Don’t Fall Mode

If there is one dream I have, it is to simultaneously hold down a respectable job and travel the world climbing.  Mike Doyle is living my dream.  He has spent the last couple of years on the road, working his IT job remotely and climbing at some of the best areas across the world.  Recently he was in Hueco working Right Martini (V12?) among other problems.  After putting in some work to refine his beta and get back into bouldering shape, he finally put it all together (emphasis mine):

On my next try I felt good going through the roof, moved my feet well and set up for the throw. Concentrating on the left hand and right foot I launched for the hueco and stuck it! It was the first time I had held that hueco from the beginning. I quickly moved my feet up and noticed a change in my mindset. It wasn’t a conscious change, it was more of an instinctual change that I was aware of. One moment I wasn’t fully committed to success or failure of the problem, had I fallen I would have just rested a little and tried again, then all of a sudden I was in “Don’t Fall Mode”, a mental state I get into in competitions or after pulling the crux of a hard route. In “Don’t Fall Mode” everything slows down; breathing is rhythmic, foot placements are precise and calculated, each grain of a handhold is felt and my field of vision narrows. I don’t really know how to explain it, or how to always recapture it but I was aware of the change. In fact I think many of the worlds top climbers can get into this ‘mode’ from the ground, something I’m not very good at. It’s difficult to always “Try Hard”, especially when on vacation.

This idea of Don’t Fall Mode (DFM) brings up a concept that I was never very good at grasping.  In those moments when most people would go into DFM, I usually plummeted into what I will call Must Fall Mode (MFM).  MFM is the exact opposite of DFM.  While in the grips of MFM I stop breathing, my heart pumps wildly, my hands sweat, my mind races and before I even realize what is happening I am hanging on the rope or sitting on the pad.

I can think of several examples where I went into MFM, most notably back in 2001 when I fell off after the crux of Burnt Beans and Coffee (5.12c/d) at the Wild Iris several times before sending.  Problem being…there was at most 10 feet of easy climbing after the crux.  On a positive note, despite flirting with MFM on my redpoint of Whiskey-a-go-go (very soft 5.13a) I managed to hold out long enough to send. Unfortunately, my lungs burned for days from holding my breath for basically the entire route. Also, Hugs n Kisses at HP40 is a boulder problem that I normally would have fallen off of after the crux.  I made it past the hardest moves only to find my lower body corkscrewing around while I held on to the upper slopers for dear life.  By some miracle from on high, combined with the sheer will of my spotter, I managed to hold MFM at bay to hang on and send.

I’m wondering if others have had more experience with Don’t Fall Mode or Must Fall Mode.  Please share your stories of either kind below.

Posted In: Bouldering, Climbing Websites, From The Narc
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6 Responses to Don’t Fall Mode

  1. jacob March 12, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    i recently had an encounter with this don’t fall mode that you’re talking about. i’ve always heard people saying that you just need to try hard. well, that never made any sense to me, i always thought that i tried hard. i guess that i was wrong. working an old project, trying the elusive topout, i mentally seemed to narrow my focus and told myself that i was not going to fall or drop off. this somehow translated to me digging deep and pulling harder than i’ve ever pulled before. everything did slow down and i was totally aware of my breathing and the lichen on the scrubbed but still dirty holds. the only thought on my mind was that next edge with the perfect middle finger divot. the don’t fall mode was the key to unprecedented focus and that ounce of extra strenght. i think that all of us, as climbers, can relate. i constantly feel like i try and try and try but ive never really tried until that day. connecting the mental with the physical is the crux of every climb.

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  2. note: mfm has an alias, it is OS mode.  for some, this is misunderstood to mean ‘on-sight mode’ though in reality it means ‘OH SHIT! mode’, which can have the same result as on-sight mode:  survival grappling and clawing to the top.

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  3. Climbing Narcissist March 12, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    I like that.  OS mode is a good way to summarize the feelings you have when you know you can send something yet blow it anyhow…and sometimes you will pull it out of your ass.

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  4. Kevlar March 12, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    I think sometimes you get DFM because your completely sketched about your last clip or you dont want to fall off the top of your boulder problem!

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  5. Ben March 12, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    For me, DFM occurs pretty often when I’m leading sport near my limit.  My conscious mind kind of shuts off and I start making the moves as if by instinct. If someone asks me for beta after I flash a hard route, I’ll often have no clue because I wasn’t really thinking about the moves as I did them.

    On the flip side I’ll go into MFM whenever I realized I am, or could be, fucked in some way. If I realize my hands are crossed, I am dangerously high above my last piece of pro, or maybe this heel hook isn’t a good idea without my spotter moving the pad… I’ll go into MFM. My conscious mind starts screaming at me, I start over gripping, my hands feel sweaty, and if I am able to pull through the move it ends up taking 10x the energy compared to being in DFM.

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  6. gabor March 12, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    for me its pretty wierd.. when i redpoint i go into the DFM, but on onsights or flashes its usually the opposite. i get really nervous and i epic on the easy moves, get really pumped, then fall. its happened so many times now, so annoying!

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