Radio interviewees needed for MSc project - fear in climbing

Hi all,

I’m finishing up my MSc in Science Communication this year, and as part of it I’m putting together a short radio documentary on fear in climbing. Would anyone be willing to be interviewed about a time they have been really scared during a climb? In particular, times that have been genuinely risky/dangerous, and getting through has required controlling the fear response. I would be interested in the lead up to that point, then the emotional and physical response to the situation, thought processes, and what you did to get through it.

I will also be interviewing an academic on the biology of fear, and the different fear responses, and I have interviewed Hazel Findlay for a coach’s perspective on ways to combat these. I just need some thoughts from someone (apart from me) who has experienced it.

The interview shouldn’t take longer than 20mins, and it would be over zoom/some other video messaging. I would record just the audio.

Message me if you’re available and happy to be involved!


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I think I can help you out here…


Unfortunately, every time I’ve been scared I’ve been completely safe with good gear nearby or a bolt with little/no risk of a ground fall.

Fear is not (usually) a rational response to our situation though. Pesky amygdala

There are IMO two types of fear:

Unjustified fear: you have good gear/bolt and are actually safe. This makes you climb worse

Justified fear: if you fall you’re actually going to hurt yourself a lot. This - in my experience - makes you climb better. Because you have to.

There is also: absent fear - you SHOULD have been scared, because then you would have been more sensible and wouldn’t be typing this with a broken leg.


True, oh wise and unfortunately knowledgeable one

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What I’m taking from this:

To climb your best you need to be a) in legitimate danger and b) be scared about it.

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You need to find that line, and get verrrry close to it.

That’s certainly not a recipe that works for me! To climb well I need to be focusing on climbing and not have any thoughts of fear or anything else crowding my head. There isn’t room in that zone for other things. Whether I’m in danger or not, I climb badly when I’m scared.

This definitely isn’t because I don’t get unjustifiable fear; it’s that when I get scared of things I dont really make that clinical decision as to whether I’m being rationally afraid or not. To the extent that I might persuade myself to continue upwards in unjustifiable fear, whereas in justifiable fear my main focus will be on finding a way out of the danger, I can tell when I’m really in the sh*t or not, but I don’t think it significantly impacts the quality of my climbing.


I’ve been asked to contribute to this and, thinking about it, the times when I was most terrified were nearly all sport climbs quite early in my climbing career. None of the Alpine routes, not too many trad routes i.e. few of the ‘rational’ occasions when fear would have been fully justified. Perhaps because sport climbing is thought of as ‘safe’ there’s less mental preparation for being scared than there would be on a trad route, and you are more vulnerable to being surprised by fear? Or perhaps it was just inexperience at dealing with that fear.

Or perhaps I just hate Portland.

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I’ve always found it quite a different mental state to try a move I’m 90% certain I’ll fall off (which is basically where you’ve got to be on sport at your limit) but in safety versus a move there’s a 5% chance I’ll fall off and it could have serious consequences. I’ve seen the same in quite a few people - being good at one doesn’t always carry across that well to the other. Different kind of boldness…

Richard, I don’t think I actually disagree with you except in very unusual circumstances.

I definitely climb by best when I have flow and am ‘in the zone’. Normally I get flow when I’m climbing super well in part because I’m not afraid and have no thoughts of falling.

What I mean about ‘real fear’ has only happened to me about 3 times - in what the Americans call ‘clutch moments’, where it’s absolutely make or break. I’m talking: bouldering on my own in Font and realising I’ve gone way past my pad and if I don’t make this dynamic jug move I will break my ankle on those tree roots. Or realising I’ve just kicked my nut clean out of the crack on the bold section of The Plum, and I look down and realise that if I fall I will quite possibly die from this height given what I’m likely to hit (and if not, it’s two broken legs).

When I’ve been in those situations - only a handful of times - it’s jacked me into the most intense flow state I’ve ever had and I’ve executed perfectly, almost without being fully aware of what is happening; sort of observing myself make the moves.

It’s a rare thing, and it’s not something to chase. I sort of see it as the hidden 6th gear the brain accesses when the chips are really down. I can’t artificially induce it, that’s for sure, and I’m pretty sure it won’t last for more than the absolute minimum amount of time required. I remember when I was able to get the good holds and plug gear again on the Plum, I was a jibbering wreck as soon as the gear went in.

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Hazel Findlay talks a lot about the flow state. I’ve read a bit about it and the mix of elements that contribute; I’ve certainly been in flow states when I’ve done some of my hardest climbs, but also I’ve come close to the ‘fear’ zone on the same climb (from being pumped at the crux).
That’s the line for me, knowing how hard I can push myself while still maintaining control (and enjoying it)

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oooh, lots of replies.

it might actually be good for a few responses, if anyone has a spare 10mins, and fancies recording their most scared experience (just on a phone), I’d love to hear about it.

How did it feel (heart rate, sweaty hands, etc)? what was the situation? how did you bring yoursef out of it.

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My experience was last year with a climbing coach friend (my RCI trainer in fact). He was on a static line next to me when I got the fear, and helped talk me through it. So kind of cheating really as it wasn’t all down to me that I recovered and onsighted the damn thing in fits of giddyness :smiley:

Oooooh silly me, the now infamous Dream with @PaulSagar - I had the fear big time there!! That would be more appropriate for your topic I think, and it’s always fun to recount that story

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Yeah that really was scary. I was genuinely scared i was going to have to leave you there and go back to the hut on my own.

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“I can’t see anything! I can’t feel any holds! Paul?! Paul?!..”

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I think i need to hear about this incident!!

It was reported in the Spring newsletter 2019, I’ll send it to you :slight_smile:

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