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How Can I Rock Climb if I’m Afraid of Heights?

By

Layton Kor rappels off Kor's Kastle in western Arizona.

You're going to get big air under your feet sometimes when you're climbing and rappelling. It's okay to be afraid of heights. We all are. Just don't let that fear rule you.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Question: How Can I Rock Climb if I’m Afraid of Heights?
Answer:

“I’m afraid of heights” is one of the most common fears encountered by climbers, especially beginners. The fear of heights and high places is a natural human fear. We’re hard-wired to be afraid of heights for self-preservation. We instinctively know that if we fall from a high place that the result is not going to be good. That fear of heights, however, keeps you alive when you’re climbing.

Understand the Safety System

Overcoming a fear of heights is one of the biggest climbing challenges for lots of people. Often times that fear comes from an ignorance of the climbing safety system. Once you understand that every precaution we take as climbers, including tying into the rope, clipping the rope to anchors in the rock, and using belay devices to hold the rope and safeguard a climber, is to protect you from the dire consequences of falling then the novice climber is able to begin to let go of that fear of heights.

Take Baby Steps

Take baby steps if you are afraid of heights when you’re rock climbing. Check your tie-in knot, usually the figure-8 follow-through knot, and make sure it’s tied correctly. Check your top-rope anchor using the acronym SECURE to make sure it’s safe and sturdy. Check your belayer to make sure that the rope is loaded correctly through the belay device and that he is alert and watching you. Then let go of that fear and start climbing.

Build Tolerance by Climbing Higher

You can build a tolerance for heights by climbing only as high as you feel comfortable. For some beginners that I take out with Front Range Climbing Company, that may be only 20 feet above the ground. If you are afraid of heights, try to climb higher each time that you go climbing. That way you learn that you’re safe whether you’re 50 feet or 500 feet above the ground. Just remember, however, that you are the boss of you. If you get afraid because you feel that you’re too high up, then ask your belayer to lower you back to the ground.

Don’t Look Down!

Lastly, if you’re afraid of heights, follow the advice that I always give beginners who tell me that they’re afraid of high places—Don’t Look Down! The amazing thing is that it actually works. If you climb enough, you will probably get over your fear of heights and you will begin to relish the eagle’s eye views that you find high on cliffs and mountains.

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