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Head game


Original Post
Nathan Z · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 1

For those of you who have had an accident or a close call, how long did it take for you to get back in the game mentally?

For background, I've climbed sport casually for years, and can on-site sport up to around .10b in the Sierra. Around a year ago I followed on my first trad route and quickly became obsessed with multi-pitch trad. I climbed on gear most free weekends, and got comfortable leading 5.7 and 5.8 routes. I spent all my free time learning and practicing self-rescue, anchors, crack technique, etc. I spent all my free money on gear and my non-climbing friends got tired of me constantly talking about climbing.

In August, I went on a climbing trip with a couple buddies to CO. After a few days of amazing climbing, we did the south face of Petit Grepon (5.8, grade III). It was my turn to lead the 6th pitch, which the guidebook lists as 5.7. At some point after my 2nd piece (an acceptable but not perfect blue tricam), I got off route and was on much harder terrain. It felt like .10a/.10b climbing, and I wasn't able to place any gear for at least 30 feet. At one point, I looked down and realized that I was looking at a 60+ foot fall with potential to deck on the belay ledge if I pealed off. Assuming the blue tricam held.

Even though I've always known climbing can be dangerous, it was the first time it really sunk in that a mistake could kill me. I didn't fall. I ran it out 30+ feet on terrain at my on-site sport limit, and then kept climbing. I eventually got back on route and set up a belay (albeit way past the "pizza pan" belay station). I followed the last pitch, we topped out, rappelled down and hiked out. I'm actually pretty proud of myself for remaining relatively calm and not freezing up.

I haven't climbed since then (2 months). I want to take time and make sure I really want to do it before I get back onto the sharp end. I'm content focusing on other hobbies right now. But I really want to have that passion for climbing again. For other people who have had mental blocks, how long did it take you to mentally get back into climbing? Did anything help besides the tincture of time?

PS I'm not interested in talking about potential mistakes I made (eg route-finding), or possible knowledge gaps - I trust my partners who were there with me, and we talked about those issues quite extensively after topping out and during the days that followed.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Even though you don't want to talk about routefinding, it sounds like that's what got you in trouble. And that you're confident leading 7's and 8's. So if you stay on route, you're solid.

But let's not talk about routefinding. :)

kevin neville · · Oconomowoc WI · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 15
It felt like .10a/.10b climbing, and I wasn't able to place any gear for at least 30 feet. At one point, I looked down and realized that I was looking at a 60+ foot fall with potential to deck on the belay ledge 
At what point did you believe you couldn't downclimb? Launching past that point is a deliberate decision, not to be taken lightly.
Nathan Z · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 1

Sigh...

I'm really uninterested in talking about mistakes, as I have hashed this out with people who were actually there and could give real, valuable feedback. 

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 135

Let's see, early in my career I took a huge whip on whodunnit and popped a piece.  We finished the route (though I was done leading forth the day) and I was back to leading shortly after.
I did Consolation in Tahquitz and took a whip, ending up upside down and smaked my head (with helmet) against the rock, ringing my bell a bit.  I pulled it together, led the pitch, and basically never stopped leading.
I went back to Whodunnit recently and whipped in the 1st pitch, getting a big thigh contusion.  My friend had to lead the pitch but we swapped leads for the rest of the day so I was back to leading right away.
I was climbing what I did not realize was an R/X in Josh, was yanking on a cam because I wasn't sure how solid it was (it wasn't), yanked it, popped my next piece and cracked bones in three toes.  I was back to leading the gym as soon as I could put pressure on the foot, and back to climbing as soon as my foot was feeling up to it.

So for some bad falls... it took me until the end of the day to get back into it, sometimes. Other times it was immediate, or at least as immediate as the injury allowed.  I have other times I have unintentionally run things out and gotten into no fall allowed situations.  It comes with the territory.  I assess situations as I am in them, try to make the best decisions at the time, learn for my errors, and move on.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

I would think that part of the head game or, mental block, is determining what caused it. (getting off route) And striving to correct that. Not sure what you hope to achieve here, if you don't want to address causes (getting off route), or already have. Start climbing again when you're ready. It's your decision; not anyone else's.

There is no magical time period where you will feel confident again.

ErikaNW · · Golden, CO · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 145

It sounds like you’re getting really bogged down in the ‘what ifs....’ You pulled it together and finished the pitch without incident (nice job!) If that’s what it took for you to realize you can get seriously hurt or die climbing, then that is actually a good thing. You have to take that knowledge and figure out for yourself if it’s worth it. Route finding is part of alpine. If you decide you want to get back into it, maybe lead some pitches you’ve climbed before to get your head back - where route finding isn’t an issue. 

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,625

Multi-pitch climbing, sport and trad, is a game changer. Route finding is a requisite, as you discovered. One 'trick' we learn is a constant assessment of what we are doing, where we are, and the 'feel'. You may have climbed Corragation Corner at lovers leap in Tahoe. It is one of those "if it feels harder than 5.7, look around the corner. (It's in on an arete.) What you learn from this, when you are on an established route where you feel confident that it is not sandbagged, is "If it feels harder than the grade, i am off route". Learn to downclimb. A critical skill.
Learn from this adventure you had, maybe take a couple of baby steps to get back in the game (5.6?) and go for it. Climb something where the route is obvious to follow, and well documented. Get in some miles, the joy will return, if you seek it.
A couple of asides. I would rather fall on most 5.12's (usually steep) than most 5.7's (not usually steep, usually a lot of ledges and edges, which hurt to hit).
The most important thing is, what is important to you. If it is just the joy of being out, exercising, camaraderie, then stick to toprope for a while. I have a sometimes partner who only topropes, but she can get up 12's!
As for time....the best medicine i can suggest is" get back on that horse son". If it is still bugging you after 2 months, you got the bug.
 

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

Frank is right. It takes as long as it takes. We all react different to such stimuli.
I hit an elk at 70 mph one night. It came through the windshield. I got 117 pieces of glass pulled out of my face and head. Took about a month to feel comfortable driving at night again.
Decked from 40 feet once. Bruised my heel but still led the climb that day.
Good luck and get back on that horse.

Drew Monaco · · Corvallis, OR · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

As posted above I  would take this as a valuable lesson and no one got hurt.  You kept your head made a snap judgement and got the job done.  I think I would ask myself what do you like about trade climbing?  If I were in your shoes I would get on an easy big multipitch that you know well and enjoy a relaxing day out enjoying the movement and some good climbing partners.  See if that clears your block and move on from there.

S2k 4life · · Baltimore · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 121
Nathan Z wrote: Sigh...

I'm really uninterested in talking about mistakes, as I have hashed this out with people who were actually there and could give real, valuable feedback. 

This is gr8

Its a public forum aka mp ofcoarse were gunna  talk about ur mistakes
 Dont be so naive..theres alot of ppl on here with lots of exp.( maybe more exp. Then the ppl u were with that day) ...after all you did post on here looking for something...

u posted a whole story on mp about your almost half of ur version of a head space epic
I mean u did the climb man nice work. Seriously thats a no joke climb...ive done her..my helmet fell off bout halfway up lol

But biggest takeaway for me was you shouldnt really be climbing 15 to 20feet above your last piece without knowing or seeing where ur next pro is gunna go.

If ur head game aint right just follow then...that is chilll af..probblems solved

I broke my foot , slashed my face n knee climbing a 14er in co (ellingwood ledges). Hiked out 7 miles on a broken foot. 3 months of healing n reflection kinda had me wondering if i would wanna get out there again. time  brought me to mid winter so after 3 months snowboarding,  i really wanted to get out there and top rope a couple climbs ...then led a 5.4 and it was like i never skipped a beat.

Everyones different, just gotta try different things ..Hop on that horse son.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195

Guys, we’re really getting off route with this discussion.

Brad G · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2007 · Points: 2,660

Getting off route is part of the game. It happens to everyone. With experience it’ll happen less and you’ll learn how to deal with it better when it does happen. I recommend building fitness. Trad is rad but don’t abandon gym and sport. Feeling strong up there will go a long way to keeping your head strait when you spot the correct line 100 feet down and to the right while your rope sways in the wind. Also, you’ve had your first scared shitless experience. It’s time to sell those tri cams to someone who hasn’t.

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

its the internet. you can't dictate where the thread goes....   once you start em they have a life of their own.....    

your first mistake was having tri cams on your rack. I don't know a single solid western climber who uses those things...

Off route baby.. Sounds like you climbed blindly into abyss and forged on hopeing  on a wing and a prayer that you would make it. Possibly to the tune of Go for it bra! you got this....   Totally happy for you that you made it though intact. 
 That falls into the category of shit I wouldn't do if I were you.   In the mountains or on any multi pitch gear route for that matter I never make a single move that I am not 100% certain that I can make. if I don't know where it goes I stop and figure that shit out!  part of that process is thinking where would I go if I was doing  the FA with crap gear and crap shoes 60 years ago???  when in doubt I down climb  or bail or whatever until I get back on track or find a way up that I know I can do.

As far as the head game goes heck, you did great! you kept your shit wired tight enough to not elvis leg off and you completed the climb.  Good Job! keep that in your quiver and   next time it gets spicy you can tell yourself that Heck, this ain't half as bad as that shit on the Petite Grepon! I got this thing! Or perhaps you look ahead this time  tell yourself that it looks squirly as Fck up there and I don't see the next gear... maybe I am getting off route??   It is good  experience to have under your belt..

Ps. Always look ahead and see where the next gear is... 

Jon Powell · · LAWRENCEVILLE GEORGIA · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 110

I got a hard catch that sent me crashing back into the wall. I broke my heel and 2 bones in my ankle. I spent 15 weeks in a cast from my knee to my toes. another 3 months strengthening my leg and walking again. Other than arthritis and the lost of some mobility in my ankle I recovered fine physically. What didn't  recover was my nerve. Its been 4 years and even though I still lead multi pitch gear routes I backed off the harder ones and started doing easy routes. Even single pitch sport routes freak me out while on lead if its pushing my skill level. Its extremely frustrating and I really do try and push through my fear. I guess Its some sort of ptsd. I head out truly believing I will overcome it and has soon as the climbing becomes difficult I freeze up. So frustrating. 

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Oh fer christs sake come on with the hard catch blaming the belayer crap. There is no gaurentee that falling is safe.  this whole concept that falling is a must do to be any good and is completely safe is fcking crazy.  yes if you want to climb 5.14 you will have to fall a bunch but there is no shortage of  boulderers and sport climbers with lower leg injuries.  The best way to not get hurt falling is to not fall. If you feel the need to push the limits and fall  a bunch accept that someday its going to hurt.. 

Ira O · · Hardwick, VT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 61

I think you should actually feel good about this experience.  You inadvertently pushed yourself way past your comfort zone and you performed well.... kept your cool and focus, and didn't fall. There are times in climbing where such things happen, and being able to deal with that shit is important. So next time you are on the sharp end and there is good protection, you will know that you got this and proceed confidently.  Just remember to read the route description! 

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,455
Nathan Z wrote: For those of you who have had an accident or a close call, how long did it take for you to get back in the game mentally?

For background, I've climbed sport casually for years, and can on-site sport up to around .10b in the Sierra. Around a year ago I followed on my first trad route and quickly became obsessed with multi-pitch trad. I climbed on gear most free weekends, and got comfortable leading 5.7 and 5.8 routes. I spent all my free time learning and practicing self-rescue, anchors, crack technique, etc. I spent all my free money on gear and my non-climbing friends got tired of me constantly talking about climbing.

In August, I went on a climbing trip with a couple buddies to CO. After a few days of amazing climbing, we did the south face of Petit Grepon (5.8, grade III). It was my turn to lead the 6th pitch, which the guidebook lists as 5.7. At some point after my 2nd piece (an acceptable but not perfect blue tricam), I got off route and was on much harder terrain. It felt like .10a/.10b climbing, and I wasn't able to place any gear for at least 30 feet. At one point, I looked down and realized that I was looking at a 60+ foot fall with potential to deck on the belay ledge if I pealed off. Assuming the blue tricam held.

Even though I've always known climbing can be dangerous, it was the first time it really sunk in that a mistake could kill me. I didn't fall. I ran it out 30+ feet on terrain at my on-site sport limit, and then kept climbing. I eventually got back on route and set up a belay (albeit way past the "pizza pan" belay station). I followed the last pitch, we topped out, rappelled down and hiked out. I'm actually pretty proud of myself for remaining relatively calm and not freezing up.

I haven't climbed since then (2 months). I want to take time and make sure I really want to do it before I get back onto the sharp end. I'm content focusing on other hobbies right now. But I really want to have that passion for climbing again. For other people who have had mental blocks, how long did it take you to mentally get back into climbing? Did anything help besides the tincture of time?

PS I'm not interested in talking about potential mistakes I made (eg route-finding), or possible knowledge gaps - I trust my partners who were there with me, and we talked about those issues quite extensively after topping out and during the days that followed.



Nathan Z · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 1
Matt Himmelstein wrote: Let's see, early in my career I took a huge whip on whodunnit and popped a piece.  We finished the route (though I was done leading forth the day) and I was back to leading shortly after.
I did Consolation in Tahquitz and took a whip, ending up upside down and smaked my head (with helmet) against the rock, ringing my bell a bit.  I pulled it together, led the pitch, and basically never stopped leading.
I went back to Whodunnit recently and whipped in the 1st pitch, getting a big thigh contusion.  My friend had to lead the pitch but we swapped leads for the rest of the day so I was back to leading right away.
I was climbing what I did not realize was an R/X in Josh, was yanking on a cam because I wasn't sure how solid it was (it wasn't), yanked it, popped my next piece and cracked bones in three toes.  I was back to leading the gym as soon as I could put pressure on the foot, and back to climbing as soon as my foot was feeling up to it.

So for some bad falls... it took me until the end of the day to get back into it, sometimes. Other times it was immediate, or at least as immediate as the injury allowed.  I have other times I have unintentionally run things out and gotten into no fall allowed situations.  It comes with the territory.  I assess situations as I am in them, try to make the best decisions at the time, learn for my errors, and move on.

You sound maybe just more badass than me haha. I've taken whippers previously and been relatively unphased (but also, uninjured haha). 

Jon Nelson · · Redmond, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 4,985

Nice write-up of the event Nathan.

I can recall having two close calls, one involving falling ice, and more recently with falling rock.
With the one with the rock, my feeling was that, from that day on, I was leading a free life in the sense that I can't complain anymore, I should just remind myself that I'm lucky to still be alive. Obviously, other people have not been so lucky.

So, the 'close call' you asked about didn't spook me from climbing again, it just made me feel grateful to be able to still climb (or do anything, for that matter). 

Nathan Z · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 1
FrankPS wrote: I would think that part of the head game or, mental block, is determining what caused it. (getting off route) And striving to correct that. Not sure what you hope to achieve here, if you don't want to address causes (getting off route), or already have. Start climbing again when you're ready. It's your decision; not anyone else's.

There is no magical time period where you will feel confident again.


I guess the reason I'm uninterested in the details of my mistakes (or less-than-perfect decisions) I made that day are this: Yes, I can now look back and see several things that could have better ensured my safety (better route-finding, downclimbing, etc). 

But I'm fallible. There will always be mistakes, no matter the level of experience - whether it's due to rushing, ignorance, bad luck, or just the nature of climbing - I will never be "perfect" and mistake-free. With more experience and more learning, these will decrease, but the possible outcomes when mistakes are made are potentially catastrophic. That's what I'm struggling with. I'm simply asking if other people have found strategies to combat this feeling.

Life is dangerous too. A simple mistake while driving could kill me too, but I shouldn't give up driving. Likewise, I don't want to give up climbing. I want to re-gain that passion, manage its risks, and get back to getting up high with my buddies.

ErikaNW wrote:It sounds like you’re getting really bogged down in the ‘what ifs....’ You pulled it together and finished the pitch without incident (nice job!) If that’s what it took for you to realize you can get seriously hurt or die climbing, then that is actually a good thing. You have to take that knowledge and figure out for yourself if it’s worth it. Route finding is part of alpine. If you decide you want to get back into it, maybe lead some pitches you’ve climbed before to get your head back - where route finding isn’t an issue. 
Drew Monaco wrote: As posted above I  would take this as a valuable lesson and no one got hurt.  You kept your head made a snap judgement and got the job done.  I think I would ask myself what do you like about trade climbing?  If I were in your shoes I would get on an easy big multipitch that you know well and enjoy a relaxing day out enjoying the movement and some good climbing partners.  See if that clears your block and move on from there.

That's actually a great point. I top-roped for a day a few weeks after Petit, but haven't gotten back onto the sharp end on something I'm familiar with and comfortable on.

Ted Pinson wrote: Guys, we’re really getting off route with this discussion.
Haha nice.

Brad G wrote: Getting off route is part of the game. It happens to everyone. With experience it’ll happen less and you’ll learn how to deal with it better when it does happen. I recommend building fitness. Trad is rad but don’t abandon gym and sport.
I had actually been doing a lot of laps on sport, circuits in the gym, etc, in preparation for the trip. I think it allowed me to make all the moves solidly, and I'm glad I didn't feel like I was totally pumped. I think it could have had a different ending if I weren't as physically prepared for the route.

Jon Nelson wrote:Nice write-up of the event Nathan.

I can recall having two close calls, one involving falling ice, and more recently with falling rock.
With the one with the rock, my feeling was that, from that day on, I was leading a free life in the sense that I can't complain anymore, I should just remind myself that I'm lucky to still be alive. Obviously, other people have not been so lucky.

So, the 'close call' you asked about didn't spook me from climbing again, it just made me feel grateful to be able to still climb (or do anything, for that matter).
That's a fantastic way to look at it. Thanks for the perspective. 
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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