No shit, there I was on the summit of an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,000-meter peak in Pakistan. First ascent! “Cover of ‘Rock & Ice’ and ‘Climbing’ for sure!” I was thinking. I remember feelings of ecstasy, rapture, and bliss. I felt if I could climb this mountain then I could do anything.
The climb was a metaphor for my life – commitment, overcoming challenges, and literally struggling to the summit of my dreams. Somewhat to my dismay, I began to realize that my heightened sense of enlightenment, new found personal insights, and feeling of oneness with the universe were not that unusual. A psychologist named Abraham Maslow called these extraordinary experiences “Peak experiences,” which are “profound moments of love, understanding, happiness or rapture, during which a person feels whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, and goodness.”
Armed with a new perspective on life, I was going to make myself a better person and the world a better place. And, to a certain extent, I did. I worked for Outward Bound. I climbed, skied, trekked, paddled, and hiked to exotic, remote locations. I became a professor teaching my students to value nature. But still, all of my efforts seemed to fall short of those grandiose visions I had in my euphoric state.
Many climbers have written much more eloquently than I about their profound experiences and epiphanies while suffering in the great ranges of the world. But these altruistic feelings and insights seldom last longer than the effects of high altitude on the human body and the desires that they stir to make the world a better place.
For these reasons organizations such as the Access Fund were founded – to help make the world a better place for all. The Access Fund is an organization that helps climbers help themselves. It was formed to protect our interests by supporting and representing “over 2.3 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock, ice, mountaineering, and bouldering.” It’s the collective conscience of all climbers because it’s “the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment.”
Without the Access Fund we would not be able to climb at many of our favorite crags. The Access Fund has helped preserve access to popular crags such as Jailhouse Rock in California, the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and Farley Ledge in Massachusetts. It works with land managers on issues such as fixed anchors. It sends out a Conservation Team that travels the countryside leading stewardship projects.
It’s now working proactively to educate climbers by hosting an Education Summit to instill a sense of stewardship toward the land in climbers, an ethic that emphasizes low-impact techniques and protecting access to crags. I’m honored to be one of the scheduled presenters at the Summit. I will be co-presenting a paper with my colleague, Rebecca Barry, PhD on a theoretical foundation for behavior modification and behavioral intentions; specifically how to influence climbers’ behaviors to include land stewardship. By using my training, experience and education to help the Access Fund meet their lofty goals for the Summit, I’m working toward fulfilling some of my visions of a better world. I realize this presentation is not the type of earth-shattering act that I dreamt of during my expedition, but it is my way to contribute something positive to the world. Maybe my good deeds, in combination with good deeds done by others, can one day help bring about the world I envisioned on that remote summit in Pakistan years ago. Or at least that is my dream and as the late, great John Lennon wrote:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
Play safe out there!
PhD, Brooks-Range Mountaineering Product Ambassador,
Assistant Professor Westfield State University, AMGA and Access Fund member