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Regaining Confidence After a Fall

Last year I took a groundfall while trad climbing, which resulted in a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae. I hope to use this experience to b...

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Last year I took a groundfall while trad climbing, which resulted in a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae. I hope to use this experience to become a safer climber with a stronger mind. I’ve just started climbing again, but am nowhere near my level before the fall. Fear is now by far my biggest inhibitor. How can I regain confidence and eventually become a stronger climber?

—Carolyn Waters | Marblemount, WA

The toughest period in my entire climbing career was coming back after taking a groundfall on Meshuga (E9 or 5.13a X) in the U.K. and unrepeated at the time. I had hit my head and knocked myself out. A year later the climb was still unrepeated and my fall had only added to the route’s notorious reputation. Having completed the process described below, I later stood below Meshuga and asked myself if I felt ready. I sent it and since then haven’t looked back. I went on to climb an E10 the following year.

Drop your grade and build back up. The secret is to enjoy every minute of this process and not see it as a chore. Go to new areas and climb all of the easy classics. Build a pyramid of redpoints starting with a wide base of easier grades before you move up a level. Climb with different partners and remind yourself how good it feels to cruise routes of a variety of styles on different types of rock. Build trust in your ability not to fall. Place gear at the base of the crag and weight it. No need to jump into the deep end and take whippers. Only push on to harder routes when it feels right. Listen to that inner voice and don’t let anyone else dictate the pace. Success comes from mileage. Eventually, your confidence will return.

When you are ready you could set up some test falls on an appropriate route (steep, with no ledges and bomber gear). Make sure your partner knows how to belay dynamically. Of course you should only do this if your doctor or physical therapist has given you the OK. If this still feels too daunting, do the same thing on an indoor route first.

Carolyn, you have every chance of making the comeback and reaching beyond your previous level, and I’m sure you will.