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It takes much more than good physical conditioning to be a successful climber. In truth, it’s the power of the mind that separates the elite of the mountaineer world from the rest of us. When the crux is upon them, they can recruit a mental strength with immense energy. Few activities draw upon your mental powers like mountaineering.
Although focus is critical to all aspects of climbing, when you enter the high mountain environment, you must pull back even further to get the “wide angle” big picture. All factors are important, but to survive, your mind also is aware of the weather, the safety of the snowpack, the feel of the ice, the performance level of you and your partners.
Your ultimate goal, is to master this mental zooming to the point that you can be focused and aware simultaneously.
There are many ways to prepare mentally for a climb and this differs for each of us depending on our circumstances. There are pressures such as work and family commitments or projects we cannot seem to drag ourselves away from. Previous experience in the mountains can play a major role in how you approach the ‘mental challenge’ of expedition climbing. If you are a seasoned mountaineer you are less likely to get flustered prior to the climb. It is important to be relaxed on the expedition and take things one day at a time. Many potential summit climbers have worn themselves out thinking about how they will perform on summit day when they are only just beginning the trip. If you leave your personal expectations behind and just do your best on each and every day you will be heading in the right direction.
Most climbers like a challenge. Though this is not necessarily the motivation for every climb—some we expect to be relatively easy, and we enjoy other aspects of that experience—still, most of us feel the need to occasionally choose climbs that we know will push us into new territory of mental or physical challenge and test our abilities to meet new demands. When you contemplate notching up the difficulty, do so with forethought and a deliberate, confident attitude. Your confidence needs to be based on reality—a realistic assessment of the skills you have systematically built. Preparation enhances psychological well-being. We perform best when we are confident. We are confident when we feel equal to a challenge, when we know more
or less what to expect, and when we have made reasonable provision for the unexpected. But climbers also must accept a degree of uncertainty and relish the process of discovery. The only preparation for this is to cultivate an attitude of trust in yourself and openness to the unknown.