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WORDS BY MARISSA LAND
PHOTO BY TOBY SAXTON
As a climber, there will be at least one time in your climbing life when you want to push yourself to the next level and discover what you’re capable of. And for a lot of us, progression is a big deal; we all have tick lists and climbing goals to reassure ourselves that we are actually progressing with climbing.
To progress we must regularly challenge ourselves, because challenge opens us to new experiences that enable us to develop as climbers. But to have new experiences means we must get out of our comfort zone and move from the realm of the known into the realm of the unknown.
Any step over the edge of our comfort zone and into the realm of the unknown is associated with fear and doubt, because we simply don’t know what’s going to happen next. We find ourselves asking the big ‘What if?’ questions: What if I fall? What if I can’t clip the next bolt? What if I run out of gear? What if I don’t make it to the top? Those doubts and their associated fears create an instant reaction in the body: the breath becomes short, the heart rate increases, we over-grip, we feel fatigue, our body temperature increases, we sweat more, we lose connection with the body, and our movement suffers as a result. Sometimes fear can be so debilitating that the mind completely takes over and leaves us perched on the side of a cliff or boulder trying like hell to keep ourselves together. Or, it can even prevent us from tying in and stepping off the ground.
A lot of climbers don’t have a strategy with which to cope with fear. We want to get out of our headspace and keep moving, but we don’t know how. There are a few ways to calmly move past the edge of your comfort zone, and one technique you can use to cope with fear is to move your attention away from your thoughts, and instead, focus it on your breathing.