The psychology of going up a mountain

CC BY-NC Graham Chastney

I’ve felt a weird form of unease over the last few days. While I’m used to the type of anxiety I get preceding, during, and after a migraine, this was different. It was a contributing factor in my decision yesterday to refocus my energies and withdraw from some projects.

I’m a pretty self-reflective person, managing to decouple myself from negative emotions and reflect upon them to understand the causes. This morning, I woke up early and walked to the station to catch my train to London, and I think I discovered the cause of this unease.

On Friday and Saturday I’m heading to the Lake District for the first two of 20 ‘Quality Mountain Days’ (QMDs) I need to get in before starting my Mountain Leader award. For it to count as a QMD, I need to do the following:

In terms of experience, the quality of a mountain day lies in such things as the conditions experienced both overhead and underfoot, the exploration of new areas, the terrain covered and the physical and mental challenge. Such days make a positive contribution towards a person’s development and maturity as an all round mountaineer.

Usually some or all of these criteria would be fulfilled:

  • the individual takes part in the planning and leadership
  • navigation skills are required away from marked paths
  • experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills
  • knowledge is increased and skills practised
  • attention is paid to safety
  • five hours or more journey time
  • adverse conditions may be encountered

The weather is forecast to be pretty bad this weekend and, up a mountain that’s likely to be even worse. I’m purposely putting myself at the limits of my knowledge and experience in order to learn something new. 

In addition, after some introspection I’ve realised that I’m uneasy about spending so much time by myself. I’m used to walking with other people rather than by myself, and when I’m away ‘by myself’ on business trips I am, of course, surrounded by either colleagues or clients. The only times I’ve been by myself in the past have been psychologically bleak.

So I’m treating this as an opportunity for personal growth. There’s lots of metaphors to be had from literally choosing my own course and single-mindedly reaching a goal. During the 10+ hours I’ll be out in the elements I’ll be able to think all kinds of big, expansive thoughts. I’m both looking forward to that and feeling some trepadation what I’ll come down that mountain having thought and resolved to do.

Image CC BY-NC Graham Chastney