Top 3 forms of climbing intimidation

To start this year I thought it best to talk about my fears when it comes to being successful on this journey. Fears can arise in various forms when it comes to committing to a route, a program, a person. Generally for me they propagate from a single point, much like a slab avalanche, generally consisting of intimidation.

In my experience there are three root causes of intimidation. Each has it’s own mechanisms of breaking you down to shy away from goals or pursue something that inspires you. That is what this whole topic comes down to, the fine line between inspiring and intimidating. Climbing dances that line on every level. What is important is how we process intimidation and channel it into something positive. It can’t work for everyone but for those that can convert intimidation into inspiration you can achieve great things. Or so I’m led to believe!

1) Standing in front of a climbing objective: The most obvious type of intimidation is found in the moments before you have committed to a climb. When you’re standing in front of a climbing objective that you aren’t sure you can do. This is the time when all of your fears most vividly flow in front of your eyes. It is really the best time for it; when you can objectively assess the risks (How is the gear, am I confident in my ability to send / not deck, will I deck?, do I trust this belayer, how is the rock, will I deck?, can I handle the runouts, how old is this rope?, will I deck?). I call this form of intimidation Legit.

Mitigation: Getting to the commitment stage means going through the process of transforming intimidation to inspiration. Once you have checked off all possible risks / questions / monsters as being acceptable level of risk you can fully commit to a climb. If any one of these questions remains unchecked it will linger in the back of your mind blocking you from giving 100% mental energy to the task of executing. Trying to accomplish something at the edge of your ability while only giving the remaining available 80% will never go in your favour. This process is hugely personal, don’t let it be informed by anything other than your own ambitions. Before you jump on a hard project you have to fully commit, to your strength, skill, and gear system.

2) People way out of your league: The world today is very different than in the 80’s (Obvious stated). With the growth of climbing comes climbers trained virtually from birth, a ton of marketing, easier access + communication in the mountains. What does this mean? There will always be tons of people far better than the majority of us (i.e. if you’re an average climber, 50% of the climbing population will be better than you. Math.). GoPro’s, sponsored climbers, crushers at your local crag, and full time dirtbags will continually demonstrate how amazing climbing 5.13b / V15 / WI6 is. I’ve spent my fair share of time on YouTube and climbing with people doing incredibly inspiring things. Depending on my mood (and the tone of the video / interaction) can take these feats of strength of body, mind, and character as inspiration or make me feel that I am so far away from what they are doing – “What is the point?”. This form of intimidation I call Self doubt. 

Tonsai Sport

Mitigation: Take a step back and realize that this person did not get to where they are by accident. Their accomplishments on any given day are a culmination of all the hard work and hard hours they have put into their craft. You can get their too, but it won’t be tomorrow. Focus on your short term game to succeed on the longer scale. To me nothing is more inspiring than watching someone climb at their limit whether that is 5.8 / V2 or 5.12. Working hard is what is inspiring the grades don’t matter. To me it means you are dedicating yourself to your craft and to self improvement.

3) Outside pressures: Most of us have a life outside of climbing, if you don’t I congratulate you on your dedication and wish you only the driest of days. The people that make up this life outside of our climbing crew will never understand how climbing a big wall isn’t hiking, and a run out on slab is way scarier then an overhang. There are inherent subtleties to the climbing psyche that inform our dedication to our sport. As such we have all heard the questions “Why do you do that?”, “Are you crazy?”, “What’s the point?”. Though there is never a firmly defined answer, it makes complete sense in each of our minds, until you try and explain it out loud. Mothers / fathers, girlfriends / boyfriends, sedentary friends, I have found to be more scared for me than I am. Fear of the unknown is all too common. Pressure to pair down, scale back, even exit this community will come up in different forms. Those closest to us understand how important it is to our being, identity, and sanity, outside of that “You’re crazy man”. To which we say proudly “I know right?!”. I call this form of intimidation Peer Pressure.


Mitigation: Take pride in the community, lifestyle, ethics, history, lessons of climbing culture. There is no better community to be a part of. I have always dismissed outside pressures to pursue something more common. We have our quarrels within the community (To bolt or not to bolt, boulderers vs. ropers) in the end I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Hopefully this includes when I have kids!

Now that you know how to overcome all forms of intimidation that comes with being a part of this community you can confidently stride into your next project with your eyes and heart focused on growth. What are your techniques for overcoming Legit, Self doubt, and Peer pressure intimidation? What other forms of intimidation to you come across in your climbing life?

2 thoughts on “Top 3 forms of climbing intimidation

  1. As a fellow alpinist-in-training, I think another major source of intimidation is all of the things that we simply don’t know. I was at a bouldering hall recently, and I was trying to figure out how you ‘do’ it – where the routes are, how they’re rated for difficulty, how to get from one hold to another, etc. I stood around for about an hour, tentatively climbing up willy-nilly here and there, and then I thought: I’m totally intimidated by how much more there is to learn. So I asked two guys who were doing the kind of stuff you see in bouldering competition videos, “can you explain this to me?” I expected them to crush my face between their ring and pinky fingers, or to stare at me in cool disdain, but they were totally excited to show me the ropes. Glad I got over that intimidating ignorance and asked for help.

    1. That’s great Lee. Great advice to simply accept and admit it- that seems to be the first step in overcoming it, know what’s happening. I’ve found the climbing community to be one of the most welcoming and helpful group of people. Everyone is stoked to see you work hard and complete your goals. Keep up the good work- stay in touch. I’d love to hear how your alpine goals come along and how you overcome intimidation in the mountains as well.

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