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Ya gotta fall

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Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Tue Mar 13, 2012 2:34 pm

I've been rock climbing about 14 years now, with long periods where I maybe got better at some aspect of the whole game, but not others. In fact, climbing grade was at a standstill for a long time, topping out in the high 5.10s or 6a/b. Now I'm enjoying some real growth and having more fun with it than in a long time. For me, the secret was learning how to get comfortable with lead falls.

Seems to me, that if you want to live in the world of "the leader must not fall," then recognize that what comes with that is a limit on the difficulty of routes you can climb. Now, the world is full of complex variation, and that old attitude still has a place, even in the middle of the most modern climb with bomber gear (R rating, the "2nd-clip" problem, certain pendulums, etc.). The attitude is still essential on older "adventure" alpine climbs, for sure.

Your life may be different, maybe I'm just old, but nowadays I spend a lot more days pulling plastic than I do in the high alpine. And the plastic environment is best used to push your limits. There are all kinds of limits, but the one that people don't always acknowledge is surprising:

They are just a little scared all the time on a roped climb.

Everybody knows they need more strength (not always true!). Many people know they should work harder on technique. But saying that you are scared to fall on a gym lead even though your chest is at the bolt just isn't done. Instead, people grab other holds, ask the belayer to "take!" or (my own favorite when scared) whip out a quickdraw to clip in short to the bolt.

The ego doesn't help here. Nobody likes to feel weak. So you make your way back to climbs you can practically solo because you know there is no chance of falling. This is how you sit at a plateau, or, more likely over time, regress.

I worked to banish my fear with very slow and moderate steps. Clipping and jumping off. Hilariously, I even found this scary when clipping over my head. Finally, after several days like this, I could clip at my waist and jump, and finally jump off with the bolt at my feet. The key here is to recognize that this is a necessary skill, not just something that certain weirdos do, or just for "really good" climbers. If you have this skill the benefits are:

* You'll clip at your waist instead of over your head, saving tons of energy over the course of a pitch.
* You'll be more likely to try a hard or technical move above a clip, accepting just a little bit more uncertainty because you are a little bit less afraid of falling.

Add this up over weeks of time and your grade can't help but rise.

But aside from that, I think there is a more important reason to do this. It strikes me as a moral wrong that we allow ourselves to climb when half of our brain is busy with needless worry. Yoda said "do or do not." That is, if you are going to do something, be certain and clear about it. This gives you strength. I spent way too much time devoting brain cycles to nagging worry that should have gone to considerations like balance, shifting weight, pushing with my feet, using momentum and strategy.

Now Summitpost is curious because there are a lot of hikers, and a collection of really experienced climbers. If you guys collectively are anything like the feedback I got when putting these ideas into practice, a small but outspoken group will say this is a lot of talk about nuthin': just get on a route and jump, dude! And on the other hand the criticism will be that this whole discussion is dangerous outside of a laboratory with a trained guide and certain advanced credentials.

But my advice is for people like me, unwilling for whatever reason to "just jump," and declare that there is no problem, and equally unwilling to stick with an adventure climbing mindset for my time in the sport climbing environment.

Cheers,
--Michael
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:50 pm

Right on Stef...do be careful! I'm pretty much limiting my "aggressive falling" stance to bolts at this point, but I know that modern hard trad climbing requires always working on, trusting and falling on gear too.

I was really happy in the climbing gym this morning, I fell just before clipping a bolt about 18 meters up on a 5.11b/c (VIII- UIAA, 6c+ French), where it was a complete surprise. The move isn't the crux, but it's very pumpy after a lot of small holds. The fall position was relatively far to the left of the bolt line too, moves beginning with a commiting leftward traverse under a roof. You don't get to clip again until 3 moves above the roof, yikes! Really the ideal situation to fall in. In the past, I would have rested on the rope, grabbed off-route holds, or otherwise figured out some way to avoid the big drop.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby Vitaliy M. » Thu Mar 15, 2012 5:22 pm

I fell just before clipping a bolt about 18 meters up on a 5.11b/c (VIII- UIAA, 6c+ French), where it was a complete surprise. The move isn't the crux, but it's very pumpy after a lot of small holds. The fall position was relatively far to the left of the bolt line too, moves beginning with a commiting leftward traverse under a roof. You don't get to clip again until 3 moves above the roof, yikes! Really the ideal situation to fall in. In the past, I would have rested on the rope, grabbed off-route holds, or otherwise figured out some way to avoid the big drop.


Just wondering how would you know to grab off route hold or rest on the rope, if the fall was a complete surprise?

Otherwise, it is a good thing to worry about the falls less and clip at your belly. Let's you concentrate on climbing more. I have been at fault with trying to place gear over my head. But I see a lot of more experienced climbers do the same thing on trad. Especially when it is hard for them.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby aran » Thu Mar 15, 2012 11:28 pm

Thanks for sharing Michael! I think you're thoughts rest on the very tension that climbing hinges on, the pull between surety and safety on one hand and something new, unrecognized, and beyond our known limits. Of course, in the gym this is mostly mental exercise as the environment is so controlled, but practice there may unleash some freedom in the hills. Hopefully not stupidity! Thanks.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Fri Mar 16, 2012 8:20 am

Thanks Aran, yep, exactly, I'm working on defining and stretching the limits at that tension point, thanks for understanding, and explaining it better than I could!

Vitaliy, yes you are right, my statement wasn't entirely logical. Normally, I approached leads with a bit of fear on the brain, and when I'm relatively high above the last protection point most of my mental energy is thinking about security or the lack of it. What I was happy about was that I was so into the climb that I only focused on the climbing DESPITE being far above (and to the side of) my last protection. That is a state I was working on for a while. Normally, I'd have gotten scared BEFORE that point, and started trying fear-based behaviors like the aforementioned grabbing other holds, whatever.

Hard to explain I guess, but I'm psyched to discover new ground in climbing even as a relative old-timer! :)
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:31 am

Yeah, that's a great story Stef, what a nice adventure and learning experience for this fellow.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby Vitaliy M. » Fri Mar 16, 2012 4:21 pm

Stef, that sounds crazy. Although I can 100% believe that. If he had a solid free climber partner he could have led the aid pitches. C2 is not that hard, especially if you are ok with falling. Aiding c2 is not rocket science.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby PellucidWombat » Sat Mar 17, 2012 5:33 am

V, when did you climb a C2 route?

Great thread, Michael! I just happen to be working on that fear of falling (when it's safe) right now. Although since I hate the feeling of acceleration, I still would be hard pressed to try your "immersion therapy" suggestion :-)

Although I have been doing something similar.

As soon as this current rain storm lets up, I'm planning on doing a climb that will really push me to my limit, and I know I'd really be better off placing good gear from the starting rest and then "just going for it" through the short crux to the next rest instead of trying to hang out to place gear. Chances of falling are pretty good, but the consequences are trivial and the gear is bomber. I suspect I'll still shrink back to hanging out to place gear, but even risking those shorter falls is new for me.

Image

I've done a few laps leading Sherrie's crack to work myself up to it. In case you don't know it, Sherrie's Crack is a 5.10c finger crack in Yosemite Valley that has a short but fierce crux of intense finger jamming for about 2 body lengths, with lousy feet on a slick slab for the first half, forcing you to yard hard on your finger jams to stay on the rock (it's easy to be doing the Wiley Coyote run with your feet while hanging on your finger jams!). I had considered even attempting to lead it to be a big step, as I'm mostly climbing 5.9 and occasionally (but too rarely!) venturing into 5.10a. I've TR'ed it, so I know it takes good gear and you can jumar the thing on cams if you really wanted to (a follower on one of my lead rounds did this).

I finally worked up the nerve to try leading it 2 weekends ago and . . . it wasn't that bad! I reached high from a stance entering the crux to place a small cam and a nut to back it up (as they were my first pieces off the deck) and while trying to hang on locked off finger jams, I pumped out and fell while trying to place gear, but the gear was bomber and I didn't go far. I've fallen at that crux each of the last 3 leads, but each time I'm closer to pulling through it and each time I place less gear after I've moved through the hardest part of the crux, feeling more comfortable just running with it to the next real rest stance for a placement. Technically on my last lead I grabbed a cam instead of falling, but that allowed me to clip the rope and take a brief rest on the fingers without weighting the rope - a minor infraction as my belayer never even noticed. Not clean, but not as bad as falling or french freeing (as I didn't pull up on the cam or rearrange my stance while pulling on it). It even gives me more confidence trying a harder lead than I normally would try, if the pro is there, since I'm seeing that it really isn't that bad to cheat a little if a fear of falling is all that is keeping you from attempting it - and it's not that hard to cheat a little. I'd say aid climbing has made me more comfortable pulling on good gear if I really don't want to fall :shock:

Frankly the crack protects so well that I think it's a perfectly safe lead for someone leading at a far easier level so long as they know how to place trad gear properly. It's funny but after climbing both routes, I think Sherrie's might be a better lead for a beginning 5.8 trad leader to try than Nurdle, which is a 5.8 often climbed to set up a TR on Sherrie's. The first 20' of Nurdle are insecure, with sparse & marginal pro that is tricky to place until the route gets secure, so the leader really could risk a ground fall on it. As long as you're not afraid of falling in and of itself, Sherrie's really is safer and less committing to hurl yourself at rather than climbing Nurdle. :lol:

I can see where I need to risk taking more of a whipper at the crux, though. I've learned from some sustained jamming at Indian Creek that perhaps one of the better ways to protect while climbing is to reach ahead and place a cam with one hand, then climb a few moves until the cam is near your waist, and then clip with the other hand. This evens out the hanging & protecting work on each arm, reduces the clipping effort, and reduces how long you need to hang out at any individual stance while placing pro. It's just so hard not trying to get safe and clip that cam once it's right there!

I think another fear climbers should be aware of to work on that is related to falling is a fear of pain. I don't mean the pain of impact, but the pain of truly pushing through the effort required to stay on the rock. When you feel pumped out and ready to fall, it is so easy to grab an off-route hold in the gym, clip in short to a bolt, or try to throw the rope up into your next piece and immediately shout "take!", instead of attempting to move through the pump and pain to a rest (before or beyond a crux) and discover that you might actually not fall. I'm not talking about bad pain (e.g. concentrated pain in the tendons) but learning to recognize the harmless pain and working on that mental toughness to climb until you fall instead of climbing until you let yourself go.

A great book that Dirk (Diggler) gave me that talks about some of this stuff is "The Rock Warrior's Way: Mental Training for Climbers" and I've found it to be pretty good food for thought on working the mental side of leading.
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Sat Mar 17, 2012 5:04 pm

Stef, I actually do think soloing easy stuff is the right thing for a "rock warrior" to do sometimes, but a lot of solid climbers will disagree too. I'd say plenty of downclimbing too. My reason for doing some soloing comes more from a belief that alpine climbs demand a cool head, but I totally see how it can help for hard leads.

Mark, all that detailed stuff about working the 5.10c had me wiggling my fingers to warm up! Seems like this climb is one you decided to make your bid for a higher level and it's working well. I remember Classic Crack (5.9) in Leavenworth as being a testpiece like that for me...I went from not being able to jam, and looking at this climb completely perplexed, to leading it with good jamming technique. During that time I thought about the climb a lot, kind of like you are doing. This is super worthwhile, keep it up! I'm envious of all the good, real rock you have access to in the winter...damn Californians! :p
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby tonyo » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:04 pm

sjarelkwint wrote:
You can't become a better climber if you are more affraid of falling than you have the need to finish the climb!



Simple economics that applies to everything in life.

Great thread!
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby CClaude » Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:05 pm

I disagree with recommending someone to go soloing, even below their grade.

Rock Warriors Way is a great book which can be applied to all situations, since it tells you to logically assess the risk without the ego becoming involved. It also says that all falls are NOT equal. Learn to understand when falls are reasonable and not. Learn to be logical about it without the emotional aspect which can skew your judgement.

Understand that the fear of falls or lack of fear is a continuum. Some get scared with a piece every 2 ft and others are comfortable aclimbing at their limit with gear every 20 or so feet. Most people are somewhere in between. Myself, I go through phases. For the last couple years I was very go for it, and one one route I took multiple 20-30ft falls onto a green 0 black diamond C3. After breaking my foot, I am a bit leary, but I know that I need to work through that. Be honest with yourself (and if you are honest about yopurself with others you will be honest with yourself). If you can't admit your own faults, you won't work on them.

Concentrate on what needs to be done. If you wanna get a glimpse of this taken in the extreme, google Nik Berry's blog of his recent ascent of China Doll (5.14a R)... Way to be in the moment (I'm a Nik Berry fan since I climbed with him once when he was a local with just a few years of climbing but his calmness and drive was apparent)
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Re: Ya gotta fall

Postby mvs » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:12 pm

With the spam bump I just read CClaude's message. I hope I wasn't projecting that you should go off and fall or jump off of climbs where you aren't absolutely positive that the protection is bomber. My comments are really made in a sport climbing context, meaning: bolts. And granted, you can still get hurt or killed on a sport climb with poor judgement.

It's unfortunate that this is an important topic for growth in climbing, but it's very risky to talk about. We end up imagining that people will endanger themselves by a heedless application of what is said. Look, if I go see a Uli Steck slideshow, I *don't* for a minute think I should get on the Eiger for a pre-lunch Nordwand solo. But I do hope the information may influence me in a positive way.
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