1. Increased fitness. It’s not easy hiking up snow with a heavy pack for hours on end and doing it at high altitude. Mountain climbing is one of the most physically demanding sports there is. However, if you’ve trained properly, most of your fitness gains will come before your big climb.
When training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I spent two hours a day training during the week and got out every weekend on mountaineering trips in the Cascade Mountains. Shortly after, I beat my record time on a half marathon run and I was beating younger climbers up peaks. And I was feeling great! I’ve seen many friends who’ve been five to fifteen pounds overweight before prepping for a climb and come out looking like lean, mean, fighting machines afterwards.
2. Awareness of your body and what it needs. There’s something about mountaineering that heightens your ability to pay attention to your body. You become more attuned to how much water you’re taking in, how often you’re urinating, the texture of your feces, the last time you ate, that hot spot on your toe (that is turning to a blister?). You’ll be more aware of whether you’re warm, cold, hot, sweaty, tired, and whether you’re breathing too hard. You’ll notice small aches and pains, your heart rate at altitude, what you dreamed about the night before, whether you consumed too much sodium, and more. This is a healthy survival mechanism that can be honed and used when on and off the mountain. Climbers are very attuned to their bodies.
3. Cool friends and improved teamwork skills. There aren’t many activities where you get to spend almost every waking (and sleeping!) moment with others for days on end (three to fourteen days, on average). Trusting each other with your lives, pushing, encouraging, and suffering together is great for bonding. Traveling on a rope team on a glacier will test and hone your teamwork skills.
4. Planning skills. Even if you’ve hired a guide, a mountaineering trip will require significant research, equipment, and logistical planning. You’ll be ensuring that all the pieces are communicated to others and come together at the right time. The longer the climb duration, the more planning and coordination required.
5. Ability to handle failure. Mountain environments are well suited for Murphy’s Law. Several factors and events can impact your expedition. Weather, equipment failures, sickness, falls, team dynamics, and loss of morale can keep you from reaching the summit. It took me five attempts to finally get up Mt. Rainier. With each attempt, I learned new things, gained more confidence, prepared better, and finally made it to the summit on my next two attempts. Mountaineering has taught me to take on bold challenges in life, calculate risks and learn from my mistakes. Each time I’ve bounced back and eventually succeeded.
6. Better risk assessment abilities. The key to handling failure is to make sure your mistakes are one’s you can recover from. You can’t recover from being maimed or killed. On the mountain, you’re constantly assessing risks, making go/no go decisions based off of current conditions. I’ve found that safe guides and climbers make great business managers.
7. Strategies for pushing through and accomplishing goals. I know many climbers who participate in adventure races, are successful in their professional fields, and have the characteristics of overachievers. I think determination is a learned trait. Climbing a mountain for hours on end is a great way to learn determination. Many guides recommend taking 100 or ten steps at a time, then three to five seconds of rest. Breaking down your goals into manageable pieces helps keep you motivated. The great views help too!
8. Ability to unplug. I usually can’t go even one waking hour without checking my smartphone. I check in even when I’m on vacation. Hiking or climbing I still pull out the device occasionally to take pictures, videos, or for GPS. However, I lose my desire to check email or even think about work. It’s great to have a reminder that you can go a week without being plugged in and life still goes on. Work crises tend not be as urgent as you think. The outdoors helped me become better at unplugging when playing with my son, and was cheaper therapy than going to an expert.
9. Appreciation of things often taken for granted. Think about enjoying a hot shower, or delicious meal. Remember your warm bed, great coffee, time spent with loved ones. Did you live in the moment by noting how great it felt? Life tends to put us in routines and we forget the finer moments. There’s nothing like a mountain to help you remember. On almost every major climb I’ve done, the way back is filled with talk of getting the pack off, sitting, cold drinks, hot showers, good sleep, what we’ll eat, massages, hot tubs, and Starbucks.
10. Not to be so squeamish. Altitude causes bloating and gas. You’ll get to know your tent mates’ bodily functions well! You might encounter people vomiting. Climbers will spend days without showering. It’s unlikely that you’ll see blood on your first trip but be ready for blisters and pus. High on a glacier, my wife and I got a full view of a climber’s bare butt as he was squatting. Needless to say, his butt wasn’t the nicest view, but somehow the experience didn’t shock us. We were too focused to care. Climbing is great preparation for rearing kids