belayer is trustworthy,” says Sandy. Under Sandy’s tutelage, students will climb an overhanging route and practice “clean” falls. The more students fall with the right protection in place, the more they have confidence to climb at their true ability level. 

Trip Report: Chattanooga Area Bouldering

FA Setter Ryan Smith recounts his Thanksgiving trip to two sandstone bouldering meccas: Rocktown near La Fayette, Georgia and Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City) in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, both easy to get to from Chattanooga Tennessee. Read on for some highlights and beta!

FA members and staff enjoy taking their holidays on the road. This time around a large crew went to Tennessee and Georgia during the Thanksgiving holiday to grapple with some sandstone boulders and work off some of the turkey weight. Bellies full of Thanksgiving food, the FAm packed up at headed southeast.  

FA setters Mike, Warren, Liz and myself spent our first day of climbing in Rocktown, located in La Fayette, GA, about an hour outside of Chattanooga.

FA crew hanging out at the base of “The Comet” boulder. Photo: Mike Rosen

The best time to climb at Rocktown is Fall through early Spring. Climbing at Rocktown requires a specific permit to climb there, and it can be a bit tricky to find, so here’s the beta: go to Georgia’s Outdoors License webpage, fill out some personal information, and select the Non-Resident (if you’re not from Georgia) Angler License. The license cost $10 with a $2.50 service fee, this will gain you access to climbing and camping for one day. You are able to buy multiple days for around $3 per day. If you’re planning to multiple times per year, it may be worth it to buy an annual pass instead.

Rocktown is home to some phenomenal climbs. If you like awesome sandstone features and beautiful dense forests this is the place for you. There is a high density of 5 star climbs from V3-V7, but there are plenty of climbs for climbers of all ability levels to get on. If you’re worried about crowds, don’t – Rocktown features boulders that are spread out from each other, so even on busy weekends you can find some seclusion.

One big highlight from the trip to Rocktown was an awesome FA meetup at “The Comet” and “The Scoop” boulders. It was such a great experience have to have FA setters, Customer Service staff, and members all climbing with and supporting each other to the tops of many of the climbs there.

One of my personal highlights had to be climbing with FA setter emeritus Chris Feghali, who has now moved to Memphis Tennessee but joined the crew to climb for a few days. Since moving on from Chicago, Chris has become an assistant manager at Outdoors, Inc. He has also put together a climbing shoe review website (climbingshoebeta.com), and he’s been doing plenty of mountain biking. Though he may not be in a climbing gym all the time, he was still able to make quick work of “Tractor Traylor”.

Chris Feghali putting down “Tractor Traylor” V8. Photo: Rana Accawi

At the end of the day we had a great group session at “The Orb” area, with crews of FA climbers on “The Orb”, “Double Trouble”, and “Soap on a Rope”. Some of us stayed even later to have a night session on “The Orb”.

FA setter Warren Wernick working “The Orb” V8. Photo: Pilar Amado

Day two of climbing, we ventured to “Stone Fort” (aka Little Rock City) which is located in Soddy Daisy, TN just outside of Chattanooga. Climbing at Stone Fort is a bit simpler than going to Rocktown – all that is required of climbers is to drive to the Montlake golf course (yes, golf course), head into the clubhouse, and pay for a day pass ($8.75). From there, you have less than a five minute walk to the boulders next to the golf course. One thing to be wary of: there are boulders near the golf course and those are off limits while golfers are playing.

Stone Fort is another beautiful field of sandstone boulders that is much more densely packed than Rocktown but still offers great variety. One of my favorite V1’s is located here called “Firecracker Flake” as well as some other greats like “Shotgun”,  a techy V6 accessible to climbers of all shapes and sizes with a variety of betas.

Liz Escobar with the mono crux on “Shotgun” V6. Photo: Mike Rosen

Liz figured out some very inspiring beta on this climb and I have no doubt she is going to send it the next time she heads to Stone Fort. One of our final climbs of the day was “Deception” a thin, technical climb I had attempted before and was unable to send. Myself and a few others put in some valiant efforts but continued to be thwarted at the very end of the climb.

Ryan Smith eyeing the next move on “Deception” V7. Photo: Mike Rosen

While it is disappointing in the moment not to send, this open project gives me a great reason to plan for a return trip and will be that much more sweet when the climb finally gets completed. See you again soon Stone Fort!

P.S. if you are looking for great BBQ I hear “Sugar’s Ribs” is the place to go.

Go on a trip recently and want to share with the FA community? Email us at blog@firstascentclimbing.com to pitch your Trip Report. FA members get a huge FA Bonus award for contributing!