I have always been fascinated by the stories of those who have risked their lives climbing the most dangerous peaks in the world. Pushing the limits of one’s physical capabilities takes a peculiar mindset and stubbornness. Indeed, the wager of life is sometimes lost.
What could possibly drive an individual to risk everything to summit a peak? I believe the answer is best explained by looking into the competitive nature of mankind. Whether it be by evolution or divine intervention, human beings are instinctually competitive. I have never met anyone who enjoys losing a challenge. Granted, some individuals are more gracious than others while doing so. Finding and achieving success, even in small increments, is gratifying.
One rarely gets an opportunity to push their physical and mental limits to the point of potential death (traffic jokes aside). Most choose to avoid the circumstance out of innate self-preservation. Yet, the peaks call and those fortunate enough to answer them believe the reward is worth the risk. The reward is, of course, summiting.
Before seriously considering climbing mountains, one must take a personal inventory of their emotional and physical attributes. An honest assessment is necessary. Preparation is a key element. Improper preparation dooms the mission before it even begins. Physical preparation is obvious. If one is not in prime physical condition, they should not even consider doing it. Familiarize yourself with equipment (footwear, ropes, hardware, hand tools, packs, etc.) prior to needing it. Determination will come into play. Not every experience will be positive due to numerous factors such as equipment failures, injuries, and weather.
The mental aspect is what is most intriguing. Confidence and fear are polarizing forces. How individuals grapple with them is truly a testament to how powerful we are as a species. Granted, the desire to succeed often clouds one’s judgment. The internal conflict of knowing when to go and when to stop is never more evident than when one is on the side of a mountain.
Having an experienced climbing partner, with good common sense and patience, is a luxury. Heed their advice, but also know your own limitations. Communicate. It is important to express your opinions and trepidation. Learning from experienced mountaineers is worth the time and effort. Talk to them and, most importantly, listen. Most are willing to help.
If going solo, make certain someone reliable knows your itinerary and location. Hold true to a schedule even if it means turning back. Those who care about you will appreciate it.
For those who are interested in alpinism or climbing, I offer some simple advice. Start small. I believe the most important way to conditions one’s physical and mental preparation is by starting small. By starting small and then gradually working towards higher peaks, one can fairly evaluate their limitations. With each successful summit, from foothills to high peaks, confidence will build.
What better way to feel fully engaged in life? I encourage you to indulge your primal instincts. Start climbing mountains and you will gain a whole new perspective, literally and figuratively. It starts with one step.