How to Find Mountain Peace Anywhere

The once-elusive K7 West. (All rights reserved)

Kyle Dempster, the late alpinist, believed there was no reason to rush to the climb. In fact, he believed an approach, even if it was long — or maybe especially if it was long — was necessary.

It is the walk that gets you and your mind ready [for a climb.] The walk puts you into a trance. It is a meditative process that connects you with you, also your surroundings, and allows you to become completely accepting and fully aware of the climb ahead.

Kyle Dempster on approaches to Katie Ives in 2013

Although Kyle’s objective was the summit, he clearly embraced more than that, including the steps that brought him there, literally. In investigating how to hold onto the mountain high, I’ve learned there was some science to what Kyle did that we can apply too, plus some other habits we can adopt.

August is vacation month for me. I work less this month than any other time of year by taking off at least eight days if not 10 or even 15. And when I return I feel great — nearly bullet proof — in handling all my responsibilities and professional challenges. But it fades and I don’t want it to. According to a 2010 study of Dutch citizens after a vacation, people can hold the high reliably for a week… maybe two. Mere weeks. And, as I will share, Kyle’s approach walk is part of our solution.


I don’t know how Kyle felt after he returned from K7 West in Pakistan. It was a sought after objective that proved elusive to many experienced alpinists. He was probably disappointed the first time, yet relieved to be home and running his coffee shops once again. After reaching the summit, he may have felt elated, or proud, or lucky.

I have managed the stretch my mountain high once after a trip to New England. We visited Down East Maine and hiked sections of the Long Trail in Vermont. I purposefully took photos for the wall, bought a coffee mug with a lighthouse, and a baseball cap. The mug is a constant reminder as I use it every morning, and sometimes use it in late in the day with a beer when I write. The cap strikes up conversation sometimes, and I get to relive and share the visit. All of this helped me keep the feeling up for over two months. After that, it was a little harder to pull on. Photos helped, but the resiliency of the buoyancy took on water.


This is where I realized Kyle’s intentional approach to the mountain was incredibly valuable. According to Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado Boulder and Laurence Ashworth of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, anticipation is capable of evoking stronger feelings and images than memories after the fact. Whether it’s a vacation, a mountain climb, or a coveted route, what we make of it and how we approach it matters.

Kyle anticipated the climb well before he arrived in the Karakorum. Choosing his objective, gathering gear and supplies, coordinating with partners, and familiarizing himself with the objective all took considerable effort. Planning is related to anticipation, which brings me to my next point.


Planning the adventure or the vacation makes us anticipate and helps ensure our journey accomplishes our goals. For every trip, even a business trip, I write down two-to-three goals (not objectives) for the visit. For instance: 1. Spend time with Natalie and the kids; 2. Hike to a summit or pinnacle; 3. Find a craft beer I haven’t tried. Even my business trips are similar: 1. Build relationship with business partner; and 2. Return with a nugget of knowledge or wisdom to share with my teammates. I try to keep them relatively broad so as to leave space for the unknown. More importantly, I am anticipating various possibilities that make me excited… just about life.


In planning, it is tempting to turn to YouTube and Netflix for documentaries and films about your destination or activity, but do so sparingly. The visual medium has limited benefits for us as human beings, as Melissa Chu writes Inc. In fact, she says, when we read we are forced to engage our thinking and use our imaginations.


Making the mountain high last is also about creating the mountain high through anticipation. This is why I have my mountain book hobby, why I hike, climb, and it’s also why I play golf somewhat seriously. I plan, and in planning, I anticipate. I read, and in reading, I often retreat. I use my souvenirs from my travels, from my lighthouse mug, to my favorite sweater, when I do my hobbies. I even keep my rock climbing shoes nearby as they even evoke some sense of adventure and pride in being a climber that energizes me when I face some challenging responsibilities. It all comes down to the habits I build into my regular routine.

Kyle’s approach still resonates and feels like the most simple way to disengage from the hustle and bustle of life, and engage with what we really seek, and where we really want to go.

Leave the cell phone in the car, turn off the iPod, slow down, tune out and tune inward. Find creativity, observe, mediate on a decision, the answers and even the unknowns are inside, and walking is how you will arrive.

Kyle Dempster, ibid.

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