The Importance of Goals and Motivation in Climbing

In many ways, climbing is the process of achieving your goals.  For those who want to climb big mountains, each step they take towards the summit is driven by their desire to stand on the summit.  At the same time, there are some climbers who love the mountains and enjoy each step of the journey; the summit is merely the point at which they turn around and go down.  On the other hand, there are climbers who seek out super difficult boulder problems that play to their strengths or exploit their weaknesses.  Similar to climbing big mountains, there are some people who are motivated by topping out the boulder, while there are others who enjoy the process of working on their project; topping out is simply the end of one project and the beginning of another.  Knowing what type of climber you are or want to be is very important.  Once you have developed your identity as a climber, you can begin to develop goals and understand what motivates you to achieve that goal.


Personally, I have learned that I am an aspiring mountaineer.  I am an ambitious person and choose lofty goals and big objectives.  I know that I do this because it keeps me challenged and always striving to do something bigger and better than before.  Over the past few years, I have made a few of my first significant ascents in the mountains.  I have climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming, Charlotte Dome in California, and several backcountry peaks across Arizona.  Throughout this process I have learned that I have a deep love for the mountains and I hope to continue hiking and climbing in the mountains for my entire life.  This is my goal.  In order to achieve this goal I must be willing to sacrifice a few summits in order to make it home safely and be able to return to the mountains.  I enjoy the process of route-finding and the movement when climbing a mountain, this is my motivation.  Standing on top is a bonus and one that I can do without.  Reaching the summit is always the target, but enjoying the mountains is my goal.

There are people who enjoy the process of projecting a route or boulder problem, and when they finally climb the crux moves or link sequences of moves together it can be an incredibly gratifying moment. These moments are what motivate them to continue projecting and training for that goal.  Some people do not enjoy projecting at all and they struggle to find the motivation to try the same route again and again after failing so many times.  With that said, there are many people who do not enjoy projecting so they focus on climbing problems on the first attempt (on sight).  There are also those who enjoy climbing routes well within their ability and are motivated to climb a higher volume of moderate routes as opposed to one really hard route.  Lastly, there are many people who are consistent with their goals and motivations while other climbers may have more scattered and unpredictable motivations from day to day.

Climbing is an amazing and exciting activity that involves the extremes of pleasure and hardship, of both risk and reward. It is an inherently risky endeavor when you start moving higher and higher above the ground.  I believe it is paramount to learn about yourself and develop an understanding of your goals and motivations in order to minimize risk and maximize enjoyment.  The risks of going too far in the mountains are well known to the loved ones of those who have died trying to reach the top.  There is a term in climbing called “Summit Fever,” which refers to the state of tunnel vision that people often get when they are fixated on reaching the summit.  This narrow-mindedness often gets people into deadly situations as they are not prepared for a long descent.  K2 is the perfect example of this, which is the second tallest mountain the world only to Everest.  Many alpinists consider K2 to be the most sustained, technical, and dangerous climb in the world.  One out of every four climbers who reach the summit will die on descent. In August 2008, 11 climbers died on one day following one of the most feverish ascents in modern mountaineering history.  Most of the climbers continued climbing late into the afternoon in order to reach the summit, only to be faced with a super dangerous decent in the dark. The same risks apply to bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing when faced with the decision to go somewhere you have never been before. H ow am I going to get down?  Do I have the ability to climb without falling? How would I protect a fall? What are the risks of injury or death?  Many boulderers and sport climbers push themselves to the point of injuring themselves, and there are numerous accidents every year of people suffering serious falls.  How you manage the decisional balance between all these factors is dependent on your goals and motivation.  What kind of climber are you? What are your climbing goals? Why? What is your motivation?

-Neil Soneson

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