Climbing wouldn’t be climbing without the unknown and a regular dose of uncertainty. You push yourself to do new things, to go beyond your limits, because it’s what keeps it fresh. However, with the uncertainty can come the fear, when you begin to doubt, and doubt can have very serious consequences.
Listening to the fear has its place. It can tell you when you’re in over your head, when you’re about to do something that will not end well. But it can also cause you to fail when you were perfectly capable of succeeding. You feel it on lead, you feel it highballing on a boulder problem, you even feel it on toprope. You have a moment of doubt, and suddenly it’s all you can think about. You’re no longer thinking about continuing, instead you’re only thinking about the consequences of failing. Your body begins to prepare itself for all the bad things that can happen, and suddenly the germ of an idea becomes a total mental and physical commitment, and at that point, failure is inevitable.
I’ve been climbing at the Columns in town for years, and I’ve had my hands on many of the lines there more times than I can count. Fat Crack is easily the most familiar, and I haven’t taken a fall on it in at least three years. Every notch on the 40-some foot line is familiar, every rest point, every groove and curve of the rock against my fingers and the backs of my hands. So when I found myself soloing it almost absentmindedly on Thursday, there was no shock at succeeding, only at having made the attempt. But still, there was a moment, just after the halfway mark when I made the commitment to finish rather than downclimb, when I had a doubt. My left foot suddenly felt greasy in the crack, and my hand hold felt uncertain. In the next split second, I felt the fear taking over. My mind began to run through scenarios of falling, and my body began to give up on making the next move. But as I felt panic lurking around the corner of that mental dark alley, I stopped, and remembered that there was no reason for me to fall. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I just needed to make another move. And then it was gone, and shortly after I was sitting on top of the column, looking out over the city.
People generally take for granted that belief is as much physical as it is mental. Your body will believe something as strongly as your mind, and to overcome the fear, your mind must know it can be done, and you body must know it will be done. You must convince them both that you’re not stopping here.