A phenomenon which has always amazed me, is how vital a role mental toughness plays in the physical strength and endurance of a person. Growing up in a hunting household, there was no doubt that spending time outdoors would be the most important part of my life: everything revolved around hunting season. The first trip that I accompanied, was a pronghorn antelope hunt when I was 12 weeks old. Later, as a toddler, my tiny feet would almost freeze since no company made quality kids boots for late November whitetail deer hunting temperatures. What kind of a parent would take their kid out in weather like that? Mine. Improvisation is key; we just wrapped my legs in down vests and I didn’t once get frostbite! I think being exposed to these harsh elements in my youth allowed me to develop a “cowgirl up” attitude. Complaining isn’t going to warm your fingertips.
Now to the point: just how much does mental resilience tie in with physical strength and personal bests? I wish I could boast about the number of push ups I do, or how many curl reps I can pound out at the gym, but that’s just not my thing. This being a fitness magazine, I’m aware that this might sound horrible to some readers, but I actually don’t work out all that much. A large hurdle in health is finding out how you train best. I’ve come to realize that I’m quite like my Dad (minus the beer belly). Some people are built for endurance not speed, and have an attitude which can allow superhuman feats to be done with very little preparation. However, the mental toughness that it takes to conquer these adventures is something that definitely develops with practice.
From the outside, Dad and I appear to be quite the odd sheep hunting dream team. However, we’ve done a 65 km death march in two and a half days with packs weighing an average of 65 lbs plus (especially more on the way out when we had my bighorn ram in the pack). Here’s the best part: we didn’t train at all, just regularly hunted. Now I’m not saying that training should be ignored, and I know several young and fit sheep hunters who undertake far greater quests over far greater distances with the proper preparation, but I’d say we didn’t do too bad for a 60 year old and a 16 year old girl.
(Photo on left: taken by Sky Blue Photography with wood chopped by: Savanna’s Dad, Photo on right: carrying a pack loaded to the brim, Savanna crosses a frigid Alberta mountain stream while bighorn sheep hunting.)
I started sheep hunting in the Rockies as soon as I acquired my Alberta Hunting License at age twelve. Looking back, I didn’t resemble a sheep hunter at all. I’m 5’2” (probably even shorter back then), was afraid of heights, couldn’t carry a heavy load, and just didn’t have much strength. What I did have though, was the sheep hunting bug. My Dad spoke highly of these mountain monarchs and I swore to myself I’d get one too someday. Now here is where I notice a difference between 12 year old vs. 19 year old Savanna. Over the years I gained confidence in the mountains and was soon eager to tackle new physical challenges. My backpack became heavier, our treks longer and soon Dad and I were partaking in two week long trips. That cliché term, “when the going gets tough”, plays quite a role, because you learn to just keep your head down and hike on. This magical mental toughness, is acquired I’d say 70% through the aging process, and 30% through experience. What of course helps speed up the process, is having a crusty old mentor who’s willing to teach you the Mountain Code. This develops purely through personal experience and I am proud to say I’m constantly adding to my repertoire.
1) Tape up your feet before they actually blister
2) Even though alpine watercourses often seem to be the fastest route, they’ll most likely end in a waterfall
3) Brush the chipmunk turds out of your bowl before you hydrate your oatmeal
4) The mountains make their own weather, no matter what the weatherman forecasts…always have your rain gear handy
5) Shivering is just as common as breathing, get used to it
6) The right gear can ameliorate your comfort, but it also isn’t a fashion show out there
7) Every ounce your put in your pack winds up on your back, so choose wisely
8) You fight for elevation, don’t lose it needlessly
9) There will be many false horizons
10) When you are physically prepared you have to rely less on mental toughness
The list goes on. I’m grateful to have a Dad who put up with some of my initial fears, because we are now the closest sheep hunting partners. Our steps are in synch, and despite the age difference our limits are quite similar. One wants to push but never pass their limit, and I witnessed approaching mine this year on an Alberta sheep hike in mid October.A 10 1/2 hour trek to base camp with a 65 lbs pack, after only two hours of sleep, an injury and no prior training: something I would not recommend and won’t do again next year. Add in a few frigid river crossings, where you’d probably cry if alone, and you wind up with a very peeved Savanna. It’s the mental toughness which allows you to take the trip one foot at a time and push though until the end. It’s important to know one’s boundaries though, and I feel actual past experiences help determine that. On a hunt like that one, where you’re in the middle of nowhere, rescue after busting your body is complex, so it helps to keep some energy reserves.
Every New Years I resolve to compile a workout schedule, but somehow I find it difficult to pull through. Instead, I just try to get out in nature and train on the terrain that I’ll be hunting later on that season. For example, what better way to replicate a sheep hunt than hiking during my vacations. Sometimes I even hike the actual spots I wish to hunt later on, and scout out tree patches for a potential campsite or strategic knobs for a vantage point. Reconnaissance in a new area is often daunting and it helps to visit that valley during kinder weather before taking siege with your always heavier fall gear. This is just another way to train your mind, and prepare you for the real deal, into which you’ve invested time, heart, and money.
My name is Savanna Koebisch, I’m 19 years old, yet when required can feel tough as a nail. I wonder, how will my mental toughness to physical strength ratio develop? There’s also that tricky thing called your “prime”… which tends to interfere with the goals we set for our bodies and minds. One thing’s for sure, I haven’t reached that point yet and there’s a few more lesson to be learned and added to my Mountain Code.
Biography/About the Author:
A young and enthusiastic adventurer, Savanna enjoys hunting, fishing, and hiking internationally. Her inspiring accomplishments have been featured in magazines worldwide and she enjoys sharing her experiences as a guest speaker. Engaged in the hunting community since an early age, Savanna is also Pro Staff for several outdoors related companies, including Cabela’s Canada. She currently splits her time between Canada and Germany while pursuing a medical degree.
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