Many people focus on the physical and technical training. The mental game of trekking in Nepal is sometimes overlooked. The thin air at high altitude leaves many gasping for breath while trekking in the Himalayas. The rocky trails and steep inclines burn quads and tear up hiking boots. Stomach bugs from unfamiliar foods have travelers running for the bathroom. Yes, the physical toll of trekking in Nepal is immense, but it’s not the make-or-break factor for summit success. Check out upcoming trips.
The Real Test Lies Between your Ears
I learned this truth at age 23 on Denali, the highest peak in North America. Denali stands at 20,308 feet, thrusting into the sky from the remote Alaska wilderness. Unforgiving conditions test even the hardiest mountaineers.
Temperatures drop to -40 F. Storms barrel in off the Bering Sea without warning, enveloping the mountain in howling winds and blinding snow. The air is so thin that initial steps onto the glacier at 7,000 ft leave lungs gasping. Yet only about half of the 1,200 yearly climbers fail to reach the top.
It’s not the cold, or storms, or elevation stopping them. It’s their minds. Despite being fit and acclimatized, climbers turn around, defeated not by the mountain but by themselves. Their mental fortitude melts away until visions of warm beds and hot pizza call them down.
The Mental Game of Trekking in Nepal
Seeing the true barrier between most climbers and their sought-after high summits at such a young age changed my entire view of mountaineering. In two decades filled of climbing on four continents since then I’ve come to understand the secret to success for both arduous treks and lofty summits.
These secrets are especially important in Nepal, where I’ve both climbed privately and as a guide for Ian Taylor Trekking. I’ve seen aspiring climbers with multiple marathons under their belt and professional athletes with championship rings turn back short of their goals, undone by wavering resolve rather than strained quads. But within this mental crucible lies the true value of mountaineering.
Vision Drives Activity
Pushing through doubts and darkness reveals our capabilities. The mountains strip away societal BS, leaving just the raw, authentic you. The version of yourself forged fresh, donning crampons and ice axe. With new mental strength, you walk on knowing that if you conquered Mera Peak or Everest Base Camp, you can conquer the challenges of “regular” life too.
I’m reminded of Colin, a 62-year old first-time trekker I guided up Mera Peak. Colin arrived wide-eyed, intimidated by the task ahead. But each day he found reasons to move forward. A stunning Himalayan vista that took his breath away. The camaraderie of new friends around the dinner table. Simply being alive and walking among giants.
While others focused on the cold, long days, and basic food, Colin saw only adventure. The Mental Game of Trekking in Nepal has to be embraced. With single-minded positivity, he summited triumphantly. When he stood atop Mera, the tough old Brit broke down in tears, overcome by what he’d proven to himself. If he could climb a 6,500-meter Himalayan peak, what else could he achieve? What other dreams had he prematurely abandoned?
I cried too. For Colin’s triumph, of course. But also for myself. These mountains remind me that we’re all capable of more than we know. My first experience climbing in Nepal at 22 reshaped my entire life’s trajectory. The strength it unearthed gave me courage to walk away from a “safe” career path and forge my own way with courage and conviction.
So how to put mind over matter in the mountains of Nepal?
Here are 3 tips:
1). Declare your “why”
Who are you doing this for? A pile of research and Simon Sinek’s writing shows we’ll push harder for others than ourselves. One dad I guided summoned superhuman
endurance by dedicating his summit to his 3 kids. Another climber was propelled by honoring his sister who had recently taken her life. Attach your goal to a purpose bigger than yourself and you’ll always find a reason to take that next step no matter how tired.
2). Cultivate Community
Lone sheep get picked off first. By bonding with fellow trekkers, you gain strength you can’t achieve alone. Check in on others when they struggle. Share encouraging words and snacks. You’ll likely receive the same boost when you need it. Research backs this up too, proving that a team of aligned people with shared goals can accomplish far
more than any individual.
3). Embrace the Suck
The emotional rollercoaster is inevitable on multi-week treks. When darkness descends, welcome it instead of resisting. Remind yourself this is exactly why you came. Growth. To be challenged.
To gain stories you’ll cherish forever. Remind yourself you
chose this experience instead of sitting on a beach with a tropical cocktail in your hand. Remind yourself this struggle will soon be forgotten, but what you learn about yourself will endure for a lifetime.
As Jon Krakauer writes in Into Thin Air about climbing Everest, “It was the most demanding physical effort I have ever attempted…[but] some…less tangible, yet still formidable, obstacle awaited me…a test of my innermost self.”
The True Summit
The true summit is the one within. With grit and resilience, you’ll return home forever changed. Your renewed belief in yourself will propel you toward new horizons, just as it did for me as a wide-eyed 23 year old waking up to my potential among Himalayan giants.
By Chris Strouthopoulos