by Hayden Jamieson
Much of my climbing career has been defined by a single day in the mountains. That day occurred in the Summer of 2016, when I had an accident while climbing in the Karakoram of Pakistan. I fell, badly injured my foot, and required an extensive rescue. I hobbled and was piggy-backed by friends for nearly four days to get to the nearest medical services. In addition to my own epic experience, two of my friends and heroes, Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster, never came home from their Karakoram expedition. I often talk with older generations of climbers who refer to such defining moments and how they make us realize we aren’t invincible. This event was a defining moment for me. Throughout my late teens and early 20’s, I often found myself not taking into account all the variables that come into play when climbing in dangerous or risky situations. That’s changed. As anyone can imagine, this Karakoram defining moment had significant mental repercussions on the way I carry myself now.
I’ve been working with The Warrior’s Way mental training program over the last year. Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior’s Way and Jeff Lodas, one of his trainers, selected several Evolv athletes, me included, to participate in developing a new dimension to their curriculum. I wondered how this training might help me work through the Karakoram experience, so I was eager to participate.
For me, one of the main things The Warriors Way has allowed me to do is take a step back and observe my situations from a more objective point of view. I can observe my automatic, reactive thoughts and how I carry myself, and make changes. This observational and awareness-based approach allowed me to see situations as a bystander instead of from an emotionally-charged being. Because of this, the clarity of my decisions has been dramatically altered. For instance, being high above a bolt on a steep sport climb, I might start to get very nervous about the fall, begin to doubt my ability, and lose focus. With the clarity of realizing the objective low-risk nature of the situation—I placed trust in my belayer to catch a fall effectively; the wall is so steep that I won’t impact it in a violent manner; I am aware of the rope management so I don’t flip upside-down; etc—I find myself free to climb in a relaxed and focused demeanor.
Building on the observational-based approach, I’ve also begun to focus my energy towards a curiosity-based approach. This has manifested itself in many ways, both in climbing and in life. Most of all, however, I find it as a source of inspiration to give my absolute best effort without the added pressure of worrying about success or failure. In Yosemite this past spring, this curiosity-based approach helped me realize a huge goal of mine: climbing The Freerider on El Cap. In the weeks and months building up to climbing the route, I spent hours wondering if I would be capable, fit enough, brave enough to lead the scary pitches, and strong enough to stick it out when things got hard. Jeff Lodas, my mental training coach throughout the year, reminded me that I ought to go into each pitch with as few preconceptions as possible. He suggested that I look at the route as a whole, decide if there are any pitches that I legitimately should be wary of, and engage each pitch with a tentative curiosity, instead of anxiety about what each pitch may or may not be like. By seeing the challenge in front of me as something to probe into with curiosity, I felt free to climb my very best and really enjoyed my time on the wall instead of worry about what difficulty would come next.
Making a decision to participate in the Warriors Way training has been another defining moment that’s been paramount in allowing me to move forward from my accident in Pakistan. Although the accident isn’t something that I will soon forget, I feel the freedom to incorporate it into my daily life without allowing it to consume me with fear and anxiety. I can be aware of its impact and curious about how to integrate it as best as I can. All the time that I’ve spent intentionally training my mind has absolutely shown me the value of mental strength and awareness over any other fitness that I can train in a climbing gym. Wolfgang Güllich was right when he said: “The brain is the most important muscle for climbing.”