Climbing & Emotions

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby pbakwin » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:51 am

I noticed some years ago that, once I'm acclimated, I just feel happier the higher I go. I've tested this to 22,841' so far, and it is consistent. I suppose it has to do with lack of oxygen to the brain, with is something like the effect of alcohol. Or, maybe those yogis who have been meditating high in the Himalayas for centuries are on to something?
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby Scott P » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:47 am

I am one who is not unusually emotional from the climbs themselves.

A while back a newspaper did an article on me and they wanted me to say how emotional/spiritual the experience of summitting is. After prodding they kind of put it in the article, but it's really not much about how I feel.

I think much of the emotion isn't because of the mountain or the climb, but because you are left alone with your thoughts.

Even though I don't usually get unususual emotional from the climbs, being alone with your thoughts, does bring out emotions. Sometimes, if my wife isn't with me on a climb I think of her and how things used to be and will be with her. Thoughts wander and things like sadness, happiness, well being, or loneliness are often more apparent because you are left alone with your thoughts.

To me at least, it's being left alone with your thoughts, rather than altitude that brings out the emotion.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby Lemmiwinks » Tue Aug 14, 2012 11:01 am

I agree with Terry that it's therapeutic more than anything. If I'm away from the mountains for an extended period of time, I feel much more stressed than usual. I don't know whether it's specifically the altitude or rather just the scenary, sounds of nature, or solitude.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby winmag4582001 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:06 pm

Sounds like PMS... (pre mountain syndrome) \:D/

Or you could just be like my ex-wife.......... bat sh!t crazy!

FYI, only kidding.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby GregMiller » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:22 pm

Scott P wrote:I am one who is not unusually emotional from the climbs themselves.

Same here. If anything, it's not being in the mountains that gets to me - if I don't get up into the mountains and away from the city often enough (about every other week) I start turning into a hermit and get stressed out, which affects some ongoing medical issues (not good). I do know for me that solitude on a summit helps a lot (a crowded grays summit does a lot less for me than me and my hiking partner being the only ones to summit that day). I've thought about starting to hike/climb alone, but only after I get someting like a spot or inreach, and am VERY comfortable with its use.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby sanjuanmtneer » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:33 pm

I'm usually blubbering like a head cheerleader dumped on prom night when we get to the top of the fifth peak and Mark, or Lynn, or Steve, or Pete says: "Okay, only 5 more to go".
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby SilverLynx » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:41 pm

I noticed a lot of weird things happening with my emotions when I was doing some 14ers last year... I remember coming back from Columbia and feeling like my emotions were out of control. It was like I would come home and start crying for no apparent reason. This started happening more frequently. I wasn't sure whether I was happy, or sad, or what was going on. For a long time I thought it might be some form of altitude sickness but I really don't know.

I will say this: since I have started doing 14ers, I have an increased sensitivity to closed spaces or small rooms. I dislike being in a dimly lit building during the daytime, I dislike being without a view of the mountains, and I start to get depressed if I am indoors for too long. I have been more or less this way my whole life, but doing 14ers really spoils you to wide open spaces and bright sunlight. It is hard to be happy inside when you know what you could be doing instead.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby bj » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:52 pm

It's summit registers that get me. For a long time I just didn't sign them. Then about 6 years back my partner handed me the summit register on Mt. Williamson (CA). I thought about what to write for a minute and decided to just leave a note for my daughter (who will never see it) and I just started sobbing? I had no idea that was coming!

I've made a little tradition of leaving notes for my kids in the summit registers since then. I always feel something coming when I do it, but I don't always cry..
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby lackerstef » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:57 pm



I always get a feeling of elation up high! Also remember a lost friend. Great place to reflect. Many people don't put enough value upon it.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby 14erFred » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:29 pm

Although climbers savor the joy of higher elevations, a sizable body of empirical research supports the notion that altitude sometimes produces negative emotions (including anxiety and depression) among the general population. Below are references and summaries of nine published studies consistent with this conclusion.

1. Relationships between mood states and motor performances: What can you learn from high altitude.
Bolmont, Benoit.
Andrew, M. Lane [Ed]. (2007). Mood and human performance: Conceptual, measurement and applied issues. (pp. 245-259). xi, 334 pp. Hauppauge, NY, US: Nova Science Publishers; US.
[Book; Edited Book]
Year of Publication

Abstract (from the chapter): A complex relationship has been highlighted between Emotion and Action, and emerged as a new research theme. Among extreme environments, high altitude is well known to induce behavioural and mood disturbances including anxiety and alterations in cognitive functions, such as mental and reasoning processes and psychosensorimotor skills. The effects of high altitude, simulated or actual, on mood states and human motor performances are reviewed, and relationship between psychological states and motor performances at high altitude is discussed. To take into account this interplay between mood states including anxiety, personality traits and human performances could be essential to consolidate security and success of missions in extreme environments, and to improve quality of life and maybe human capacities. Finally, an environmental stressor, such as high altitude simulated, which has mainly provided the evidence of a significant interplay between the psychological states and the motor performances, could constitute a model to understand mechanisms by which moods including anxiety may improve, maintain or increase the human performances in normal condition.

2. High altitudes, anxiety, and panic attacks: Is there a relationship?
Roth, Walton T; Gomolla, Annette; Meuret, Alicia E; Alpers, Georg W; Handke, Eva M; Wilhelm, Frank H.
Depression and Anxiety. Vol.16(2), 2002, pp. 51-58.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: People exposed to high altitudes often experience somatic symptoms triggered by hypoxia, such as breathlessness, palpitations, dizziness, headache, and insomnia. Most of the symptoms are identical to those reported in panic attacks or severe anxiety. Potential causal links between adaptation to altitude and anxiety are apparent in all three leading models of panic, namely, hyperventilation (hypoxia leads to hypocapnia), suffocation false alarms (hypoxia counteracted to some extent by hypocapnia), and cognitive misinterpretations (symptoms from hypoxia and hypocapnia interpreted as dangerous). Furthermore, exposure to high altitudes produces respiratory disturbances during sleep in normals similar to those in panic disorder at low altitudes. In spite of these connections and their clinical importance, evidence for precipitation of panic attacks or more gradual increases in anxiety during altitude exposure is meager. We suggest some improvements that could be made in the design of future studies, possible tests of some of the theoretical causal links, and possible treatment applications, such as systematic exposure of panic patients to high altitude.

3. Elevation-dependent symptom, mood, and performance changes produced by exposure to hypobaric hypoxia.
Shukitt-Hale, Barbara; Banderet, Louis E; Lieberman, Harris R.
The International Journal of Aviation Psychology. Vol.8(4), 1998, pp. 319-334.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: Altitude exposures above 3,000 in produce changes in symptoms, moods, and cognitive/motor performance of unacclimatized individuals and should produce graded effects on these parameters as elevation and duration are increased. This study examined effects on these parameters as a function of altitude level and duration of exposure by administering standardized tests from 1 to 3 times to 23 males in an altitude chamber during 4.5-hour exposures to 3 levels of hypobaric hypoxia: 500 in, 4,200 in, and 4,700 in. Exposure to altitude significantly affected symptoms, moods, and performance in an elevation-dependent fashion. Adverse changes increased with higher altitudes (all measures were affected at 4,700 in, whereas only some were at 4,200 in) and usually with longer durations. Therefore, specific aspects of symptoms, moods, and performance are significantly degraded after only a few hours of exposure to hypobaric hypoxia, and the severity of the effects dramatically increases when testing is conducted at 4,700 compared to 4,200 in.

4. State-anxiety and low moods: Evidence for a single concept.
Bolmont, Benoit; Abraini, Jacques H.
Physiology & Behavior. Vol.74(4-5), Nov-Dec 2001, pp. 421-424.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: Examined C. D. Spielberger's (1972, 1975) hypothesis, according to which changes in state-anxiety (SA) level would correspond exactly to adverse changes in mood states. The authors analyzed the correlation coefficient (CC) between SA and low moods, and investigated whether these would increase when mood factors were grouped and added. Data (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Profile of Mood States) were obtained from previous studies with 8 Ss exposed to hypoxic conditions during a 31-day simulated climb from sea level to an 8,848 m equivalent altitude in a hypobaric chamber. Results show that adding scores of mood states improved progressively and significantly the CC between SA levels and mood scores when taken individually, up to a maximal increase of 75% of the correlation value when all mood factors were added. The relationship between the number of mood factors by group and increase in the CCs between SA and moods describes a logarithmic regression, which leads to the prediction that 21 mood factors would define fully the feelings experienced during SA. This provides objective evidence for Spielberger's hypothesis and suggests that low moods and SA could be arranged in a single concept, and low moods at large regarded as the human feelings experienced during SA responses.

5. An anxiety, personality and altitude symptomatology study during a 31-day period of hypoxia in a hypobaric chamber (Experiment "Everest-Comex 1997').
Nicolas, M; Thullier-Lestienne, F; Bouquet, C; Gardette, B; Gortan, C; Joulia, F; Bonnon, M; Richalet, J. -P; Therme, P; Abraini, J. H.
Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol.19(4), Dec 1999, pp. 407-414.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: High altitude of more than 3000 in produces a set of pathological disorders that includes both cerebral (cAS) and respiratory (rAS) altitude symptoms. High altitude exposure further induces anxiety responses and behavioural disturbances. The authors report an investigation on anxiety responses, personality traits, and altitude symptoms (AS) in climbers participating in a 31-day period of confinement and gradual decompression in a hypobaric chamber equivalent to a climb from sea-level to Mount Everest (8848 m altitude). Ss were 8 24-37 yr old experienced male climbers. Personality traits, state-trait anxiety, and AS were assessed, using the Cattell 16 Personality Factor questionnaire, the Spielberger's State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Lake Louise concensus questionnaire. Results show significant group effects for state-anxiety and AS; state-anxiety and AS increased as altitude increased. They also show that state-type anxiety shows a similar time-course to cAS, but not rAS. Results suggests that AS could not be predicted using personality traits and further support that personality traits, such as praxernia (happening sensitivity), could play a major role in the occurrence of state-type anxiety responses in extreme environments.

6. Altitude symptomatology and mood states during a climb to 3,630 meters.
Shukitt-Hale, Barbara; Rauch, Terry M; Foutch, Richard.
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. Vol.61(3), Mar 1990, pp. 225-228.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: Self-rated symptoms and moods were determined in 7 male volunteers over 7 days during a climb to 3,630 m. Ss were tested 5 times: twice at 2,225 m and then once at 2,530, 3,080, and 3,630 m. Symptoms and moods were assessed with the Environmental Symptoms Questionnaire (J. B. Sampson et al, 1983) and the Profile of Mood States. Ss experienced more respiratory acute mountain sickness, exertion stress, and muscular discomfort, and were colder, less alert, less vigorous, and more fatigued at higher elevations. These changes occurred primarily at 3,630 m, and most occurred at 3,080 m. Results show that a climb to 3,630 m produces adverse changes in symptomatology and mood states and that factors other than just level of altitude can affect these parameters.

7. Mood states at 1600 and 4300 meters terrestrial altitude.
Shukitt, Barbara L; Banderet, Louis E.
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. Vol.59(6), Jun 1988, pp. 530-532.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: Compared self-rated moods, measured by the Clyde Mood Scale, at 2 different altitudes and times of day (morning and evening) in 35 adults. Baseline values were determined at 200 m; moods were then assessed at 4,300 m with one group and at 1,600 m with another group. Friendliness, clear thinking, dizziness, sleepiness, and unhappiness were affected at 4,300 m, but only sleepiness changed at 1,600 m. At 4,300 m, the altered moods differed from baseline on the day of arrival (1-4 hrs), differed even more after 1 day (18-28 hrs), and returned to baseline by Day 2 (42-52 hrs). Morning and evening values were similar at each altitude.

8. Ethnic variations in psychological performance under altitude stress.
Sharma, V. M; Malhotra, M. S.
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. Vol.47 Mar 1976, pp. 248-251.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: 40 soldiers each were drawn from groups representing the geographic regions of Gorkha, Madras, and Rajput, India. They were tested first at sea level and later at an altitude of 4,000 m (after 10 mo of acclimation to that altitude). Tests included eye-hand coordination, the MMPI Depression sub scale, the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale, and an Eysenck-type concentration test. Statistical comparisons involved only within-group changes. Scores for all groups were poorer at altitude. The Gorkha group was the only one to show no significant decline in concentration and no significant increase in anxiety or depression. This indication of better tolerance of altitude stress by Gorkhas is attributed to climatic similarity between their normal habitat and the altitude environment.

9. Emotional composure under altitude stress.
Sharma, V. M; Baskaran, A. S; Malhotra, M. S.
Psychologia: An International Journal of Psychology in the Orient. Vol.17(2), Jun 1974, pp. 103-107.
[Journal; Peer Reviewed Journal]
Year of Publication

Abstract: Studied alterations in emotional composure of young adults after they had lived at 13,200 ft for varying lengths of time. Ss were 25 healthy plain-dwellers 21-30 yrs old, 16 unmarried and 9 married. All were from rural communities and none had previously been exposed to high altitudes. Tests used were the Manifest Anxiety Scale, Eysenck's Ranking Rorschach test, the MMPI Depression scale, and Crown's Word Connection list. Ss were tested twice at a low altitude and after 1, 10, 13, 18, and 24 mo at the high altitude. There were no effects on emotional stability or neurotic tendencies but a rise in depression and anxiety was noticed at 10 and 18 mo.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby SuperiorTrailHiker » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:47 pm

pbakwin wrote:I noticed some years ago that, once I'm acclimated, I just feel happier the higher I go.

Same, although I have not tested it to 22K.

Over about 12K or so, I get happy. You know how some folks describe being happy as a thing you remember rather than a thing you actually experience in real time? "Man, I was happy back then . .. "

Most of the time, yeah, but not when I am at altitude. Then it's good times in the moment. Beyond just the attenuated senses that come with pushing yourself, with being in dodgy surroundings, which are themselves enjoyable, there's just plain happy up there. Maybe it's the oxygen deprivation or some other physiological factor, I don't know, but I do know I like it.
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Re: Climbing & Emotions

Postby Randy » Fri Aug 17, 2012 12:04 pm

Ive gone through and still am alot of heavy stuff in my life, feeling down has been a fight. That being said when I hike up high, Im my happiest, I love being away from all of lifes struggles, just me, the mountain and god, that is my favorite time of all.

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