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Psychological problems in the mountains

Psychological problems and pathological self-realization in the mountains

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Attempts of pathological self-realization in the mountains

I propose to analyze one problematic situation, which not often, but, unfortunately, still can be encountered in the course of mountain programs. We are talking about an internal conflict in a group, the signs of which are so characteristic that we can talk about some standard psychological problem. I have learned to recognize it and even accurately predict its development, however, so far, I have not learned how to stop or minimize the effect of this situation.

On the heights of the Bezengi Wall

The mountain route, regardless of the difficulty, is a rather stressful event for most of the participants - they all find themselves in unusual and uncomfortable conditions, both physically and psychologically. Any person in the clear mind understands that the basis of security in difficult conditions, be it mountains, sea, taiga, is discipline and mutual respect - this is even written in a document that all participants sign before the start of the program.

Ring lake on the Tetnuld glacier in Svaneti

The authority of the leader or guide on the route is an absolutely unconditional concept, otherwise, why to pay money to the guide if you are so smart that you can comment or not accept the guide's decisions? Everything seems to be clear. However, quite rarely, but still, people with hidden psychological characteristics get to the programs, which, in extreme conditions, come to the surface and create problems for others. In the presence of perfectly obvious standard signs, does this problem have solutions?

Mount Kazbek in Georgia and Gergeti Monastery

As a rule, all starts with small attacks on the authority of the guide - not fulfilling the requirements, painfully reacting to the simplest remarks, etc. Thus, the instigator manifests himself and, as it were, prepares the ground for the implementation of some, possibly unconscious plan. Further, signs of subversive activity become noticeable - an alternative “leader” appears in the group, who gathers around him a certain number of the weakest participants and sets them against the official group leader. The result is a disruption of the route, or at least a spoiled mood for those who wanted to enjoy the mountains in calm state of mine and walk the route safely.

Camp MCS AlexClimb at the foot of the route to Tetnuld

The main observed patterns of the problem:

• The situation occurs only on simple routes in the absence of obvious errors or inaccuracies in the actions of the guide.
• The situation never arises when climbing with trained participants on difficult routes.
• It is difficult to determine the moment of the beginning of the conflict, since it does not have a pronounced cause.
• The instigator of the conflict is always either physically or technically the least trained and weakest in the group.
• The conflict turns into an acute phase under the following conditions - getting to a difficult section of the route, the appearance of factors complicating the route (difficult weather conditions), critical fatigue of the group during the main ascent.
• Post factum - the instigator of the conflict has a personal grudge against the guide - I repeat, without obvious reasons and prerequisites, a person can be so biased by his condition that no conversations and dialogues can help alleviate the situation.

Altocumulus - a cloud of characteristic shape, a harbinger of a thunderstorm

Suggested reasons:

• Hidden inferiority complex, a painful tendency to be a leader regardless of competence in the matter (professional or social habit of placing oneself above others).
• Personal dissatisfaction with self-condition (weakness, fatigue, fear)
• The need for self-affirmation at the expense of others - as a rule, weaker participants.

On the top of Mount Laila - the highest point of the Svaneti Range in Georgia

In sum, the above factors give the effect of a time bomb, since it is almost impossible to identify these signs before leaving the comfort zone, especially with people who first find themselves in conditions of continuous physical activity.

When such signs appear, I cannot call my actions as a program leader an effective solution to the problem. Breaking out, the conflict immediately enters the phase of confrontation and makes it impossible to continue the program safely, as it makes it difficult or impossible to manage the actions of the group. The group either completes the route and returns to the base all together, or, if possible, splits up.

Mount Kazbek - view from the north, from Ossetia

As they say, forewarned is forearmed, and I want to warn the potential participants of mountain climbing or trekking programs to take into account the possibility of the situation described above. This situation despite the general negative background, also poses a physical threat to the safety of each participant of the program. Therefore, you should keep in mind that any attempts of anyone to manipulate the behavior of others on the mountain route is a diversion of an inferior or unhealthy person, who is disappointed that under certain conditions he is obliged to accept the authority of the leader and correct his actions in the interests of the group.

In the snow plateau 4300 m - the upper camp during the ascent to the summit of Mount Gestola

A real example of the development of a similar situation from my personal mountain guiding practice. For the third year in a row, a 54-year-old man has come to my climbing programs, let's call him conditionally - Dmitry. Every year he turned out to be the weakest in the group and calmly did his maximum without reaching the summits but neither without creating problems for anyone. However, from the last time he got lucky - in the group there was a woman of the same age as him and even weaker than him physically. So the person seemed to be changed completely.

Climbing the snowy slope in the Bezengi wall

At first everything went fine - the weather was good, the group was small. Although it was physically hard for this couple, the positive background in the team remained. We made three walks in the beautiful neighboring gorges, walked a bit in crampons and "climbed" on the glacier. Dmitry obviously took care of the lady, but there was no sing of any negative feeling.

Chilly morning after bad weather - the upper camp during the ascent to Mount Shkhara by the Crab route

Everything changed two days later, when we reached the main ascent of the program. It was quite easy route, but the load due to the altitude was quite intense. In some places it was even necessary to scramble a bit, holding on with the hands on the rock, just a couple of places of 2-3 meters high. I do not use a rope on this route - there is nothing to protect it to, so there is no sense in it. If some problems arise, you can belay with your hands or just give some easy push to help anybody to pass the section. In addition, the use of even a short rope on the relief with a lot of loose rocks increases the risk of causing the rockfall with this rope. So tactically, it is better to climb carefully without additional protection. And for many years there was no case that someone would not climb this part or fall down.

The summit towers of Dykh Tau at dawn. Bezengi

In short, on the ascent, I felt signs of discontent on the part of Dmitry and the lady - they walked very slowly together, Dmitry covered the lady from behind and obviously talked something with her along the way of ascent. The closer to the summit, the more clearly the discontent was felt. Although no open complaints were pronounced, but I saw how the clouds were gathering.

The dam broke right at the top. I asked everyone to gather at the summit tour, but first I was refused by the lady, and then Dmitry accused me of pressing them too hard. As well he informed me that he had serious complains that he plans to express after the descent, but for now he and the lady will do what they consider necessary.. The route was not technical nor difficult, but nevertheless, such behavior not only spoiled all the impressions of the ascent, but also created problems - the weather was getting worse, it was necessary to start the descent quickly and in an organized manner.

Climbing the scree slope towards the Tsanner pass, Bezengi

In short, it was very tense and unpleasant, but we went all together down to the camp. I repeat, there was no conflict on my part. No rudeness, no personal comments, nothing at all. I felt the negative background, tried to make a joke, smiled and cheered the participants. There were no signs of the conflict until the very top. The incident at the summit also cannot be called a conflict - it was an attempt to not fulfill my demands and a breakthrough of some previously accumulated emotions.

Swimming in a mountain lake after climbing Mount Gestola

When we went down to the camp, the couple of Dmitry and the lady no longer talked to me and showed signs of personal resentment. Moreover, the woman performed the function of passive support - she did not enter into a conversation, but obviously expressed tacit approval of Dmitry's behavior. Then we all reached our tents and did not communicate more that day.

The next morning, I assumed that the guys, after getting rest, would think that after all they had come to the mountains to enjoy but not to quarrel with the others. Anyway one day before they had successfully climbed beautiful mountains and descended safe to the camp.

Aerial view of the Enguri river valley, Georgia, Svaneti

In short, in the morning I was waiting for some signs of positive emotions in order to smooth the situation and calmly descent to the valley, where we had a car parked at the beginning of the trail. I watched with interest as the instigator of the conflict got out of the tent and moved towards me, obviously with the intention of starting some kind of conversation. However, the whole conversation was reduced to a short statement that he and the lady were going down on their own. That is, they no longer need a guide or our company in general.

Overcoming the bergschrund when reaching the summit dome of Mount Gestola

I remind you once again that the quarrel was one-sided and I still did not understand the obvious reasons for the situation. After announcing his decision, Dmitry turned around and went to his tent to prepare for descent. The dialogue didn't work. Since the descent route was not difficult - the only path went steeply down to the valley (2-3 hours of descent), I did not argue with their decision – with the remaining participants we pack our backpacks and set off for another ascent to the neighboring mountain. However, Dmitri’s decision for independent descend was far from the optimal in this situation. The fact is that without a car, the guys would have a whole range of additional difficulties to get to the hotel, where rooms were booked and things were left.

On the trail along the scree slope of the Bezengi Gorge

Moreover, all the means of emergency communication, satellite phone, walkie-talkie - remained with me. I also had all the insurance papers for the group with all necessary emergency phone numbers. In short, such behavior was already just some kind of childish in its obvious stupidity. If something happened on the descent, it would not be critical, but still a very uncomfortable situation.

At the acclimatization camp 3500 at dawn. Behind – the Dykh Tau massif

In fact, in the morning, understanding the psychological condition of the problematic participants, I assumed that the whole group would cancel the program and descend together. However, after the categorical statement about the decision for independent descent, my decision got changed. People decided everything by themselves and no longer needed my services, this was expressed quite definitely and unambiguously.

Sunrise over the Main Caucasian Range

We went down the next day and found that the guys did not come to the hotel the day before and had not spent the night there. They did not disappear, since all the rental equipment was left under the car, and someone took the things from the hotel… But, apparently, the 2-hour descent for these people turned to be too long and took so much time that they had to spend the night somewhere in the middle of nowhere and get to the hotel for their things only on the next day.

They departed without leaving any message to me in the hotel. And I never heard about them anymore. Very sad story indeed.

The author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev


Our Principles

AlexClimb Rule #1 - Safety First

From the very beginning of our activity, here nearly 16 years, the first Principle of work of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb is the Safety Priority. On the basis of this Principle all process of training is based, all programs and rounds are developed and carried out only within this main principle. We consider that at professional approach to development of programs, at personal discipline and correctly put motivation - occupations by mountaineering and rock-climbing are COMPLETELY safe. And from the return - all troubles and accidents in our sport come from nonprofessionalism, from ignorance or neglect by elementary standards of safety, from irrational motivation, from revaluation of own forces and opportunities. All these prerequisites we COMPLETELY EXCLUDE in our work - ours Rock-climbing, Ice climbing and Mountaineering are based on one Principle - the Safety Priority. In rock-climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing, the Priority of Safety of MCS AlexClimb-is your personal security and comfort irrespective of, than we are engaged - we train muscles and we work technology of the movement in the sports hall and on the rock climbing wall, we make the way through snowstorm to top or we relax on golden sand of the Caribbean beach after hot day of trainings on rocks. The Safety priority - the main credo of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb.

AlexClimb Rule #2 - Leave No Trace

Closely interacting with Nature, working with the active programs in mountains, woods, lakes and rivers, we perfectly understand the importance of carefull and respectfull bahavior towards the Nature, for its resources. From the very beginning of our outdoor-activity we adopted rules of  Leave No Trace technique - the standard of behavior of the person accepted in all the civilized world in relation to environment and especially - to the wild nature. After all on the relation of people to the nature near which they exist, itself can draw dalekoidushchy conclusions on the relation of these people to... Where and as we didn't travel - we don't reserve any garbage, we try to reduce whenever possible our influence on environment to a minimum. We clear earlier zagryazyonny tourist parking of the left garbage, we take out and we take out to utilization places that to us other people left there. We consider that only thus, at personal individual consciousness of each citizen, each tourist, climber or autotraveller, we will be able to keep the nature surrounding us in its state, natural, suitable for life, - in it pledge of the healthy future for ourselves and our children.

AlexClimb Rule #3 - Sober Concious

The position of AlexClimb Mountain and rockclimbing School regarding healthy lifestyle is quite clear - we consider that only sober consciousness is capable to fill sincere emotions,  to sympathize, to enjoy life in all its variety. Bright various enjoyable life is possible only on condition of keeping the absolute sobriety and purity of consciousness. Any way of obscuring our perception of reality is intended to do harm to our consciousness and bring harm to our physical health, to replace the true values by false ones, to destroy us physically - to turn us into flabby, weak, senseless, gray herd with empty hazy eyes. We don't force anybody to our point of view, everyone has a God's gift of making his own choice and to destroy himself if that is what he wants... But in AlexCilimb Mountain Climbing School we accept quite certain and very simple set of rules: neither alcohol, nor drugs.