Can you imagine how rubbish Chris Sharma would be if he'd had the mentality of never falling? If you're trying to push your trad climbing without falling off then you’re holding yourself back, explains Hazel Findlay.
Often people ask me, or complain, about why they never seem to be able to progress beyond a certain grade, like E2. Is it because I’m not strong enough? Perhaps I’m not fit enough? I should train more down the wall; maybe if I go to the wall and do the blue one then that means I can do E2.
Usually though, the reason why people haven’t climbed E3 is because they haven’t tried an E3. Or if they have, they’ve backed off, sat on their gear or lowered down, mumbling a medley of excuses such as not being strong enough to do the next move, the gear wasn’t right, that they should have tried the blue route at the wall a few more times.
But these excuses simply cover up the real issue: no matter how many times they do the blue one, no matter how strong they are, the real reason they didn’t commit to the move is because they are scared to fall.
Fear of falling can be a problem in sport climbing as well, but it’s more the case on trad routes, obviously not without reason. Trad is scarier: there can be loose rock, more to think about and the daunting possibility that your gear could just rip right out. For beginners there also comes a point when you must decide that your gear is good enough and you trust it.
This is a hard decision to make, but it is one that must be made in order to fall. It doesn’t take a genius to know that you shouldn’t fall if your gear isn’t good enough. But knowing whether your gear is good or not is the tricky part.
However, there are a large number of cases when the leader knows her gear is good and that they are in a safe position to fall but, for some reason, this is not an option. It may not even be a fear of falling; rather the option of falling doesn’t even occur to the climber. Some trad climbers still believe that trad is a branch of climbing where the leader never falls, or at least avoids it at all costs.
This is the culture of ‘the leader never falls’ in the UK. I’ve travelled quite a lot and, I must say, there is a similar culture in other countries, but seeing as this is going on the BMC website, I’ll focus on the UK. When I go to a crag in the UK I very rarely see people falling off. For new trad climbers, not falling becomes the norm, which in turn further cements the idea that the leader never falls.
Granted, if you’re climbing Severe, not falling may be the best option, seeing as most Severes are very low angle and falling off would result in substantial skin loss, a broken foot or worse. However, there are a lot of mid-grade trad climbers who simply do not fall. This is OK if you don’t want to progress.
Maybe you just want to enjoy climbing, enjoy being outside and don’t really care for pushing your limits or comfort zone. This, however, is in conflict with the idea that many people take up climbing because they want to challenge themselves. Some people also confess that they do wish to improve yet they still don’t fall.
There is no way you can improve (or, at the very least, you hinder your progression substantially) if you do not fall. If you don’t fall, then you’re not climbing at your limit. If you’re not climbing at your limit then you cannot progress. Can you imagine how rubbish Chris Sharma would be if he had taken up the mentality of never falling?
It’s not all about progression, but also enjoyment. One of the best moments I’ve had climbing was taking my first big trad fall. It was on Get Some In, in Pembroke. At the crux, pumped out of my mind, I had ran it out, hung in there for dear life, but simply didn’t have the beans. I fell quite a few times on that route, I think the adrenaline of falling and the fact that I was so tired was making it increasingly harder to climb.
But all that falling was exhilarating and eye opening: I knew that I could climb at my limit on trad. And this meant that for me that trad climbing could become no different from sport climbing: I could push my physical limit on both, equally. And, with the added mental challenge of trad climbing, I knew that this was the type of climbing I would enjoy the most, and tire of last.
With enough experience, falling on trad does not have to be dangerous. If you feel as though practising trad climbing is not enough and you don’t trust your gear, seek help. Either climb with someone who is better than you, study what they do, take their gear out and ask them why they placed what they. Or perhaps a better option is to take a course. Yes, it costs money, but you can’t put a price on enjoyment of climbing, or your personal safety.
This article is a performance training article aimed at experienced trad climbers, climbing around E2, who are looking to push their grade. Falling off any trad climb can be risky but remember that falls from easier climbs often have more hazards due to lower-angled rock. When pushing your trad climbing, at any level, a helmet is strongly recommended.