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Fear of falling, part three... taking it outside

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
4 min read

Yesterday was a super fantastic day at Vantage (Frenchman’s Coulee) here in Washington… it’s one of my “home” crags, at only about three hours away from where I live. We got an early but not alpine start, and by the time we got out there around 9am, the place was PACKED. As in, more cars and more tents than I’ve ever seen there before. But, we managed to find a nice quiet crag that we had mostly to ourselves for the day. There were a few other parties, but we avoided the circus of the more populated areas, which were extremely busy. It turned out nice. The weather was beautiful… my freckles popped out big time, despite sunscreen… and it was nice to get some sun and warmth. The guys and Candace all pulled hard… we had a party of five leaders, and picked up a fun sixth at the crag, so we got in a lot of climbing and solid leads all the way around.

The climbing was fun. We started harder than I usually do, and I had fun alternating between leading projects at my onsight level, and toproping harder ones. One of the harder routes was really inspiring… I finished it clean on my second or third toprope try, then had a snack and rested up to work it on lead.

My first lead attempt was okay… I got up to the crux, which was well-protected by a bolt, and I chickened out. That lead to me tossing a mini-wobbler… partly, I was scared. Partly, my grip had just totally given out, so I knew that moving above the bolt would just mean a fall for sure based on how my hands felt, so I took and got grief for it from my climbing partners who thought I looked strong and on my way to a send.

But, I figured I’d rather not take an unnecessary risk when I knew my hands didn’t have it in them to get to the anchors, and took another rest and snack break. I lost track of how many times I tried the route on lead… but I made progress on each go. On my last run on it, I was tired, and my skin was starting to say “enough is enough.” I tried to summons enough energy to finish it up… I pulled the crux, clipped the next bolt, and moved above the bolt thinking I had JUST enough juice to finish it off even though I could feel the fatigue. I got to where my waist was a few feet above the bolt, and my grip was gone… I could feel the slight twinge of desperation and the increased fatigue as my footwork suffered, and the animal noises of stress and tension started up… and I did what I used to do in the gym when I knew I was going to reluctantly fall … I called out “falling” and then hung on as long as I could before my hands slid off the tenuous holds, my grip failing. I let out a blood-curdling scream of fear on my way down… it wasn’t more than a six or seven foot fall, but I haven’t ever really taken falls outside, so I was super scared. My belayer caught me, perfectly.

I apologized for making so much noise… thanked my belayer for the catch, especially after my wobbler earlier in the day, took a few deep breaths to ward of the tears that sometimes come for just a few seconds after I push to my limit outside… then knew despite being super tired I had to finish it up, so rested long enough until I thought I could get to the anchors and then moved up again. The true crux of the route is clipping the anchors — I wasn’t able to get them clipped on that last attempt in good style, I had to grab a draw.

But… it was still awesome, despite my frustration with myself for getting scared enough to toss a little wobbler with one of my most wonderful, most trustworthy climbing partners on that first belay, and scared enough to make all that unnecessary noise on the last. And, despite the fact that I didn’t actually send on lead.

The old Sara would never have tried a lead that hard, under any circumstances… and would never have taken a risk that would lead to even a small fall like that. The old Sara wouldn’t have been able to get back on the rock after the first unsuccessful lead go because I wouldn’t have been able to calm my fear enough to get my head back on straight, and the old Sara wouldn’t have been able to get back on after taking a lead fall. I’m a little bit bummed that I still don’t have a perfect sequence worked out for getting the draws up on the anchor and then getting them clipped — because of the awkward finish, I’ll have to have someone get the draws on the anchor for me to try it again. But, even so, I’m excited about the day, and look forward to doing better next time… trying to stay more calm, not let my fear grip me, and to remember while I’m on lead that climbing is fun, and part of climbing is falling on occasion, and my belayer will catch me.

My climbing partner (and other climbing partners who’ve given me the same advice) are right… working harder stuff on lead (at least on bolts) IS more fun. It’s easier to find harder, project-worthy routes that are closely bolted with clean falls, than the easier stuff. It’s going to take me awhile to really internalize that — but yesterday definitely helped prove it to me.

On the hike out, even though it had been some time since that last go, and since the fall, my little brain was still having trouble processing all the conflicting feelings about it. I felt like the fall was a mix of exhilaration, fun, and fear all wrapped into one. I don’t really know how to describe it — but at the moment it happened, and then in retrospect, I had more positive feelings than negative ones, which was cool.

Thanks, all, for all of your contributions and thoughts on the topic… keep ’em coming, and I’ll keep you posted on the saga…

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.