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Conquer Your Fear of Heights: Overcoming Mental Blocks in Top Rope Climbing

Updated: Apr 26

If this title caught your attention because you identify with having a fear of heights, you’re not alone. Many people and climbers fear heights and must dedicate time and energy to conquering their fear and overcoming the mental blocks that come with it. Even the most seasoned climbers may feel their heart rate spike when climbing a 90-foot outdoor route. Fear is a 100% natural human option. It keeps you safe and helps you determine the level of risk associated with a given activity. But, it can be frustrating when it leads to mental blocks in your climbing. How do you overcome the seemingly paralyzing feeling of looking down and seeing the ground far below you? The good news is it’s 100% possible to conquer your fear and achieve your rock climbing goals. The rest of this article will hone in on how to do just that through the lens of a top-rope climber. You may also experience fear when bouldering and leading, but the strategies discussed are applicable and translatable across the climbing disciplines.



How to Overcome Height Fear in Top Rope Climbing


Overcome your fear of heights and tackle top rope climbing with confidence. Learn proven strategies to conquer your mental blocks in this comprehensive guide.


1. Identify the Level of Risk You’re Facing

A fear of heights is the number one culprit to over-amplifying the danger you face. Stop and run through a checklist in your head when the fear ramps up. Are you climbing with a trusted belayer? Did you do your safety checks before climbing? Is the rope anchored safely (if indoors, gyms have staff dedicated to routinely checking their safety)? Are my rope and harness in good condition (gym staff routinely check the integrity and quality of their top rope stations and harnesses)? 


If the answer to every question above is yes (it should be if you are practicing proper climbing and safety procedures), then you can reassure yourself that you have done everything in your control to make the situation as safe as possible. By doing this, you are taking the power away from the fear, which loves irrational thought processes, by countering it with logic.



2. Count Yourself Down

If you get to a move up high on top rope that illicitly increases levels of fear, ask for a take. Then, when ready, give yourself a countdown from 3 or 5. You have to commit to trying the move when you get to one. This may mean half-heartedly pulling on your first attempt. But keep trying the move with the countdown until you can confidently make it. If possible, have your belayer do the countdown, as you’re more likely not to move if you are counting yourself down. By counting down, you are tricking your mind into thinking about the control you have over when you make the move. If you’re tired, pumped, and overwhelmed by the fear, you will feel out of control. Stopping and trying the scary part controlled helps calm your nerves and build confidence in your ability to try hard at a nerve-racking height. 



3. Practice Falling with Varying Degrees of Slack in The Rope

Important: Please only do this with a trusted and experienced belayer. 


The fear of heights often comes from the fear of falling high above the ground. Even though you are secured with a harness and rope when top-roping, the fear of falling and hitting the ground is likely still in your mind. This will stop you from trying hard or committing to moves where you think there’s a chance you won’t stick to the move. The best way to overcome that fear is to practice falling. Start with taking announced/planned baby falls. With time, ask your belayer to put a little extra, but safe amount, of slack in the rope before you take a fall so you can feel what a more significant fall may feel like. When top-roping, you shouldn’t take massive falls, but feeling comfortable with a further fall will make a slight fall feel insignificant. 


The last part of this strategy is communicating to your belayer that you will intentionally fall without communicating when. This helps you build deeper trust with your belayer and simulate a realistic situation while giving your mind a sense of control over the situation. 


Stopping and listing off the actual risk, giving yourself countdowns on the wall, and taking practice falls are three of the simplest but most effective strategies to conquer your fear and overcome mental blocks when top-roping. The more you implement these strategies, the faster you’ll conquer your fear. But, be careful of comparing your progress to others as every climber is different, and for some, overcoming a fear of heights is a faster process than it is for others (due to various reasons unique to each individual, their personality, and their life experiences). Give yourself grace and be proud that you are taking steps to conquer and overcome what is holding you back from achieving your highest potential in climbing. 


Comment below which strategies you find the most useful and which, if any, have helped!

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