Mentally Mastering the Mountains

Approximately four years ago, I made the long journey from the hills of the Ozarks in Missouri to the steep mountains of the Rockies in Colorado. Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to hiking. I took to the outdoors like a moth to flame and I’ve built up quite a bit of experience over the years. Hell, I’m even an Eagle Scout (shout out Troop 7). I tell you this, not to brag, but so you understand how I feel through the various stages of climbing a mountain, even with the experience. Whether it’s Mount Katahdin in Maine or Mount Elbert in Colorado, I think it’s fair to say that we all have these thoughts cross our minds in some capacity.

So for all you beginners out there or even for the veterans who just like to commiserate, here’s my list of mental steps through climbing a mountain.

  1. Excitement (or Naïve Expectation) – Here we go. My pack is ready. My boots are tied. I’ve got three fruit snack packs. This mountain doesn’t stand a chance. I can do this. I didn’t skip leg day a few weeks ago so I’m pretty sure I can handle this. All right, the trail head. Let’s check the sign. Okay, 3,000 foot vertical gain. That doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, my friend did this hike last week and if he can do it, I certainly can. Boom, first mile done. Just walking around the base of this here cliff. Looks intimidating. Not. Wait though, I didn’t even see that mountain behind it. Is that what we’re climbing? Was this ant hill just here to lure me into some false sense of security? Damn, that’s cold. No, actually. I see snow up there. I’m not sure I’m prepared for this.
  2. Regret Pt. 1 – Nah, I’m fine. I can – wait where did the trees go? Shit, I’m all vulnerable up here. This is actually awful. My legs are really starting to hurt. This isn’t even a trail anymore, just a bunch of rocks going up. Whose idea was this? Damn you Instagram, with your cleverly filtered pictures. Those people didn’t even look like they were sweating in their pictures. Did that dog just pass me? Yeah, try it with two legs, show off. Fruit snack time. Nope, now I feel worse. Just keep walking.
  3. Blind Confidence (or the Fickle Second Wind) – Okay, I have to be at LEAST halfway there by now. I’m in my groove. Feeling far better now. Hah, look at all these slackers I’m passing. I am a champion. This has nothing to do with the switch-backs becoming shallower. It’s because this mountain isn’t a threat. I can win. Second winds are just the bees knees.
  4. Regret Pt. 2 – This is what Frodo felt like in Mordor. I’m in Mordor right now. Or am I seeing things? Is…is that a goat? How the hell did a GOAT get up here? I’m being Punk’d right now. Ashton, I swear to god, you will carry me down this mountain or so help me…nah, I’m bluffing, I can barely stand. Remember when I thought I was halfway? Yeah, that was three halfways ago. This is just the worst. Who thought climbing mountains was a fun sport? Sadists, that’s who. The reason the air is so thin up here is because humans aren’t meant to breathe it. I don’t think I can do it, but then again, I’m pretty close to the end and I’m more likely to be rescued at the top than in the middle. I’ve never actually been in a helicopter. This would be fun in some other life. Like, the kind where I didn’t go climb a mountain.
  5. Summiting (or the Delightful Denouement) – I MADE IT. It…it was just so sudden I can’t really believe it. Am I hallucinating? I’m not sure oxygen has made it all the way to my brain in like, the last hour, so probably. But LOOK at it. Oh my god. This is why people do this. I’m king of the damn world. Now to sit, relax, and enjoy my well-earned, hipster craft beer. You know, it really wasn’t as tough as I thought. I’m not sure what I was complaining about. I wonder which one I should try next weekend…

So there you have it folks. These steps have been well documented by the scientific hiking community and are sure to help you mentally prepare for whatever mountain you decide to climb. Good luck!

Also, special shout out to my dear friend and compatriot in mountain misery, Hayden. Let’s talk about doing this again sometime but watch Game of Thrones instead.

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