Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monkey talks about Lead Climbing

Yep, not scary at all.
Let's get this straight, I'm a pussy. Lead fall practice is something I still suck at doing. I hate the rollercoaster rush, even if I feel obliged to jump on them to prove my manliness.

Almost every one will tell you that you need to practice enough falls to get the fear out of you. Get to the top of the wall, don't clip in at the screwgate and just jump.

When you fall enough times, you'll learn to trust the rope and the safety etc. You want to know your belay slave partner is good at their job as well to be confident with your falls.

I call bullshit on that theory.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that you need to do practice falls to know HOW to fall correctly. Hell I'd fallen incorrectly once before (foot caught on rope and flipped) which could have caused a concussion if not for the steep wall and a great belayer.

But if you think practice falls alone will shake the fear out of lead climbing, you may as well try stabbing yourself occasionally to end your fear of muggers and serial killers.
Muggers only carry knives in the UK, Amercians should try shooting themselves.
The biggest challenge of overcoming lead climbing fears, in this Monkey's humble opinion, has nothing to do with actually falling. It's about rethinking the way you climb because of the clips. Yes the clip ultimately dictates how far you'd fall, so you could argue that it's still ultimately about the falling. But think about it for a second - should you be dictating the way you climb by the clip, basing your entire climb on the premise of your falls?

That's negative thinking. Through negative reinforcement you're basically mentally preparing your body for the fall, and what happens is, you're more likely to panic and fall...

...which is what you want to do if you're Nicolas Cage in City of Angels
I'd always wondered why I was so confident with my first F6a+ lead climb - it was the end of a session (after my lead lessons), I was in uncomfortably tight jeans, but at no point did I feel an ounce of panic. I just climbed, and I clipped in on the way up. I did at no point think about falling at all.

That's exactly what climbing should be about (lead or not) - The Climb itself, and it only really clicked for me this Wednesday.

There's no getting around the fact that you're climbing on your own when you're lead climbing. A tight top-rope can let you cheat a little on your way up a difficult wall, but it's still you making the moves to get up there -nothing but your hands and feet to push you up the wall. Why should you change the way you climb because of the rope, which normally gets in your way anyway?

This excellent video on YouTube tackles this very well, particularly at the 2m44s mark. Getting tunnel visioned by trying to the clip in at the first opportunity, making unnecessarily risky moves for the sake of having the clip above you just doesn't make sense.

He may not have a professor beard, but look at nature backdrop, this guy knows his shit outdoors.
I watched that video back in August 2011, and only now have I been able to sort my head out. What has changed?

I got too tired from climbing.

In my quest to be a more efficient climber, to conserve myself for consecutive nights, I'd stumbled upon the right mindset, which renewed my much need confidence at leading, especially after my dry spell over the winter.
I'll get the rope when he's finished.
After a decent session of climbing (tried an F6c+ and F7a top rope), I returned to the wall with the ever so lovely Paul from ESC to belay him up an F6b+ lead. After crushing it, he encouraged me to jump on, and so I did.

Now I struggled with my last leads, badly, and that was on F6b's. So it's safe to say I did not feel super confident. But Monkey Sees, Monkey Dares. Having felt more positive towards effective and efficient climbing, I gave it a go, and resumed the mind frame I was in when I crushed that F6a+ months ago.

My time on the wall was focused almost entirely on the holds, not the clips, so much so that I missed my third. My excuse was that I had to traverse right away from the clip, and by the time I returned left I was on the fourth. Anyhow, I proceeded up the wall, rested on a couple of jugs (pun!) and I was suddenly at the finishing screwgate. No wobbly feet, no desperate moves, just pure climbing.

Rest on them jugs!
The story didn't quite end there, because I couldn't find a comfortable spot to do the second to last clip, and the final handhold was a bitch to clip off onto the final screwgate. I was now 4-5 feet above my last clip (from waist level) - higher than the jumping videos at the start of this article, on a single poorer hold.

Instead of flapping and grabbing random hand and foot holds like I always did, I was calm as an eagle and down climbed pass the last clip that I missed. I figured out the right spot to clip in, and climbed back up for the screwgate again.

Finally reached the top, now I can start climbing.
My next lead climb of the night was another 6b+ along a bridge, with two rather reachy moves across a couple of tiny stalactites, very welcoming thin air beneath, and massive sideway swings if I fall. Again, so focused was I on the climb itself, the fear never got to me and it was another one in the bag.

So do I have any wise words to share in summary? Are you kidding me? Do I seem like the summarising type? But for what it's worth, falling practice isn't what got me here (I hadn't done one since September / October), climbing is. The clip can wait, get yourself in a good position first.
The intro of my next blog post.
Monkey Jumps.

Just kidding, Monkey doesn't Jump.

Disclaimer - remember, I'm not an instructor, I'm probably full of shit with this ignore the clip bullshit, and I welcome any contributions to put me right. But like I said on the Monkey Explains page - this is primarily for my recollection and your amusement. Jumping never helped me with my confidence at leading, maybe it does to you.
And ALWAYS seek professional advice over some Monkey's opinion on the internet.

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