How to Fall in Rock Climbing | Dirtbag Darling
Climb 101: Falling Down Without Falling Apart
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Brooke Gaynes suggests using falling instead of freaking out over it; Photo by Brandon Scherzberg

This is a guest post by Dirtbag Darling Ambassador Brooke Gaynes.


I’m desperately clutching a nearly non-existent crimper, and the next decent hold is nowhere in sight. Standing on some chossy jibs, seven feet above the last bolt, my hands are sweaty, my leg starts shaking, and every damn sloper I frantically try to grope does nothing for me. “Shit, shit, shit,” I repeat under my breath, as I fumble for something, ANYTHING, out to the side. “Falling! FALLING!” I shout. John, the most attentive belay partner I know, catches the fall. Shaky, body drenched in sweat, arms cramped, feeling ready to sob, and only 40 feet off the ground, I want to come down.


In reality, I only fell 14-15 feet, and barely scraped my legs. I’ve taken worse falls. What happened? The past few weeks, I have found myself thinking about my psychological hurdles that makes falling much worse than it needs to be. I hope that as I focus on execution of maneuvers, commit to moves, and accept that falling is part of challenging myself, that I can beat the psychological game to wiping out.


The anticipation of falling terrifies me. Anticipating (and dreading) a fall is much more psychologically painful than a surprise fall. As we get into the flow of our activity—skiing, surfing, mountain biking—we focus on our maneuvers, and let go of fear. I’m working on focusing on execution, instead of focusing on the likelihood of a tumble.  When we lose ourselves in “the moment,” we aren’t calculating bail options, the likelihood of falling, or the consequences. Anticipate success instead of anticipating failure.


As we anticipate success, we commit to following through on the crux/rock garden/ cliff we are tackling. My commitment issues give me a lot of problems. I’m not talking about bailing on meeting a friend at the climbing gym; I’m talking about that huge berm I bailed on last night (hello bruises). Bailing out at the last moment often leads to bigger consequences than a natural fall. Commit. Plan your moves, and confidently follow through.


Don't look down! Anticipating a fall can be scarier than a fall itself; Photo courtesy of Brooke Gaynes

Don’t look down! Anticipating a fall can be scarier than a fall itself; Photo courtesy of Brooke Gaynes


I’ll be honest—I like to be in control. I think most of us do. It’s easy to choose a controlled environment instead of a challenging environment. When we are challenged, sometimes we lose control. When we lose control, sometimes we fall. Is that really so terrible? Sometimes I wonder how much I am really growing when I’m not challenged. If I haven’t taken a spill on my bike in a week or two, I almost start to worry. Am I really becoming a better skier when I’m choosing powder bowls instead of couloirs with mixed snow conditions? Am I becoming a better rider when I take the easy trail home from work? Am I becoming a better partner when I gloss over issues in my relationship? Growth often requires challenges, and challenges often entail falling.


Getting back on the bike after a nasty tumble can be daunting. Learning to trust our abilities after falling can be hard. I never like to end the day after taking a big spill. If possible, I like to take a few breaths, and get back on the rope/skis/board/bike and try again. It can be psychologically damaging (for me at least) to end the day after shattering my confidence. We all fall. We wipeout on jumps, screw up interviews, take whippers at the crag, burn pies, break bones, and get dumped. Falling is part of the adventure— it’s part of life. After taking a good fall, it’s important to learn to trust ourselves again. As we continue to grow and challenge ourselves, we make mistakes. Epic ones sometimes. Falling on my bike teaches me that I CAN get back up from my mistakes and trials in life. Next time I find myself on the side of the trail, dusting off my knees, picking rocks and twigs out of a fresh wound, and looking in the bushes for my sunglasses, I’m going to try to take a moment and feel grateful for another opportunity to grow.


Read more from Brooke HERE!


2 Comments to Climb 101: Falling Down Without Falling Apart
  1. Whenever I’m in a spot where I don’t know what my next move should be I try to figure out a move, let my belayer know I might fall, and commit to it. That way if I stick the move I’ll have pushed myself, but if I fall I’ll know I’ve put in my best effort.
    Of course this is way easier said than done, but that’s always the plan.
    I think I need to practice falling on purpose so that I get used to the feeling of it.

  2. Great post. I’m realizing it would be good for me to even “practice” falling by taking some lead falls in the gym. Sometimes it’s SO hard to let go. I’m hoping that by getting used to the feeling in a slightly more controlled environment, I might be more comfortable with it in the mountains.



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