Preparing for K2 – the Mental

10 Jun 2014

Physical preparations for any big challenge are different in content but similar in effort and workload – I’ve trained up for Ironman, fitness challenges, adventure races, selection courses, mountain climbs, expeditions and a ton of other stuff over the years.

Many friends also regularly train up for Ironman, ultra-marathons and other endurance events. Some definitely need a lot harder training than others, but they all sports specific, basically requiring 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Mentally though, preparing for a major expedition dwarfs anything else. There is simply no comparison. It is something that is hard to define as well as understand unless one has been there. And with K2 and other 8000m giants there is an added element, that of risk. It all makes for a potent and powerful mental cocktail of total and utter focus, dedication, self-belief, confidence, expectation, apprehension and concern. And, yes, a necessary selfishness.

On the belief side, I was asked a while back by a leadership colleague how important this self-belief and self-confidence was gearing up for K2. It was an interesting question. In most walks of life self-belief can mean everything. Whether you subscribe to the ‘Law of Attraction’ explanation all of us being 99% energy and the universe delivering what we concentrate on, or simply feel that self-belief gives the focus which delivers results doesn’t really matter. It is an immensely powerful weapon, one that all Olympic athletes and many senior executives in the business world give credence to its criticality.

And yet on K2 100% self-belief, confidence and assurance may be a dangerous thing. There needs to be a degree of caution. In addition to the practical understanding of snow conditions, avalanche dangers and weather patterns, there are the undefined skills of respecting and listening to nature, of one’s antennas being totally tuned to the energy in the mountains and of listening to gut feeling. These are skills that are acquired through time and experience and tap into fields of consciousness that scientists are only beginning to understand.

Getting that balance right between self-belief, supreme confidence, complete expectation - and caution, wariness and doubt - is an inherently difficult skill. It requires being totally ‘in the zone’ – a state of mind, body and spirit that I have been in a number of periods in the past where one is totally tuned to the environment, one’s physical body, mental clarity and gut instincts.

Getting in that ‘zone’ can also be extremely difficult in today’s world with its multitude of information overload, distractions and lack of our most precious resource - time. It requires complete focus, blinkers on and, yes, that selfishness – a necessary requirement that few outside of the expedition world can ever understand.

And in all honesty whilst I have been very pleased with my physical preparations the past few months, I have been concerned that I wasn’t in the correct mental state necessary for heading to the Karakorum. It was only when I took some hard but critical decisions to cut out those aspects that were so detrimental, if not damaging, to getting in this mental state that things turned around.

That is the degree of sacrifices and selfishness that few can understand and many struggle to accept, particularly those close to you. But it is a fundamental necessity to getting in that clarity of mental thought for a challenge that is inherently risky, will take 2 months to complete and many weeks after to de-compress from.

I am there now, but it has only really been felt the past few weeks – and every so often something arises that threatens that state.  It does probably make one sometimes appear on edge, anxious looking and even unsociable! However, awareness is everything…….

That is just some of the differences between the mental preparations for K2 and the mental preparations for other physical challenges. To me it is chalk and cheese.

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