24. The Mental Game of Big Walling

In this video we discuss the mental aspects of climbing big walls.  A common phrase you may hear about aid climbing big walls is “wig balling”. This phrase is used to convey the mental breakdown a climber may suffer during multiple days in “the Twilight Zone.”

Our CTT Athlete and AMGA certified rock guide, David Lane, recalls venturing onto his first serious aid route, and how he felt mentally frazzled at the end.  

He had concentrated so hard and endured many terrifying moments in succession on that journey. He even went off-route, because he was afraid, and couldn’t bear the thought of having to climb where the route went.

But at the end of that dead road, he put it in reverse, sucked it up, and got back on the right path.

Wall climbing is not for the weak minded, nor the faint of heart. Fortunately, there are walls of all sizes and difficulties, where the level of commitment and your technical expertise are an appropriate match.

Below are a few considerations to help climbers approach the mental game of big walling:

1. Choose your routes according to skill level.

2. Work through the grades, and advance to the next level only after you feel confident in your experience at the lower levels.

3. Be patient. Know that it will take years to gain experience and to build a solid foundation. Without that foundation you will find yourself in the deep end, unable to swim.

4. Relax. Understand that it will be hard, and have confidence that you are prepared (so long as you are). Most of all, you are setting out to have fun, or at least a good experience.

5. Be mindful that success comes in many forms. To some it may be standing on the summit. To others, it may be simply completing a pitch in a timely manner. It also could be focusing on maintaining a neat and organized climb, you and your partner operating together like a finely tuned Swiss watch.

6. Be safe. Whether you completed the objective or swam for shore shortly after setting sail, there’s something to be said for being alive. Success may mean celebrating on the top, or rapping back to the base with your tail tucked between your legs—but able to fight another day.

Prepare yourself, for it is a wild ride full of highs and lows. If an intrepid explorer set out already knowing the outcome of his adventure, why would he go at all? Have fun, be safe, and enjoy the ride!

We hope you found this video helpful. Feel free to comment below with questions or thoughts!


Please remember, climbing is inherently dangerous. Climb at your own risk.