I have recently come to appreciate how critical falling is to climbing. There is a technique to falling safely. If I climber knows that they are going to fall its best to push off from the wall and swing smoothly down. This makes the climber swing gently back to the wall and their legs can absorb any shock. It is key to always know where the rope is running relative to the climbers’ legs. A leg behind the rope could possibly cause a climber to flip upside down during a fall. If the rock is of a particularly low angle, the recommendation is actually to turn and run down the rock instead of getting scrapped up by sliding down it. The ropes that we use are dynamic, which means they stretch a little like a bungie cord when the climber falls, this elasticity decreases the abruptness of the stop. We’ll typically switch ends of the rope after big falls to allow the rope to ‘rest’ and regain that elasticity. The belayer’s catch is also critical. It seems counter intuitive, but a shorter fall is not necessarily better. On a straight vertical wall a hard catch by the belayer will cause the climber to swing into the wall harder. To have a soft catch the belayer will have some extra rope in the system and will actually jump a little as the climber is reaching the bottom of their fall. This small jump causes the system to equalize more slowly and the climber to come to a smoother stop.
Over the past couple weeks I realized that I’ve acquired a silly fear. I am currently afraid to push my limit to the point of a potential fall. I am calling this a silly fear because I know how to fall. I know that the systems are safe. I know that the ropes are strong. I have partners that I trust and the falls are totally clean and safe. Most of the climbing here is fully overhung, so falling just means swinging in the air. I have been using these systems and catching other peoples’ falls for years, but I rarely commit enough to take a fall myself. Instead, I’ll climb up a little ways, then down climb back to my last bolt (wasting energy) and rest there before continuing on to the next. This is particularly frustrating here because more than other stops along the way, I really want to push my limit and see how strong I can climb. The style of climbing here is extremely safe and fitting for what I enjoy most.
A few days ago I actually went out for the day with my primary goal being to fall. I had a picked a route that was 100% safe to fall from any point along it, and my goal was to climb until I fell rather than stopping unnecessary. I only semi succeeded in falling. I took 3 falls that day. One tiny one, one medium one, and one fairly big one. They were all totally safe and clean, but I am still definitely not comfortable with falling.
I know that overcoming this fear will greatly improve my climbing. It will allow me to pull through harder unknown moves to rest points, rather than withdrawing and climbing one small section at a time. Hopefully over the next couple weeks I can get more courage to commit to the next move even to the point of a safe fall.
Just for clarity, I don’t expect or want to be a particularly bold climber getting on dangerous routes. This is a desire to trust my strength and take calculated risks to safe falls. It’s the challenge not the potential fear that keeps bringing me back to the wall.
Sometimes I think of my fear of falling and wonder how that relates to my faith in Jesus. Am I willing to follow Jesus into unknown terrain to the point of a potential fall? Do I hesitate and lose confidence when I see difficulties ahead? Am I willing to risk falling for Christ? I just finished reading The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken, a book about the persecuted church. It left me feeling blessed to be able to freely write this blog and show myself as a follower of Christ without fear of persecution. In the book, one of his interviewees stated “Don’t give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution.” Individuals like this are continually making the move toward the next bolt, even if they are fearful, but trusting in the Lord’s strength to pull through. These examples make me want to share Christ’s love even more with everyone that I meet along the way.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.