Climbing: Dealing With the Shock of Real Rock

You spent the winter climbing in the gym, and now its time to crank hard at the crags outside, right? For many climbers who hit the cliffs for the first time in warmer weather, though, it sometimes feels that all that indoor training just doesn't pay off.

But before you get discouraged, try to remember that rock climbing outside brings a lot more into play than indoor climbing, both mentally and physically.

From route and sequence finding to overgripping scary--and sometimes dangerous--clips to performance anxiety, climbing outdoors is a much more complicated game than its indoor counterpart.

To help ease you back into the shock of real rock, try out some of the following tips. Keep in mind that these tips are for rock climbers who are already experienced on the rock not first-timers to the outdoor realm (who should take a lesson first).

Take it Easy

Start out leading two number grades below your gym ability. If you're doing traditional climbing, try dropping three or four grades. This may seem self-defeating but for your first few climbs of the season climbing outside should not be about the difficulty of the climb rather retraining your mind to handle the mental aspects of being outdoors: loose rock, longer fall potential, run-out sections with scanty gear and the like.

Remember that no matter how easy it has become for you to fall in the gym, falling outside is always scarier than falling inside. Thus it will take you a while to get to the point where youll be comfortable pushing your limits outside again. You don't want to start out by taking a ton of frightening plummets, but rather by regaining your sense of the rock.

Cushion your transition by letting your mind and body readjust to problem solving on real rock before you jump in and climb routes that are near your physical limit. This provides you the opportunity to remember what it's like to find your own path, particularly for your feet.

Remember that outdoors the holds aren't as obvious. There are no "red" or "blue" routes and you won't find your fingers automatically grasping the sweet spots like those familiar gym holds. Part of the fun of outdoor climbing is figuring out where the route goes.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Before you head out for the day, give yourself permission to try your hardest, but also to realize that if it's an off day, you can laugh it off and not let it ruin your attitude or your partners day. Yes, it's outdoor climbing, and it may "matter" more to you than your performance indoors. Nonetheless, its still only rock climbing, and its only one day out of many that you will spend outside this season.

You can certainly spend some time analyzing the aspects of your climbing that are holding you back, but dont do this in a self-deprecating fashion. Simply observe them and try to make yourself aware of them on your next climb.

Staying cheerful and steering clear of comments like, "Im so weak," and "I suck at climbing" will make you more pleasant to be around. In addition, when you tell yourself negatives repeatedly, you might actually start to believe them.

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