Life on the Rocks: A Tortoise on the Wall

Yesterday I tried out a new climbing gym with my family. In order to climb, we had to pass the belay test and also the bouldering test. The belay test was nothing new and I passed without issue, no surprise there. The bouldering test consisted of demonstrating a controlled fall and an uncontrolled fall. After watching my family complete the test I

dropping from a boulder

decided to skip it and not boulder. I am a newbie climber and the idea of falling still geeks me out. I only started falling from a boulder route last week….previously I would climb back down instead of allowing myself to drop from the wall. I just wasn’t ready to drop myself from the wall and fall onto the mat, landing on my back, arms flailed out to the side, the demonstration of an uncontrolled fall. I probably could have passed the controlled fall, as that one lands on your feet into a crouch with fists hitting the mat between your legs. I need to “practice” falling more to build my confidence before testing. This was the first gym that required a bouldering test…I was unprepared mentally for it.

While there, I attempted one climb, a 5.5. I bailed after about half way up the wall. I have bailed on every wall climb I have ever attempted in any gym. On the crag, I have never bailed. There is some mental block that creeps into my head when I’m climbing in a gymhalf-way-up that stifles my ascent, but for some reason, I can push past it outdoors. What is that all about?

When I come down from the wall, I am immediately disappointed with myself, not relieved that I’m on the ground. An hour or so later I want to try again but I don’t because I’m not convinced the attempt will not end in another bailout. Why does that even bother me?

Somehow I need to figure out a way to keep going. Do I need to just dangle in the air to strengthen my resolve? Do I need to initiate an announced and an unannounced fall to test my trust of the rope and my belayer? Do I need to dangle in the air and just rest and shake out my arms and legs? Am I physically tired? Am I afraid of something? If so, what am I afraid of? Falling? What am I not trusting? The rope? My family on belay? Myself? My body’s physical abilities? I still struggle with trusting my body in my weightlifting too.

I have always had a fear of heights but I started climbing because it looked like fun and I didn’t want my fears to prevent me from trying something new that I thought I’d enjoy. I also have a fear of falling that stems from a childhood experience. I have not yet taken a fall, planned or otherwise, on the rocks or the wall. Just writing this seems to resonate with me that maybe this is a necessary evil to progress past at least one mental block.

I also have not allowed myself to just dangle in the air. As a newbie climber, I’m like the

tortoise climbing a dirt pile

tortoise, slowly progressing in my efforts, but regressing into the safety of my shell when feeling threatened or unsafe. But if I want to continue to progress in my skill, and I do, I want to begin lead climbing, then I am going to have to emerge from the safety and comfort of my current abilities, stick my neck out and press forward.

Each time I have an opportunity to go climbing, I grab it. I know I need to continue to climb in order to improve. I actually begin jonesing when I haven’t climbed in a while. I know this block is in my mind, but it must be fairly deep because it continues to limit me. I just need to figure out how to create a deeper desire to complete a send, than the deepness of the fear that is holding me back.

tortoise climbing a garden wall

I am ok with progressing as a tortoise on the wall; I just need to learn how to more accurately assess what threats are real, and what threats are imagined. But to be honest, that is a relative assessment dependent upon the situation in which each tortoise experiences the journey of life, or climbing in this case.


(Images are from


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