Raphael

21st Nov 2007

Question:

I get scared sport climbing because I imagine that people are going to drop me. They don’t always seem to be paying attention and I want to be comfortable to fall at any moment without necessarily shouting for their attention. Should I use another plate? How does everyone else feel comfortable about reliance on gear I never feel 100% safe.

Answer:

Trust is one of the most important aspects to successful climbing. Firstly, you have to trust yourself; did I tie my knot correctly, am I good at judging gear placements etc?

Secondly and crucially you have to trust your belayer.

Without these, your head will be affected and it is unlikely you will be able to push yourself out of your comfort zone. This can lead to dissatisfaction with your climbing and questions like, why am I doing this?

So, your question raises a good point.

You haven’t mentioned what belay plate is being used but your belayers must use whatever they are comfortable with and what they understand.

The crucial thing is that you can communicate openly with the friends you climb with. Most people have a small core of people they feel happy to climb with and it starts getting a bit uncomfortable moving outside this core. So, choose carefully and watch how these people belay others. If you are not happy with something that is going on, you must say so. Shyness or pride should be overcome if you feel something potentially dangerous is occurring.

You can try telling people you are a bit nervous and maybe practice some gentle falls. This can be indoors (feels more friendly) and only short. Also on a top rope; you are using this exercise to make you feel better about their locking you off on the belay plate capabilities.

Once you feel happy with this, you try some small leading falls. Again, this is to boost YOUR confidence. You could have another friend holding the dead and of the rope too, if you really don’t trust your belayer.

Hopefully, going through this process and telling people you need to feel they are watching you when you climb will help. The worst thing is when you feel like your belayer isn’t concentrating and they are maybe chatting with other people, especially if you are about to set off on something at your limit. Just let your belayer know that you think you might find the climb tricky and you would appreciate their undivided attention. It would be time to take them off your list of belayers, if they didn’t respond to your request.

Lastly, when you mention ‘gear’ I assume you are talking about bolts as you say sport climbing? In a way it is not a bad thing to not trust the gear 100%, as nothing can be 100% safe. But I have been sport climbing since 1993 and I have never experienced any dodgy gear.

There were some problems years a go in Portland with bad bolting but it’s pretty much been ironed out.

At some point you have to take a leap of faith and let yourself go. There are thousands of people out there sport climbing and I bet the fatality stats are way lower than RTA’s. It is usually human error where accidents happen, not bolt failure. Check your knot twice before you leave the ground and always lower off two attachment points if you are stripping a route.

Good luck and I hope you can overcome your fears.