Olympic motivational speaker Ruben Gonzalez

Climbing Mt. Rainier One Step at a Time

September 2006

I just got back from a climbing trip on Mt. Rainier. When you first see the mountain, you wonder how anyone could climb so high. You are excited and apprehensive at the same time. After all, it’s a completely new experience. Totally outside your comfort zone – especially if you’re a flatlander from Houston.

Fortunately we had experienced guides (one of them had climbed Mt. Everest) to help us along the way. Our attitude was to listen to the guides and do everything they said – the proper mentor-mentee relationship.

The first thing out guides told us was that they would teach us what we needed to know about climbing the mountain as we climbed it. It would be on a “need to know” basis so we would not get information overload.

Many people overanalyze and over plan everything they do. They suffer from paralysis by analysis. Planning is important, but sooner or later you have to start taking action.

The guides taught us two techniques we would need right away – pressure breathing and the rest step.

It is much harder for Oxygen to be absorbed into our lungs at high altitudes because of the low air pressure. So we are taught to inhale deeply and to purse our lips as we exhale to increase the air pressure in our lungs and “push” the Oxygen into the lungs. It takes conscious effort to do this, but as they said, it’s like putting money in the bank because by pressure breathing, we are keeping our cells and muscles well oxygenated.

Conserving energy as you are climbing the mountain is very important. The rest step is a special technique that saves a lot of our energy. As you step up the mountain, you lock your lower leg straight for a second so all your body weight is being supported by your bones, not your leg muscles. When you’re carrying a 40 pound backpack, energy conservation becomes a big deal.

These techniques slow you down considerably but they allow you to be able to climb for long periods of time without stopping. It turns out that climbing a mountain is a lot like running a marathon – it’s all about energy management and pacing.

It took me about three hours to figure out my ideal pace. You want to move steadily but not so fast to where you lose your breath and have to stop.

Once I figured out my ideal pace, my whole focus was on taking the next step. One hundred percent of my focus was on planting my foot on the next footprint as we climbed up a snowfield that looked like a black diamond ski run. One…step…at…a…time. Breathing hard all the way but just short of being out of breath…one…step…at…a…time.

We did not even look up at the scenery. We couldn’t. Doing so would have thrown us off balance and could have made us fall. We just focused on the next step. Pressure breathe, rest step, pressure breathe, rest step, over and over again.

Once an hour, our guide would make us stop for a 15 minute break. We would drop out backpacks, turn around, and be amazed at how much altitude we had gained… one…step…at…a…time. We were climbing at about 1000′ an hour. One…step…at…a…time.

Our guides broke climbing Mt. Rainier (a huge mountain) into manageable goals (several one hour climbs) and then broke those goals down into small tasks (pressure breathing and rest stepping). As long as we focused 100% on the tasks, the goals and the dream took care of themselves.

No matter how huge your dreams seem, it you will break them down into manageable goals, then break the goals into simple tasks, and relentlessly focus on the tasks, you’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish.


Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez