Sick and shaky on the sweet and secure? Then it’s time to shrink your noggin.
Keeping your wits, and body, intact
Why do I sometimes feel confident high above a row of tiny pieces, half a mile off the deck, and other times reach peak pucker factor with my shoe laces still threatening to tangle with my last bomber placement? Why do I get the shakes one day on toprope, and another day can stand quietly on a dime edge 10 feet above my last piece? After watching my abilities pendulum so wildly, I have found the following points help me consistently find my ideal wild-climb lead head.Dial your style. Perhaps the single most important ingredient in cultivating a solid lead head — and a great way to avoid disastrous encounters with gravity — is to be consistent with risk-taking. To be consistent, force yourself to place gear close to the ground, near your belayer, or any other time a fall could have ugly results, even if the climbing is easy. Then steel yourself to be bold when the fall is clean, the climbing hard, and the protection solid. If you regularly find yourself comfortable with minimal protection on a moderate climb, and then whimpering near good protection on a hard lead, you are dangerously out of tune with the actual risk you’re taking. Decide how truly hard and dangerous a climb is — then act accordingly. If you’re finding a supposedly safe climb to be dangerous, you may be missing something, off route, or placing dubious gear where better pro could be found. If a dangerous pitch feels too scary for you, it probably is. Humble, honorable retreat is usually the best option. Take flight. Taking practice falls not only trains your mind to embrace going for it, it teaches your body how to respond to sudden flight. If I’m feeling shaky after some time away from climbing, or after months without falling, I often take a few lobbers — in a safe place, with at least 50 feet of rope out to ensure a soft fall, and with backup protection up the wazoo. Get down with down climbing. There are many places where a fall would be serious, so at your local crag, force yourself to down climb and rethink a section rather than just hanging on the nearest bolt or cam. Down climbing on lead at well-bolted sport crags is perfect for training your mind to be comfortable with climbing in and out of hard sequences. Most solid trad climbers can down climb up to about a number grade below their onsight limit, and many make down climbing part of their warm-up routine.Recharge and fire. It’s hard enough to do a difficult trad lead when you’re highly motivated. If you’re there because you feel you should do it, it’s next on your list, you want to impress someone, or for any other reason besides the fact that you just want to, you’re unlikely to perform at your best or safest. Oftentimes, just stepping down and waiting a few minutes is all it takes to find a healthy motive. I have given up leads to my partners while I recharge, and also taken over leads to give my partner time to rejuvenate. If you don’t let pride get in the way, you’ll be proud later.