Molly Burdick may have only started climbing three years ago, but she’s already very good at it despite having a heart problem. Recently she shared with Women Climb her secrets, one of which is a steely resolve and a relentlessness borne out of her desire to live longer:
Monday Motivation: Interview with Molly Burdick. Burdick says she is fighting for her life, and climbing helps by strengthening her heart. In other words, this climber has amazing mental fortitude, and it has helped her survive and scale mountains — literally and figuratively.
Now, every serious climber knows the importance of mental fortitude and having courage in the face of pain or adversity. Yes, climbing skills and physical endurance are important; but it is mental fortitude that turns climbers from good to great. It is mental fortitude that allows climbers to push through their limits and continue climbing through fatigue, pain and against the elements.
An old UK Climbing article on ice climbing Ice Climbing – Physical and Mental Advice notes that fear and stress can adversely impact climbers. Stress can arise from the presence of conflicting psychological and physiological demands. Fear, on the other hand, can be due to a range of things, the most obvious of which is the fear of failing and injuring oneself. Both stress and fear, in turn, can be debilitating, to the detriment of the climber. Unmanaged, they can mean the difference between going higher or simply stopping – the body is unable to go any further because the mind is left wanting.
Enter mental fortitude (also known as mental toughness). Mental toughness is defined by the University of Lincoln School of Sport and Exercise Science, as “generally agreed to comprise values, attitudes, emotions and cognitions that enable people to pursue successfully their goals and produce consistently high-level performances regardless of obstacles or adversity.” Its manifestations are the “ability to withstand stress, persevere, maintain focus, and make effective decisions under pressure.” Therefore, climbers with mental fortitude will be able to manage, if not suppress, both stress and fear. By doing this, they will therefore be able to pursue and ultimately attain their goals.
Now, mental fortitude is a big part of the equation, along with climbing skills, physical strength and endurance, as well as the correct equipment. And all are certainly required in any climb. Arguably the biggest test of mental fortitude for climbers is Everest. We detailed in our Everest Climbing News Summary 2016 how Lhakpa Sherpa is the most successful female Everest climber ever, as she has summited multiple times, which shows the strength of her own mental fortitude. It is the world’s highest peak, one climbed by only a handful of bold and capable climbers. Fortunately, help is available for anyone hoping to climb it. A feature on Lottoland describes how experienced guides and Sherpas will bring you as far up Everest as your fitness can handle, for about £65,000. While the costs will cover most of what you need to climb Everest safely, only mental fortitude will get you up to the summit and back down the mountain. A climb up Everest (or any similar mountain) will test you to the max, so it is imperative that you have lots and lots of grit and resiliency to overcome whatever comes your way.
There is nothing easy about climbing, as it necessitates the intersection of physical and mental toughness. The very best climbers are confident in both strengths.
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