I was walking the halls of Utah’s state capitol after meetings and ran into a gentleman by the name of Ted Wilson. Ted has accomplished many things in life, such as serving as Mayor of Salt Lake City for three terms. What I know about him isn’t in regard to politics however, but mountaineering.
Ted is revered for making many first ascents on routes in Utah’s mountains. Additionally, he has climbed in the Tetons, and in other ranges found in the Alps, Alaska, Andes, and the Himalaya. I took the liberty of stopping him as we passed, I did this to offer my respect for what I know he has accomplished. Our meeting proved to be very intriguing for me; the details from my recollection of our engagement are as follows.
After I complimented Ted for his bravery, placing protection for climbers who someday would follow similar routes, he asked me if I climbed. I suggested that I have climbed, but that I don’t consider myself a climber. He then asked me to explain. I told him about my phobia, acrophobia, and that I had overcome my fears by ascending the Grand Teton.
Ted has reached the summit of the Grand 72 times! He too has received the Department of the Interior Valor award for a mountain rescue on the North Face, this was given in 1967. He is well aware of nearly every aspect of the Tetons, as I shared my experience, which I have written about in my book, he understood every emotion I had experienced while climbing.
What I learned while visiting with one of mountaineering’s bravest climbers is what I want to share with you today. We stood on the main floor of the Capitol, just east of the rotunda. As we spoke, Ted asked me to look over at the balconies across the hall, south of where we were standing. He then pointed to the second floor, and said, “If we feel from that level, we may only get hurt. On the next level up, pointing a little higher toward the third floor, we may break some bones in falling. But, on that highest level, now raising his arm nearly straight upward, and pointing his finger toward the top floor; we would surely die from our falls.”
I listened intently; I understood exactly what he was saying, not wanting to test his theory. What really struck me though is what he said next, “After reaching that height, it doesn’t matter anymore.” I interpreted what he said as, there is no need to continue building our levels of fear as you go higher and higher; you have reached the point of greatest threat. His words hit me hard. I found this little piece of knowledge to be invaluable; a life lesson. I knew in my heart as he shared with me this fact, that my fear continues to build the higher I climb. But what’s the point of increasing our fears beyond what is necessary?
Next and even more profound was hearing Ted say, “I too never look down.” This was after he heard me comment, “Looking down while hiking is the single factor which disables me while mountain climbing.” Ted, the greatest climber I know, or have heard about; doesn’t look down either? I stood there shocked, and a tiny bit happy, knowing I might not be as wimpy as I once thought.
No, Jaren I don’t, and here is why. On our climbs we need all our faculties to be focused precisely on the mission at hand. Since I am at the heights of certain fatality if I fall, I can’t leave room for unnecessary distractions. Yes, looking down generates fear in nearly everyone, and puts our minds into a mode of concentrating on the wrong thing.
Amazing! There is a great lesson for all of us in this story, for everything we do. How often do we allow ourselves to fear beyond what is truly necessary? We just keep piling on more and more, even though we have reached the point of greatest potential destruction long ago. Don’t create larger barriers to meeting your goals by continually increasing your level of apprehension. We make things out to be much harder than they really are; don’t we?
Second, don’t look down! Or whatever it is you do that distracts you from accomplishing your objectives. We need to be laser focused on our task at hand. Don’t let your attention become preoccupied unnecessarily. Other things we do in life may not be life threatening as mountaineering is, but if you think about never reaching your potential, maybe it is. Keep your mind on task and away from those seemingly simple, but deadly, distractions.