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The Mindset of Deep Water Soloing

The Mindset of Deep Water Soloing

journal
Tim Howell
October 2017 | Read
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Deep water soloing makes me push myself harder than any of the other climbing disciplines.  The fear of the fall, the cold British waters, jellyfish, wet shoes or a red-raw back motivates and gives me the appetite to finish the route.  These are always in the back of my mind, but once I’m focused on the rock, I can climb freely and in relative safety without ropes.  The water is a fine line between being a safety net that urges you to climb higher, and at the same time making you dread falling, as you realize it could mean hitting the water uncontrollably onto your back from 10 metres and being winded underwater.

I often get to a certain height where I reach a deciding point. Do I stay determined and put everything I have into it, gaining height and the fixation of the final hold?  Or do I subconsciously abandon the send and look for a way out?  If the doubt creeps in, knowing the crux is above me my effort decreases and I focus on a controlled fall.  I'll either top out or the lactic acid in my forearms will build to an unmanageable level where my fingers slowly uncurl from a hold.  I've pushed it as far as I could, and now I'm just hoping for an Olympic style entry into the frigid water below.

The lactic builds

My first taste of DWS was in Thailand on the incredible limestone karsts.  I was with a strong climber who was redpointing 8as, but froze on a 6b.  Then on my last DWS session in Portland unencumbered by ropes, bad belaying and clipping, I climbed with someone who onsighted her hardest route to date.  It goes to show the mental effect that deep water soloing can have on you, with the balancing act between the fall and embracing the safety net of the water. 

We traversed our climb, the traverse being a route in itself, giving a suitable warm up for the overhanging limestone to come.  A seal pops his head though the deep blue water, playful and inquisitive.  The marine wildlife all around, jellyfish below give an incentive not to fall while the barnacles give enough friction on greasy smears impossible without. 

I start up the overhanging wall contorting my body into shapes I don't want to fall off in.  Thoughts run to my back impacting the water, as I place a heel hook above my head.  Soon my mind just focuses on the climb.  As my mindset changes, my climbing gets better; the barrier is not physical but mental.

The overhanging wall

I reach for the final hold and hope the mantel won't be the crux of the route.  Making a manoeuvre like this at the height of the climb could surely see me enter the water in the most uncomfortable manner.  It could either be a climb that you top out or one that you jump back into the water, but there is always a sigh of relief when I finish the route dry.  I can now relax, and enjoy the prime view from above, watching my friends go through the same struggle I did.  At least they have the beta now.

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Written By
Tim Howell

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