Learning To Fall

With a lot of hard work the body can be radically altered, but the mind is a different story. Climbing the sheer limestone cliffs of Mallorca, Zofia Reych found that the physical challenges were far easier to overcome than the fear of falling to the sea below.

We were standing atop a 65ft limestone cliff. Below us was calm sea, dark-blue and opaque in the late afternoon sun. The Mallorcan heat had eased a little and we were eager for some more climbing. “Let’s go down and have a look at the routes”, said Sadie, her eyes full of anticipation and excitement. At Cala Sa Nau an easy downclimb grants access to two long routes but doesn’t provide a way out of the sea.

I didn’t want to say no, and I too was excited for the easy, albeit technical climbs. But however easy the routes, 65ft up above the sea I just couldn’t trust myself not to get scared. What if my legs start trembling and I fall to the cool water below? Most likely nothing bad would happen. I’d have to swim all the way to the nearest water exit, some 600ft to the left, and that would be it.

But I could also gulp salty water, choke, and need help. Sadie would have to jump off and haul me in. Speaking from experience, it’s no easy job to haul a drowning person and the outcome is rather uncertain.

The thoughts raced through my head and I wanted to ignore them. Just an hour ago we were trying a shorter, but much harder route; Sadie blasted it on her second go and I kept falling from the edge of a small roof some 40ft above the water. The first time it was a bit scary, my moves on the route restricted by fear, but then the falls became almost pleasant. That’s the essence of deep water soloing, or as Spanish people call it, psicobloc. Pull moves as hard as possible on what is essentially a sport climb. Try as hard as you can and fall in the water if it doesn’t work. No harness, no rope, pure fun. But before you can savour the fun, you have to do away with the fear.

Some people are naturally brave, some are not. I’m definitely not. You’d think that it’s what keeps me safe, but it’s exactly the opposite. Making rational decisions on what’s risky and what’s not, we can avoid pushing it too far. Looking at the easy, 65ft long climbs below us, I knew I was fit enough, but I also knew that I haven’t yet beaten the fear and it was precisely what could make me fall. If we had a boat, I’d risk it, knowing that screwing up would have no consequences. But we had no boat, nobody waiting there to make sure a fall was safe, and the nearest water exit was far away.

“How about we go to the next crag and check out some lower routes?” I suggested after a few moments of hesitation. I glimpsed a brief look of disappointment on Sadie’s face, but a second later she smiled and we went on to climb a route that was slightly harder but 15 ft shorter.

Fitness is not everything and I find it harder to train my head than my body, although crossing mental barriers is probably even more fun. I certainly have loads to cross! Next year I’ll be stronger and the Mallorcan challenges will be even bigger, but I think we’ll find ourselves a boat.

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