06 May, 2013
Mentally Preparing to Climb Everest
Climbing any mountain is a dangerous pursuit, but climbing Mount Everest -- the tallest mountain in the world -- holds continual threats of injury and death. For safety and success, it's important to have a positive attitude, be realistic, mentally and emotionally strong, and focused on the present moment as you climb. Before heading to the Himalayas, intense and focused practice and training are essential to prepare you mentally for the climb of a lifetime. Be aware that people train for years and take at least one trip to Everest before climbing in order to develop the required psychological strength and focus.
Visualization and Mental Imagery
A study by Shaunna Burke and Terry Orlick from University of Ottawa aimed to find out how the most elite high-altitude mountain climbers mentally prepare for each climb. It found that the best climbers visualize and sense themselves climbing the mountain successfully before they start the climb. For example, one climber pictured himself on the mountain summit having a good feeling about his achievement. Another climber concluded that a strong psyche was the most valuable skill during an Everest climb due to the immense discomforts and risks involved.
Mentally Preparing for Acclimization
You'll be getting a lot of rest time during the climb so your body can acclimate as you ascend. Without patience, frustration or other emotions could get in the way of your good judgement during the climb. Prepare for down time by getting experience on other mountains with high altitudes that require acclimatization. Also, do meditation during your training period to practice mental relaxation, required for patience and calming anxieties. According to Everest climber Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton in a Huffington Post article, climbing other mountains taller than 7,000 meters -- about 22,965 feet -- such as Baruntse in Nepal, mentally prepared him for the energy drain and oxygen drain that happens when climbing a mountain taller than 7,000 meters. Mount Everest is 8,848 meters -- 29,029 feet -- so slowly work your way up to climbing taller mountains to prepare for high altitudes. Without experience with altitude, you could experience hallucinations, psychotic behavior, disorientation, and other life-threatening symptoms of extreme altitude sickness.
To have mental toughness during your big climb, you must practice during training. According to the University of Ottawa study, elite climbers often push the boundaries of their physical limitations and go outside their comfort zones. These mountaineers said physically pushing themselves pushed them mentally and improved their emotional strength, which is important for Everest. When they faced challenges during the climb, they could rely on experiences in their training when they had to use mental strength to help them succeed. According to Dieumegard-Thornton, his best mental preparation was gained from his tough experiences on other high altitude mountains. Experience gives you practice at mentally and emotionally dealing with low temperatures, the feeling of isolation, getting element exposure, and other rough experiences during a high altitude mountain climb.
Being in the Moment
Climbing Everest is a weighty, daunting endeavor, but when you keep your awareness and attention all on the task at hand, your focus improves and the mental fuzz that can bring you down diminishes. The best way to achieve this is by focusing on your breathing at all times. Another way is to constantly set short-term goals as you climb. Both of these strategies will encourage you and keep you in the present moment when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
Before you do it, understand the risks of climbing Everest, and the importance of training. You can't learn to climb Everest from reading a book; you need practice and professional experience. Prepare and study your climbing route before climbing. It's also a good idea to climb smaller mountains during training to practice your mental strength and gain confidence. If you're not ready to climb it, don't try. If you begin climbing and feel the need to go back, have a positive attitude and be proud of yourself for getting home safely.
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