By Brenton Reagan
Climbing has taught me how to stay focused in the moment. Climbing goals and Expeditions have taught me how to stay focused over the long term.
What does it take to stay focused in the moment when you are hanging on really tight, pumped and scared?
Staying relaxed and breathing deep and almost going into a state of mediation can create for me the focus I need to finish the pitch. Fear of falling pumps adrenalin into veins, hear rate increases, and you start to lose your focus and concentration.
Here’s a trick to calm down. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. Controlling your breathing calms your mind and slows the heart. I’m able to relax and push aside the fear. Sometimes, when I’m at my best, I’m able to clear my mind.
I sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it? But it’s been my experience that focus on the rock is best achieved with a clear mind.
The parts come together: sharp edge under my fingers; painful pump in my arms; smear my right foot is on; my breathing; clear mind. When this happens, I’m at my best on the rock.
Expeditions and long trips normally require months of years of prep time and dedication in order to get to the summit. I use a constantly evolving 3 year plan of climbing goals to focus my expedition efforts.
Expeditions require constant diligence, and much sacrifice. Saving money and resources takes work and discipline. Small trips and vacations are cancelled to save resources for the expedition. Planning required much study. Training is not fun.
Once on expedition, focus must be maintained. Fueling with enough calories, getting enough sleep and rest, caring for your feet, keeping a pack at ready for the next weather window are keys to summit success.
Daily discipline is focus over the long term. An undying motivation to achieve your goals is key.
Joshua Tree. The route was a run out face climb with such limited protection that a fall would almost certainly end up with an injury.
All things in the world were focused down to 4 fingers on the rock. I can remember was seeing the spots of chalk on my finger nails as I crimped down on what was supposed to be a hold.
Toes smeared for all they could. Wind howled. Belayer encouraged from below.
I had no idea where the next bolt was or even if I was headed the right way. I climbed up, then down, then back up trying to decide which way I need to go. I knew the whole time that some of the moves would be nearly impossible to reverse.
I don’t even know how long it took me to climb the pitch, I was so focused on each move, each hold, and my breathing was deep and relaxed. Soon I was clipping the anchors. I had climbed but 180 feet. It felt like a 1000 miles.
Expedition: My goal to become an Exum Mountain Guide.
I grew up climbing in the Tetons with other Exum guides but never knew what I wanted to do for a livelihood. It wasn’t until I spend a day with Alex Lowe that I knew what I wanted in life. A day climbing in Death Canyon with Alex changed my life forever. Afterward I knew I wanted to be a mountain guide. Not just any mountain guide, but an Exum Mountain Guide.
I spent the next 7 years of my life focused on that expedition. First were four years in the Marine Corps and every opportunity I had I went climbing or traveling to big mountain ranges to improve my mountaineering skills.
But Exum is an invitation only organization. I had to find a way to get invited.
So I started at the bottom. After the service I returned to the Tetons and cleaned the gear for Exum. I worked as a porter, took guide courses and did whatever it took to get noticed. I stayed focused on my goal and one day while I was in Colorado I got the call I knew would come some day if I was diligent. Al Read, owner and president of Exum Mountain Guides was on the other line. He offered me a chance to come and spend the summer guiding for Exum.
A summit achieved.