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

The Power of Self-Efficacy…

By Neil Soneson, August 20, 2018

What is self-efficacy? Firstly, efficacy means the capacity for producing a desired result or effect; therefore self-efficacy means how capable a person thinks they are to do something and how effective they will be.  This self-emotion is similar to self-esteem and self-confidence which are basically how someone feels about themselves in general. Self-efficacy is different because it is more goal oriented and requires a specific context for the person to think about themselves in. Climbing is a great example of this. Many people have heard of Mt. Everest and know it is the tallest mountain in the world. Most people only dream of climbing the peak, either because they don’t think they are capable or because it seems too big of an objective. The same people who have low self-efficacy for climbing Everest may have high self-efficacy when thinking about hiking up their local foothills. The power of self-efficacy is centered around knowing yourself and truly believing that you can do what you think you can do, as well as evaluating the situation and developing objective reasons for why you believe in yourself.

When I go rock climbing I usually look for new routes that fit my climbing style and that I feel like I will be able to climb effectively.  In selecting a route that I want to climb I consider the obvious features that I would be climbing. I have high self-efficacy when climbing opposing features like a dihedral corner or a chimney system. This is because I feel confident in the muscles of my lower body and my ability to use technical footwork in order to conserve energy. In contrast I have low self-efficacy when faced with a steep or overhanging section of rock because I know it will require more strength  and endurance in my upper body. I am also less confident in my ability to figure out the best technique to use because of my lack of experience on terrain that steep.  There are objective reasons for why I feel I will or will not be efficacious in climbing different types of terrain and different types of rock. This is the essence of what self-efficacy is all about and it applies to everything we do psilocybin mushroom bar!

It is amazing how powerful this concept can be for people once they understand how it works. Humanist psychologists have determined that self-efficacy is the main driver for behavior change. If you want to change your behavior in any way, whether that be adopting a new behavior or trying to reduce another behavior, self-efficacy has to change. If you want to start exercising more, improve your diet, or simply get better sleep, self-efficacy is the way we make decisions on how we are going to change and what will be most effective. Some people know themselves really well and will be able to choose strategies that fit their lifestyle, such as planning and preparing meals for the week ahead of time.  Other people may need more continuous support from people in their life in order to effectively make a change, like having a partner to cook meals with every night. And some people simply do not know what would work for them and they may need to learn through trial and error.  The key to being successful though is deciding whether or not you believe you will be successful and why.  Believing in yourself is not enough, it is crucial to assess the situation and develop reasons for why you feel efficacious or not.

In conclusion, I believe that we have the power to challenge ourselves on a deeper level by understanding our self-efficacy in different parts of our lives.  It is more than knowing what you are good at and not so good at; it is knowing what you maybe able to do if you push yourself a little further than you have ever been before.  When you decide to challenge yourself and try something you have never done before, you will acting upon your self-efficacy and promoting personal growth.  It truly is amazing to surprise yourself and think, “Wow, I actually did it!  Now what’s next?”

Why I Love to Guide

By Neil Soneson, August 17, 2018

What does it mean to guide someone? How does this differ from simply telling someone what to do?  These are questions that I have asked myself many times during my first year as a rock climbing guide.  To understand what it means to be a guide requires an understanding of how people communicate.  I believe that there are some people with strong leadership qualities who seem to direct people gracefully and effectively towards what they need or want.  There are other people with incredible listening skills who are able to communicate with others so that they feel heard, while also evaluating that persons knowledge level, physical skills, and emotional readiness to complete a task.  In my opinion, guiding someone in any situation is a balance between directing and listening to the person.  The challenge is in recognizing when you are doing one more than the other and coming back to a balanced state of guiding.

I love to guide people for the obvious reasons of knowing where to go, how to get there, and what to do to make the experience safer and more enjoyable for those being guided.  These are the things that allow me to feel confident as a guide, mainly because they allow me to make a plan on how to safely navigate objective risks.  It makes me feel great to know exactly where a loose rock is on our approach trail, or exactly at what time our route will go into the shade.  This information allows me to develop boundaries that I feel comfortable working in as a guide.  The more defined and familiar those boundaries become the more attention and energy I can devote to those I am guiding!

I mainly love guiding because I love people!  As a guide I am often meeting people for the first time, at the beginning of our trip, and getting to know them throughout our entire time together.  This is really what drives me throughout the day and from trip to trip.  I simply love meeting people from different parts of the world and learning about their experiences.  In asking them about their experiences I can try to guess how much they know about rock climbing and what we are going to do.  With that said, while I am asking them about their past experiences with climbing and other outdoor activities, I am always listening to what they say, how they say it, and how they carry themselves in the environment that I am guiding them.  Some people can talk the talk, but do they walk the walk? Essentially, this is the central challenge as a guide.  Discerning between what people are telling you and what they are showing you.  This is where listening skills are paramount. If a person claims to be an experienced climber but has trouble hiking up the trail to get to the actual rock climb, then that is valuable information that I must use as a guide.

As a guide I am also responsible for managing my client’s emotions and expectations.  Some people want to learn as much as possible, while others want to be challenged on a physical level.  Some people are afraid that the equipment will break, while others are afraid of plant and wildlife. All of these factors are important for me to consider when creating an experience for that person.  What route do I select?  What equipment do I bring to guide this particular person up that route? What if that route is too difficult or easy for them?  I love making these decisions because it encourages me to empathize with the climber I am guiding.  I get to learn about them and try to give them an experience that matches their emotions and expectations.  Sometimes it can be stressful in the moment, but usually as we are hiking out together I can talk with them and evaluate myself as a guide based on how satisfied they are with their experience.  I love to guide for all these reasons, but above all else I love to guide because some people tell me, “That was awesome!  This is just what I was looking for.” 

Becoming a Certified Guide…

By Michelle Marco, April 9, 2018

My introduction into the Rock Guiding world has been quite a unique experience. I was lucky enough to find a mentor when I had very few years of climbing experience under my belt. I started with Stoneman in August 2016, and at that time, I had only been outdoor rock climbing for barely over a year. I knew the moment I tied in my first time outside, that I had just made a life commitment. I was “tying the knot” both literally and figuratively with rock climbing at that moment, because I fell so deeply in love that day, I knew there was no turning back. From that point on, I spent the vast majority of my free time learning what I could about outdoor climbing and practicing my skills at a local indoor gym. About a year later, I reached out to a local climbing guide to ask “Hey, what’s this guiding thing all about?” We met for coffee, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: a guiding mentorship, where I could learn the ins and outs of what it means to be a Rock Guide. And man… was it a steep learning curve!

There are a lot of skills that a climbing guide needs to know, a lot more than you may even imagine. Learning to efficiently handle ropes, tie knots, place gear, communicate with guests and climbers, perform rescue and safety techniques, and other skills can be quite overwhelming at first. It is a continuous learning process, and many of these things can take years to master. Because there are so many facets to guiding, it is only natural that there is a certification process for Rock Guides. Even guides must go to “school” to hone their craft, and pass tests to prove their aptitude. This past month, I participated in my own certification course through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI).

The Single Pitch Guide (SPG) course is 3 days long with a 1-day assessment. I was lucky enough to take my course close to home, in the McDowell Mountains. The first day of the course went over anchor systems, or building the gear at the top of a route to hang a top rope (a top rope is similar to how it appears in the gym, when the belayer is on the ground). The following photo shows a solid anchor for top roping:

The red line is the anchor. It is attached at the top (not in the picture) to two pieces of gear in the rock and there is a giant, super strong knot tied in between the two pieces of gear. The loop underneath this knot is called the master point, and this is where the top rope is hung.

We also reviewed a few effective methods to take over the belay from one guest, and ascend the rope up to the climber in the event that the climber should become frightened or hurt, and need assistance lowering to the ground.

A majority of the information from the first day was review for me, although I did pick up some very handy tricks from my instructor that will help make me more efficient at building anchors. Efficiency is key to be able to set up systems in a timely manner and prevent the other climbers in your party from waiting an unnecessary length of time.

The second day, we returned to the McDowells to review 3-1 and 6-1 hauling systems. A 3-1 or 6-1 hauling system creates a mechanical advantage that allows you to pull 1 lb of force for every 3 (or 6) lbs of force at the other end of the system. So for example, if a climber were to need help through a section of a climb, I could set up at 3-1 system where I would only be pulling 1/3 of their weight, and the system would help me with the other 2/3. That also means that for every 3 feet of rope I pull up, the climber is only going to move 1 foot. The graphic to the left from helps explain how this system looks.

On this day, and the third day, we learned various methods to safely teach climbers how to rappel. These include belayed rappel and load releasable rappel (using the munter-mule combination hitch). This allows the climber to rappel on one strand of the rope while backed-up on a belayed strand, should the climber let go of the brake strand, or get their hair caught in the rappel device. A proper anchor set up with this system is pictured below:

This picture doesn’t do a great job of clearly showing you each piece, nor is the munter-mule tied here, but as you can see, there’s a lot of gear involved and a lot going on at once when multiple ropes are involved.

One other method to safely rappel is to set up a pre-rigged rappel, where the new climber is set up on rappel at the top anchor. The guide then rappels down to the ground, and keeps their hands on the brake strands to protect the climber as they then rappel down to meet the guide. This seems to me to be the most effective and time-efficient way to teach a new climber how to rappel, although there are situations when a belayed rappel would be ideal.

After going over all of these systems, it was time to put them together in various scenarios. For example, in the first scenario…

  1. Guide instructs Guest #1 and #2 on how to lead belay, and backup a belay. Guide lead climbs traditional route (placing trad gear) and builds a traditional anchor.
  2. Guide belays Guest #1 to the top of the route. First guest has trouble, and needs assistance through a section of the route. The guide implements a 3-1 system to help the climber through a few meters of the climb. The guest finishes the route and is safely anchored in at the top of the route.
  3. Guest #2 climbs route to the top with no trouble, but does not want to rappel down. This climber is lowered to the ground.
  4. Guide sets up load-releasable rappel for Guest #1. Guest #1 rappels safely to the ground.
  5. Guide cleans up anchor and joins the guests at the base of the route.

Roleplaying this scenario as the guide (with the instructor and another climber roleplaying as the guests) was very high-stress and high-intensity. There are many steps that go into each of these systems, and it is imperative that they are completed in a safe, accurate, and timely manner. These are the same scenarios used in the assessment. In the assessment, these skills are timed, adding to the intensity.

Because I have had 1.5 year experience as a guide under my belt under my mentor, a lot of these techniques were review for me, although many of these rescue / safety techniques are not something that I have needed to use very often. I felt that this was a great opportunity to be able to really master some of these skills. At times the course felt a bit like information overload, so I can’t imagine how stressful it would be for a climber with little-to-no guiding experience.

In all, I am really satisfied with the material presented in the course. I was able to really hone my skills, learn some new tricks, and become a better, more efficient Rock Climbing Guide. But the road doesn’t stop here! There is a lifetime’s worth of growing as a rock climber, both recreationally and professionally as a guide. There are more skills to learn, and more courses to take, and this is just the beginning of my journey.

Untrained but Not Untested: Speed Hiking the Echo Canyon Trail

I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in the fall of 2017 to work as a rock climbing guide. The extreme heat of the summer mellows into enjoyable climbing temperatures throughout the fall, winter and spring. One of the locations where I lead excursions is Camelback Mountain. The mountain gets its name due to its shape, which looks like the head and hump of a kneeling camel. Camelback is located in the middle of the Phoenix valley and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to climb and hike. Echo Canyon Trail is the most popular hike at the mountain park. The trail is approximately 1.25 miles long and has an elevation gain of about 1,280 ft. Hiking trails, like skiing or mountain biking areas, use symbols in order to signify the level of difficulty. Green circles are easiest, blue squares intermediate, black diamonds difficult and double black diamonds very difficult. Echo Canyon Trail gets, in my opinion, the unnecessarily scary grade of double black diamond. I suppose it is to let first-time hikers on the trail know this isn’t your average walk in a city park. The combination of intensity and desert climate can leave the unprepared dehydrated. Although the trail can be challenging in spots, there are hand railings in locations where one might need a little support.

While visiting Camelback, it is not uncommon to see folks trail running. This piqued my interest and I did a little investigating. The speed record on the Echo Canyon Trail is 15 minutes and 58 seconds, set by Jim Walmsley of Flagstaff, Arizona. My wife and I hiked the entirety of the trail at a leisurely pace with breaks and clocked an hour and 15 minutes. At the top you get an awesome panoramic view of the Phoenix Valley. As a rock climber, I am a natural competitor and decided I would hike the trail again the following day to see how fast I could get to the top. While I am a solid climber, I have never done any trail running, or normal running for that matter. I played plenty of football, hockey and baseball in my youth but I was never a runner per se.

My speedy hike was not an attempt at the record, but a self-challenge to see how I fared. It is October and the temperature is still quite high, pushing the mercury to the mid-90s mark on the thermometer. We are having unseasonably hot weather and set a record this week for heat at this time of year. The best time to hike the trail in these conditions is in the early morning when it is still cool. Having been to Camelback a few times, I know parking is limited and it gets jam packed in the morning. You can be waiting in line a non-insignificant amount of time to park if you do not get there before 6 AM. I decided I would rather contend with the heat as opposed to the crowds on the trail and got there around noon. I had a backpack full of a few liters of water and a smaller amount of sunscreen to take with me on my hike. I started my favorite podcast and a timer and got going.

I am not a trail runner and my strategy was to not pretend to be one. I hiked at what I would describe as a non-weenie pace and tried to maintain that pace throughout the trail. The first part of the trail has the easiest terrain. It has switchbacks at a relatively gradual incline on evenish ground. I could potentially have hiked this part faster, but I didn’t want to wear myself out for the more intense sections. I am most familiar with this section of the trail because it leads to the main rock climbing areas. The trail wraps to the left of the “headwall” climbing area and steepens. This section has some slicker rock and has a handrail for added stability if needed. I pushed through the area of stairs and slick ramps and maintained my pace. The rest of the trail involves scrambling up steeper, uneven terrain where you may need to use your hands for stability. As a rock climber, I am most conditioned for steeply inclined terrain and like to think this is where I can make decent time. I struggled to maintain my pace through the steeper sections and slowed my pace occasionally to recover. The intensity left my leg muscles feeling a bit like jelly. I pushed through the final bouldery steep section and stopped my clock. I was at 32 minutes and 2 seconds. I was pooped and found a nice shady spot to sit, recover and rehydrate. It is a beautiful view to take in and I sat longer than necessary to recover, enjoying where I was in the world.

I am not discontent with my 32-minute mark and it puts the record of 15 minutes and 58 second into perspective. The Arizona Diamondback center fielder A.J. Pollock completed the hike in 27 minutes and 20 seconds so I feel pretty good with my efforts. I am never going to be a trail runner, but I am drawn to do the trail in sub 30 minutes.

Echo Canyon Trail is a fun hike in the Phoenix area. Hike at a leisurely pace or time yourself, but get out and enjoy nature. Make sure to look up at the cliff face when you are hiking and you may see me climbing in my natural habitat.