Rock Climbing for People Who Are Afraid of Heights

Tips for Overcoming Fear of Heights

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Many beginning climbers say they're afraid of heights, and that's normal. 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, while it might seem to be a problem, actually helps keep you safe when you’re climbing.

Understand the Safety System

In most cases, a fear of heights comes from a sense of being unsafe.  But the reality is that a proper climbing safety system protects you from the possibility of a fall. 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, helps to protect you from the dire consequences of falling. Get to know your safety system, and it will be much easier to begin to let go of that fear of heights.

To increase your sense of security, it can be helpful to test out your safety system without climbing more than a few feet. Tie in at just a few feet above the ground, and let yourself go. Experience the security your harness, rope, and belayer can provide!

Take Baby Steps

Some novice climbers start at the top of a tall cliff and freeze, but it's much wiser to start with 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. Now that you know you're safe, you can start climbing at a level that's comfortable for you. Remember that you are under no obligation to respond to others who encourage you to climb higher: climbing is not a competitive sport for novices.

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 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 in charge of your own experience. If you start to feel afraid because 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 classic advice always given to beginners who say 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.