Mindful mountaineering: From the Alps to the Himalaya

Summit View

Until I hit the age of 60, quite some time ago, I was a half decent mountaineer. Not one of the immortals who has scaled Everest, but a plodder with two axes and crampons who engaged with a few Himalayan peaks above 20,000ft, as well as frozen waterfalls in France and Switzerland. I have stood, sat, hung, gripped and dangled from a few very intimidating spots, and there is nothing quite like it to focus the mind, or to bring on a severe bout of mindfulness! One thinks only about the next step, with hand or foot, the next action with pieces of ironmongery or a rope. I am reminded of the famous words of the pioneering Alpinist, Edward Whymper who said:

There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.  Edward Whymper

 Mind The Gap!

Our recent posts about mindful travel has triggered memories of my mountaineering days and of three people who shared some very funny yet mindful moments. Rich Cross the Alpine Guide who taught me to ice climb and was always murmuring that Edward Whymper quote just as we started a climb …. “come on Doc, climb if you will, but remember that ….”. Then there was Mingma Sherpa in the Himalaya who would risk his own life to protect others but who would NOT share his Donut with anyone! And finally Michael my son in law, whose nutritional requirements on many an Alpine summit was supplemented with three Ginsters Cornish Pasties strapped to the outside of his rucksack!

You cannot be a mountaineer without being mindful, being utterly “in the zone” of your immediate environment. On snow and ice you are constantly considering avalanche risk, crevasse risk, as well as the security of placed ice screws or fixed ropes. Each step, each move, each action needs to be taken based on considering those risk factors. Is it any wonder that most mountaineering accidents occur on descent simply because mindfulness has evaporated in the euphoric whiff of success from reaching a summit?

So, take a look at a few shots of a Mindful Mountaineer

Alpine Ice

Himalayan Snow

But all good things come to an end, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and no amount of mindfulness can compensate for dodgy knees, failing arm strength, and a hip joint that won’t let you lift your foot above your knee! But they are all great memories of being 100% mindful, focused on every second of the here-and-now, until this final photo made me realise “time’s up” and to tackle museums, architecture, galleries, and wine bars instead ….. all in a mindful way of course!

If you enjoyed reading this post you should try an earlier one

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20 replies

  1. Wow! Just wow, I’m just a begginer climber/mountaineer and this post inspired me to explore more mountains!


  2. I feel your pain. I see old age creeping up on me every year. Things that I used to do and I can no longer do. It’s so hard to realize that your physical strength gives up on you long before your mind does, but it’s also wise to put things into perspective and do the right thing. It seems you had many wonderful experiences and you should treasure them. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Galanda, I think old age has overtaken me though these mountaineering memories are still very strong. I was very fortunate to have the ability and the opportunity to do these things in places most people never get to go. But nowadays I/We thoroughly enjoy city visits and exploration, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago and New York only last month for example. I think New York was as extreme as many of my mountains!


  3. What amazing experiences you’ve had! I think you’ve put to words what a lot of us get from being outdoors – whether it’s mountaineering, kayaking, hiking, etc. The solitude and focus on the environment around you is a sort of forced mindfulness. I do my best thinking on the trail 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing your experience and your right words! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Liked by 1 person

  5. WOW what a post! I am not a professional climber, but enjoy trekking and this read! How long have you been doing it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your great comment. I grew up in the mountains of Cumbria, UK, married a “girl” from the Nepal Himalaya when we were students together so had another instant mountain family. We are now “old” so the direct answer to your question is …… 70 years 😂😂🕉👫


  6. I hadn’t realised most accidents happen on the descent, but that totally makes sense. Great that you’ve made it to mountaineering retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Annabelle, they happen like that for three reasons. First people relax, they think the goal has been reached at the summit, but it hasn’t. Second, fatigue. Third, taking too long to get to the summit as conditions are changing weatherwise.

      Liked by 1 person


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