This is a deviation from my usual post – at least the kind of stuff I write about nowadays – but I certainly wished I’d tried this back in the day when I was an avid rock climber…
Firstly, some rock climbing terms.
Lead Climb – this is when a climber has to place her own protection (secure the rope) as she ascends the wall.
Leader Fall – when the climber on a lead climb takes a fall.
Top Rope – when the rope safety system has already been put in place and the climber only needs to climb.
When I was climbing, I used to hate doing lead climbs because it requires climbing sections of the wall when you will be above your last point of protection. If, for any reason, you can’t make it to the next point of protection, you will be in free fall until you fall below the last point of protection and the rope safety system catches you. It was being in the state of free fall that I hated the most. If I was on top rope, I could climb anything. The moment I had to do a lead climb, I had to be sure of the route before I would dare to lead it – that meant I was too scared to climb anything harder than two grades below my top rope grade.
I never really analysed the fear of taking a leader fall but I think it is the same as the fear I have for riding rollercoasters. I used to think I was afraid of heights, but now I believe it is not so much the fear of heights but the fear of falling that gets me every single time. I never ever got comfortable doing lead climbs because I never conquered the fear of falling. All I did was make sure I never had reason to fall on lead – I could probably count on my fingers the number of leader falls I’ve taken in my entire rock climbing experience.
Recently, I had an epiphany while riding a rollercoaster with my son. I’ve been going about it all wrong.
Since my children have been old enough, we have taken them to theme parks, and I have been forced to ride the rollercoasters with them. Thankfully, they’re still young and too short to ride the really scary ones, but even those little rollercoasters would leave me screaming like the child and my son would be the one patting my hand, telling me he would protect me. But each time I ride the rollercoaster, I feel a little less fearful – just a little bit – and I am able to scream less loudly. The repeated exposure helps me deal a little better with the butterflies in my stomach and I am starting to wonder if I might even get used to the idea of falling if I ride enough rollercoasters?
Maybe, just maybe, if I ever do get around to lead climbing again, I might be able to face that leader fall with somewhat less trepidation. What do you think? If you’re afraid of taking a leader fall, perhaps you might like to try riding rollercoasters to desensitise the fear?