Friday, August 1, 2008

How to Train Mentally

I recently made my first summit of Mt. Rainier. It was really gratifying to see how all of my training paid off. At high break I remember being surprised at how comfortable and energized I felt. On the hike down I got into an interesting conversation with one of my fellow climbers and another guide. We were discussing common reasons people choose to end their summit bid and descend. We all agreed that while there are many reasons someone might reach their limit, many of them could be alleviated with a little mental training. A lot goes on while on the mountain. Your body is fighting the altitude, the exertion, and most importantly the stress of doing something new which can be scary at times. It was this last part of the climb where I knew I had a distinct advantage. Living in Ashford, and working closely with RMI, the Mountain is always the main topic of conversation. People are always discussing route condition, current hazards, and weather patterns. Over the past few months, I have become acutely aware of what goes on up there, before I had ever set foot above 10,000 feet.

Physical training is an important part of preparing for your climb. Building endurance and muscle tone are key to insuring your body can withstand the stress of mountain climbing. But it was the mental preparedness that I felt gave me the ability to withstand some of the moments that were "less than comfortable." Knowing what to expect allowed me to focus less on the big task of climbing the mountain (or the crevasses!), and spend my energy insuring I was using proper crampon technique and breathing correctly.

Reading climbing guides and trip reports will help you understand the route and have an idea of what to expect. Scheduling some time to speak with someone at your guide service to answer any questions will also prove helpful. Becoming more knowledgeable about the sport of mountaineering can make all of the finer points of rope travel and self arrest make more sense. The idea of mental training is to eliminate as much of the unknown as possible so that your mind can be more at ease with this new challenge you are undertaking.

Here are some suggestions of resources I used to prepare me for my climb.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide by Mike Gauthier

Alpine Mountaineering DVD

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