Mountaineering Training | Mental Strategies For The Mountains
Categories: Mountaineering Fitness & Training
Mental preparation for mountaineering is just as important as the physical training. Often the mental hurdles of the mountains can be just as intimidating and overwhelming as the physical challenges. You’ll want to have some strategies to rely on when the climbing gets difficult and you can use your training to figure out what works to keep you mentally engaged and focused during the climb. Below are a few ideas we’ve gathered from our guides and climbers over the years:
Break It Up
Instead of viewing the climb as single massive undertaking, break the trip into sections, and sub-sections, and sub-sections of sub-sections. If summit day is still days or even weeks away, don’t focus on it when you’re first shouldering your pack. Instead, break the trip in smaller portions: reaching Base Camp, moving to Camp 1, etc. Then segment out the day’s climbing into sections and concentrate on just the stretch you’re on. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the climb ahead but by breaking the endeavor into smaller sections of climbing you can separate it out into achievable parts.
When the going gets tough and you find yourself struggling, try focusing all of your attention on the physical movements. Dial in your cramponing techniques, concentrate on climbing in perfect balance, focus on your footwork, pay attention to your rope interval. Turning your attention to these small tasks brings your attention to the immediate actions you are taking and keeps you engaged and focused.
Focus on the Now
Much like climbing beautifully, try focusing on the immediate trail ahead and don’t go through the exhausting mental exercises of “what-if”, “maybe”, or “perhaps” of what is over the rise. Instead of worrying about how intimidating the crevasse crossing you heard other climbers mention might be, what the altitude will feel like, how long the descent is going to be, or any other number of possibilities, focus on the route in front of you. By staying focused you won’t burn mental energy exploring unknowns and you’ll stay engaged. When you get to those times of the climb or places on the route, you may just find that they are far more manageable than you led yourself to believe.
When the going gets really tough, try counting steps. Many climbers descend from the mountains with tales of putting their heads down and counting a certain number of steps - 20, 50, 100 - before looking up again. Don’t lose focus of what you’re doing and continue to climb safely and in tandem with your team, but counting is another way to give yourself something immediate to focus on to help get through the challenging sections.
On most climbs there are many moments such as the approach or the descent where you’re off of the technical sections of the mountain that require active focus and you’re simply walking up or down a trail. It’s okay to let you your mind wander! Stay engaged with what you’re doing so you don’t stumble, but let your mind think about things other than the trail ahead. Maybe it’s thinking about how to plant the garden, remembering quotes from your favorite movie, solving a nagging problem, or even what meal you’ll treat yourself to after the climb - anything that can give you a little mental escape.
Every climber has different mental strategies that work for them. The trick is finding what works for you. Whether it’s a long weekend hike or a tough interval session, you can use your training routine to experiment with different ways of keeping yourself mentally engaged, even when the training get’s tough.
Did we miss something? Share your suggestions on mental strategies and read past Weekly Mountaineering Training Series on the RMI Blog!
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