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Psychological problems and pathological self-realization in the mountains

Psychological problems and pathological self-realization in the mountains

Attempts of the pathological self-realization in the mountains I propose for your analysis one problematic situation, which is rare, but, unfortunately, sometimes you have to face it during mountain climbing programs. I am talking about an internal conflict in a group, the signs of which are so characteristic that I can talk about some standard psychological problem that I learned to recognize and even accurately predict its development, however, so far, I have not learned to stop or mitigate the effect of this situation.

The mountain climbing route, regardless of its complexity is quite stressful for the most participants - they all fall into the unusual and uncomfortable conditions both physically and psychologically. Everyone understands that the basis of security in the difficult conditions, whether mountains, sea, taiga etc. - this is discipline and mutual respect - that is even written in a document that all the participants sign before the start of the program. The credibility of the leader or guide on the route is absolutely undiscussable, otherwise, why to pay your money if you are so smart that you can comment or not to follow the decisions of your guide? Everything seems to be clear. However, it’s quite rare, but still there are some people on the programs with the hidden psychological characteristics, which in extreme conditions come to the surface and create problems for the others. If there are completely obvious standard features, does this problem have any solutions?

As a rule, the situation starts with small attempts to on the authority of the guide - not fulfilling the requirements, to react painfully to the simplest comments, etc. Thus, the instigator manifests himself and sets the stage for the implementation of a certain, possibly subconscious and unconscious plan. Further signs of subversive activity become noticeable - an alternative “leader” appears in the group, who gathers around himself a number of the weakest participants and sets them up against the official guide. The result can be disruption of the program or, at least, a spoiled atmosphere among others who wanted to take a quiet and safe time in the mountains.

The main patterns observed:

• The situation arises exclusively on the easy mountain routes in the absence of the obvious fails or inaccuracies in the actions of the guide.
• The situation never arises when climbing with trained participants on the difficult routes.
• It is difficult to determine the moment of the onset of the conflict, since it has no obvious reason.
• The instigator of the conflict is always the most poorly trained in the group either physically or technically.
• The conflict goes into an acute phase under the following conditions – approach to the somehow technically complicated section of the route, the appearance of the factors that complicate the route (difficult weather conditions), critical fatigue of the group during the main ascent.
• After the fact - a personal ill feeling of the instigator of the conflict to the guide - I repeat, without obvious reasons and preconditions, a person can be so biased by his condition that no conversations and dialogues can help alleviate the situation.


Potential reasons:

• A hidden inferiority complex, painful tendency to be a leader regardless of the availability of the competence in the matter (professional or social habit of putting oneself above others).
• Inner personal dissatisfaction with one’s condition (weakness, fatigue, fear)
• Need for self-affirmation at the expense of others - usually weaker participants.


In sum, the above mentioned factors give an effect of a time bomb, since it is almost impossible to identify these signs before leaving the comfort zone, especially with people who rarely or never before find themselves in the conditions of continuous physical activity.

I cannot say which actions of a program manager can help to the effective solution of the problem when such signs appear - breaking out, the conflict immediately enters into the confrontation phase and makes the safe continuation of the program really questionable, as it makes it difficult or impossible to control the actions of the group. The group either ends the route and returns to the base, or, if it is possible, is divided.

According to the popular saying, warned means armed, and I want from the potential participants in our mountain programs to take into their account the possibility of the situation described above, which, given a generally negative background, also poses a physical threat to the safety of each program participant. Therefore, you should keep in mind that any attempt of anyone to manipulate your behavior on the route is a diversion of the unhealthy person, who cannot accept the fact, that under certain conditions he is obliged to accept the authority of the official leader and adjust his actions in the interests of the group.

An example of the development of a similar situation from my personal practice.

It is already three years as a guy of 54 years was coming to participate in my climbing programs. Let us call him conditionally - Dmitry. Each year he turned out to be the weakest in the group and did his maximum without reaching the summits and creating no problems for anyone. However, once he got lucky - in the group there was a woman of the same age as him and physically even weaker. And the man finally got his chance…

At the beginning everything went fine - the weather was nice, the group was small and comfortable. Although, it was hard for this couple, but the positive background in the team remained clear. We did three easy walks in the neighboring beautiful gorges, got trained a bit with crampons on the glacier. Dmitry was clearly patronizing the lady, but no negative was felt.

Everything changed in two days later, when we went on the main ascent of the program. One very easy route, but there was some physical load due to the moderate altitude of 3500 m. In some places we got top scramble a bit, holding the rocky slope with our hands, just a couple of places of 2-3 meters each. The rope is never used on this route - there is nothing to fix it to, in case if someone has problems, the guide just can help him with his hands. In addition, the use of even a short rope on a route of this nature increases the risk of the rockfall provoked by the rope - tactically, it is better to climb carefully without any extra protection. And for many years there was no case that someone could not pass these sections or got any harm doing that.

In short, during the ascent, I felt some signs of discontent on the part of Dmitry and the lady - they progressed very slowly climbing together, Dmitry protected the behind of the lady taking care of comforting her with some kind words. The closer we go to the summit, the more noticeable was the discontent, although there were no open complaints, but definitely some clouds were gathering.

The shit broke through the dam exactly on the summit. I asked every one of the group to get together at the summit but got a refusal from the lady, and then Dmitry accused me of pressing them too much and announced that he has a lot of complaints against me, and for now they with the lady are going at their own and doing what they consider necessary. Something like this. The route was not difficult, but nevertheless, such behavior not only spoiled all the impressions of the ascent, but also created physical problems - the weather was getting worse, it was necessary to start the descent as soon as possible.

In short, we got down to the camp in very tense and unpleasant mood. I repeat, there was no conflict on my part during the whole climb. No rudeness, no personal comments, nothing at all. I felt a negative background, tried to turn it into a joke, smiled and encouraged the participants. There were no quarrels to the very summit. The incident at the top also cannot be called a quarrel - it was an attempt to not obey my orders as a guide. It felt like a breakthrough of some already accumulated negative emotions.

When we went down to the camp, these two clients did not talk to me anymore and showed signs of personal ill feeling. Moreover, the lady took the function of the passive support – she did not enter into any conversation but clearly expressed tacit approval of Dmitry’s behavior. Then we all got inside of our tents and did not communicate more for that day.

The next morning, I hoped that having rested, these people would feel much better as they definitely come to the mountains to get a positive emotion, successfully climbed the mountain and safely descended.

In short, in the morning I was expecting at least some signs of positive to smooth the situation and go down to the valley, where at the foot of the trail we left our car. I watched with interest as the instigator of the conflict got out of the tent and moved in my direction, obviously with the intention of starting some kind of conversation. However, the whole conversation came down to a short statement that together with the lady they are going down on their own. That is, neither the guide nor the company of other people is needed anymore.

I remind you once again - the quarrel was just one-sided and I still do not understand the obvious reasons for the situation. After this short statement, Dmitry turned around and went to his tent to pack his things. The dialogue did not work. Since the descent route was not complicated – just a trail going down to the parking lot (2-3 hours of descent), I did not argue - with the remaining part of the group we took down the camp and did one more climb of nearby mountain.

However, the decision of Dmitry to go down together with the lady was far from the most optimal in this situation. The fact is that without a car the guys had a whole set of additional difficulties to get to the hotel, where rooms were reserved and things were left. Moreover, all communications, satellite phone, walkie-talkie – they got nothing of it and I could not share mine as there was no plan to split the group. I also had all the group insurance with the emergency phone numbers. In short, such behavior was just childish in its obvious stupidity. If something happened on the descent, it would not be a very critical situation (the location is not far from the people), but, nevertheless, it would be a very inconvenient thing to get in.

In fact, in the morning, understanding the state of the problematic participants, I assumed that with the whole group we would get the program over and go down all together. However, after a categorical statement about their independent descent, my decision changed. People decided to do everything by themselves and they didn’t need my services anymore, it was expressed very definitely and unambiguously.

We went down to the valley on the next day and found that the guys had not come to the hotel the night before. They did not disappear, since all the rental equipment was left under the car, and someone took their things from the hotel - but, apparently, the normal 2-hour descent was delayed so that they had to spend the night somewhere on their way down. They departed leaving no message for me at the hotel administration.

And since then I have not heard of them anymore.

Text — Alexey Trubachev, founder of the MCS AlexClimb mountaineering and climbing school.

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.