Pre Climb panic and how to manage it
If you have climbed Kilimanjaro or are looking at doing so in the future, chances are you are going to be overwhelmed by pre-climb panic. However, fear not as you are not alone. This nervous state of mind that we’ve christened ‘climbaphobia’ affects trekkers of all shapes, sizes and experience levels. Take me for example. I have been climbing mountains for 20 years including the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro, Russia and South America and I always get the jitters before a climb. Deidre Angella, a psychologist in the UK explains that “it is a normal to worry about something going wrong borne from the fact that you care deeply about the outcome.” In the context of climbing Kilimanjaro, obviously the pressure you put on yourself to make the summit is your source of anxiety. You need to learn how to trick your mind and learn that pre climb anxiety is perfectly normal. You need to focus on all the training and preparation you have done leading up to the trip.
There is a saying that goes-‘adversity introduced a man to himself’. The more points of adversity you create in your brain the better. They serve as reference points to confidence and your ability to handle anxiety both before and during your Kilimanjaro trekking experience. Your training regime should see you pushing your physical limits. This in turn will allow you to experience your mental limits. Does the dog wag the tail or does the tail wag the dog? There will be a constant battle between your mind and body in times of hard physical training. It’s easy to give up. Its the easiest thing in the world to do. 80% of people give up on something.
Watching TV instead of going for a run in the pouring rain and cold is easy to do. But that will not give you the point of adversity you need to create mental stamina needed for climbing a mountain. Create those neural pathways of adversity and confidence. Push your limits. Okay, so enough of the psychological drama and back to the topic at hand.
Here are 3 of the top “climaphobias’ and how to bash them into submission
“I’m just not fit enough for Kilimanjaro”
If you think spending 20 minutes a day running on a treadmill 4 times a day is going to get you up Kilimanjaro then yes, I’d also be panicking. Although the treadmill may maintain a relative level of fitness, it will not get you ‘mountaineering’ fit. The 3 rules of mountaineering can be summed up as : Mountains are always harder, higher and further than they look. Now I may be wrong, but everything seems pretty close on a treadmill. And the temptation to just stop and get off is always there. The best way to understand mountains is to spend time in them.
Go on long multi day hikes. When you are 30km from your starting point, there is no option but to carry on. No giving up. No support vehicle to come fetch you. Your spirit will be broken when for the umpteenth time the summit you thought was there became yet another summit. This is what it takes to create the mental stamina to climb up Kilimanjaro. Treadmills can’t teach you that. Where are your limits? Do you know? Hiking in the mountains will help you with that. You will be surprised at how far you can actually push yourself. The mountains don’t have a 20 minute limit like the treadmills.
“I’m going to die on Kilimanjaro”
Of course you are going to think that. You’ve been surfing the web or just heard a story about someone dying on the mountain and you are all freaked out. And on top of that your peers and family and filling your head with doom and gloom. Emotion is stronger than logic. The first thing you have to remember on a mountain is that like anything in the world there is always a risk factor associated with the activity. All boils down to statistics. Every activity has its percentage risk factor. Once that percentage becomes transparent, it’s up to you to make a simple choice. Do I accept those odds? If yes, then get on with it. If no, then don’t. The chances of dying on Kilimanjaro are between 3-4%.
You decide if it’s worth the risk of standing on the highest mountain in Africa with the most incredible sense of achievement and perspective that not doing it could never offer. Prevention is better than cure. On all of our South Africa Adventure expeditions to Kilimanjaro, we test our clients 3 times a day. We check oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure, pulse and host of other tests that are plotted against our benchmarks for various altitudes. So if we are not happy with your condition, we will be the logic that overrules your emotion to continue.
“I’m not going to reach the summit and people will think I’m a failure”
I have climbed many mountains in the world and sometimes the greatest lessons I’ve learnt about myself have been from the mountains I have not been able to summit. Yes it hurts. Yes your ego and pride are damaged. But that is not what mountains are all about. Mountains have a unique way of humbling a person. They remind us how human we are-That we are not our flashy cars or title or position in society. The humble us. Not making the summit can be from a multitude of reasons. Worrying about those reasons before you start the climb will create anxiety gaps and will prevent you from enjoying the moment.
It is what is. What will be will be. Concepts that our ego cannot grasp. Not making the summit is not the end of the world. At least you got to experience the beauty, magic and peace that mountains do freely give. Instead of saying ‘I failed to reach the summit’, say ‘I made it 85% of the way up’ for example. A lot more positive than the latter. The mountains will always be there and we live life forwards but only understand it backwards. You can always try again.