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Climbing and Fear

Climbing and Fear

HoldBreaker Team |

Even before tying in, I am pumped, and not in an excited kind of way. In an “I’m so stressed out that my whole body is tense and I am exhausted just thinking about getting on this route” kind of way. But here I am, about to project my first 5.11a - “Motivation.” I just watched my good friend, and climbing partner, clip the chains. This is also her first 5.11a; she took two falls, and I am really proud of her for fighting her way to the top. Normally watching her victory would also feel like a victory for me, because I feel so invested in her climbing progression; but as I am lowering her down, I’m distracted by my own doubts and fears. My motivation is dwindling - ironic.


 Climbing and Fear


Now I do not want to climb. This morning I was so stoked to be taking another step in my climbing path - a 5.11a as my first project. But now facing my fears and braving the unknown is feeling less glamorous, and more like I just want to go back to bed. I’ve had these days before, where I’ve not wanted to commit to a move, to get on a route, or even to go to the crag at all; but getting out of my comfort zone is always worth it because it leads to growth. Even if I don’t complete the route, my attitude consistently changes for the better. As I climb, I gain knowledge about myself and the world around me. I see that I have the power to think positively and calm myself down in an intense situation. And most importantly, I remember that climbing is actually fun. Hannah is the climbing partner I need - she believes in me when I don’t believe in myself, so she pulls the rope.


I tie in - a small victory. Hannah gives me a hug, tells me there is another one waiting for me when I get down, and I ascend into the unknown. I am learning that the unknown - not being in control - is what really scares me. Maybe I should have top roped this route first??


As soon as I clip the first bolt and take a few deep breaths, I am enjoying myself again. I remind myself to keep moving, little movements to keep myself focused on the rock and not have time to overthink. But then I get up seven bolts, and I can’t figure out the moves, so I choose to take a fall. Now I am sitting in my harness, overthinking. This is the spot Hannah took her first fall and I immediately understand why. The next bolt looks half the world away on an overhung section full of shallow pockets. Okay… in reality, the bolt is about eight feet away on straight vertical wall, but tunnel vision makes me think other things.


I get back on the wall and try again- another small victory.


Climbing and Fear II


I make it one move farther up and then don’t see any obvious holds in my vicinity to make small movements on. I will have to really commit this next move to a hold that’s not looking so bomber. I am thinking to myself, “You can’t do it. You might fall making this move. If you fall now, at least it will be your decision because you will be in control.” So I yell, “Falling!” and I am 10 feet below my bolt again.


The falling didn’t hurt at all; the catch was soft and now I’m comfortably sitting in my harness. Choosing to fall (being prepared for it) doesn’t really scare me, though it didn’t start out that way. It took familiarity with taking whippers and not being physically hurt for me to get to this point.


Now that I’ve gone up a second time, couldn’t figure out the move, and fell again, I’m having an inner battle. One side of me wants to go headfirst into the unknown because I know growth doesn’t occur in your comfort zone (I majored in recreation management, this has thankfully been drilled into me). But the other side of me is best friends with fear and is having a temper tantrum. I actually start crying on the wall.


The crying was predominantly because I was angry. I was angry at this side of me that felt like it wouldn’t budge, the side that wanted to crawl back into bed and not care about perseverance or triumph. Anger, at the moment, wasn’t pushing me to try again; rather it was tiring me out. So, with the little energy I did have left, I reverted to positive thought. I was proud of myself for tying in, getting seven bolts off the ground, and taking two nice falls. With this, I lowered down.


Climbing and Fear


This isn’t the victory story that I wish it had been over my fear - telling it to shut up and then getting on all the 5.11s on the wall. But, it was a victory story for a different reason. Fear became tangible while I was on the wall. I noticed exactly where my mental limits were; and by now seeing these invisible walls I’m enabled to learn to push past them.


I have entered a new stage in my climbing career - a stage where I’m no longer blind. I can get right up in the face of my fear and figure out the tools to quiet its voice. As I try to figure out the tools, I wonder if it is by a redirection of anger, or perhaps just more kindness towards myself. These are real things to consider in order for me to have the fullest climbing experience. To continue climbing for me requires opening up this conversation with the community. As you’ve pushed toward the unknown, how have you worked past certain fears? Has fear manifested in different areas? Why is it worth it to push past your fears? Is climbing still fun for you??


As I’ve asked this question to climbers around me, the Holdbreaker motto seems more true every time: “Everyone’s struggle is the same, irrespective of level.”



Name: Jessica Bisner 
Location: El Potrero Chico, Mexico/Black Mountain, North Carolina





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