19 March 2017

Climb smarter

The climbing club had organised a workshop by a clinical psychologist specialised in climbing. They exist! I am fascinated by how people let their heads push them to great heights or great depths and all such things, so I registered.

The lady, called Rebecca, first did an introduction round; people told her what they struggled with and wanted to work on. Quite a lot of people struggled with motivating themselves to try routes they found hard; these tended to get frustrated about the lack of progress they made. I was in another category; I am scared of climbing above gear if the climbing is challenging. I have no problem with leading as long as I don't think I'll fall out of the wall. That does mean, though, that I tend to mostly lead climbs I can do without difficulty. If I lead something hard I often will give up (ask the belayer to let me down) or bail out (decide to swap to an easier route on the same stretch of wall). Sometimes I get scared, climb back down to where I feel safe, and then need to gather new courage to try again. Sometimes I push on, so I know I can do it, but I know this is what I struggle with most. Struggle, as it may be a rational fear (falling is to be avoided) but I also know the rope will catch me. On a scary route outside with few anchors and scary ledges you can fall onto, it's a different matter; in a climbing hall, though, falling is not likely to hurt you. Unless something goes wrong with belaying...

Another thing I find scary is climbing sideways; there is a specific route you can do with the autobelay machine, but it veers sideways considerably. If you get up halfway that route or further, and you fall out, you swing considerably. I don't like that!

Anyway. We finished the introduction round, and then Rebecca told us that if you get scared your body gets into fight or flight response and that rarely helps. Your muscles cramp and you palms sweat. Not helping! So she suggested that if we get into a situation like that we consciously get our breathing back to normal and relax our muscles. That will sort us out. She also warned us against challenging ourselves, but overdoing it, so we end up extra stressed and are more anxious the next time we try whatever it was that challenged us. And she had us practice focussing on our breathing (I'm terrible at it) and tensioning and then relaxing our muscles.

None of that is rocket science. Pretty much all of that I know. Oh well! At least we now know what people's weak spots are and take it into consideration. I thought it was interesting to see that one of the blokes who always makes me climb the hardest, Ron, is as scared of climbing above gear as I am...

Then it was time to practice. I was one of the few who was already wearing climbing shoes, and who isn't keen on warming up. I decided to try the swingy green route first. I climbed a fair distance up and dropped myself. That went well! Then I tried a bit higher. Still OK! By then others were ready to climb as well.

I ended up teaming up with Glyn, with whom I climb more often. We started on a fairly easy route (no probs) and then did the 6c I had managed before. I try it regularly, and depending on what kind of day I have I either can or can't do it. This time I could! I needed one encouragement from Glyn and that was it. Good stuff!

We then did a 5b on an overhang; that was quite easy. Glyn then saw a 6 something (b?) on a much more overhangy overhang and wanted to try that, even though he thought he would fall out. This was the perfect day for it!

He went up the very overhangy bit groaning. He was almost at the edge where it gets a lot milder but he didn't quite make it; he came falling out. And he is a sizable chap. I shot up! I wasn't that far off banging my head into the overhang. Maybe next time clip in to a sand bag...

By then it was late and we all left. I might give that route a try next time! And I suppose I should climb that swingy route all the way to the top... home-made exposure therapy, here I come!

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