Battling Headgame

Kara Vogler @mtnghoststudio Nov 17th 2023
  • Kevin Lindlau
  • Kara Vogler

Chapter 3 of 3
Climbing with Kevin Lindlau in Italy

Everyone has experienced feeling nervous about something. Maybe it’s everyday life things like a presentation at work, a job interview, asking someone out on a date. These physically safe tasks can make your heart rate quicken, your palms sweat, your breaths shorten. When you’re climbing, you choose to put yourself in a situation with some degree of calculated risk. You induce these natural survival symptoms of nervousness and attempt to control them in order to complete the task. In climbing, we call this having a good “headgame,” or mental resilience, where you are aware of the risks and your fears, but relax, breathe deeply and move through them.

American Climber Kevin Lindlau


Without much time to rest or even bask in his big success of Archè, Kevin was back on the second half of the route learning new holds. There are a number of factors along Aletheia that challenge his headgame, involving potential groundfall and crumbly rock. After 27m of climbing to complete the first half of the route, there is too much rope in the system and rope stretch (roughly 30% on any given dynamic rope) would result in a groundfall. Matteo factored in a rope change here to account for this, where the climber must hang off one arm to clip a new rope, then unclip the old one using tired arms that have just climbed at their 15+ limit. Nine moves later, the route reaches a “choke point” where the distance of the climber from the ground is no more than 8-10’. Again, rope stretch, potential groundfall, even after only 9 moves. You guessed it, rope change number 2, one tired arm to hold your entire body, the other to change the rope. For the choke-point-sequence, Kevin is technically on top rope to prevent groundfall, but he must unclip the rope as he climbs past each bolt until eventually he pivots on a single quickdraw and he is on lead again for the rest of the route. As a result of the distance from the ground in general, if Kevin falls while pulling rope out to clip or if a bolt fails, he will hit the ground. This is also where the rock type changes to a crumbly conglomerate “swiss cheese,” as Matteo refers to it. Although each of the tool holds are said to be solid, pebbles and cobbles constantly fall from the roof into Kevin’s eyeballs and showering Joe, causing Kevin to question the integrity of each of his tool placements.

Kevin and Joe inspecting the cave


For Kevin, this route is not as simple as figuring out beta then climbing through until he sends. This route involves negotiating constant potential groundfall, rope changes, multiple belayers, and crumbly rock. The nervous feelings caused by this are fast heart rate, sweaty palms, shortened breath, similar to the feelings before that presentation, job interview, or date. In climbing, the consequences of this cause overgripping “pumping out” your forearms, sliming off your tools, or feeling frantic when you must slow down, breathe and untangle yourself from the rope. This route is within Kevin’s ability level, he is able to climb each section clean. Between fear of ground fall, the rope changes and the crumbly rock, Kevin overcoming his fears and conquering headgame is possibly the greatest crux of Aletheia. Will he succeed?

Sterling Athlete: Kevin Lindlau

Author: Kara Vogler @mtnghoststudio
Photos: Kara Vogler @mtnghoststudio