ADVICE FROM THE FIELD

Rob Marshall, Lt Col, USAF


Lt Col “Goat” Marshall is the Director of Adventure and Experiential Based Learning at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Rob led the USAF 7 Summits Challenge climb of Mt. Everest and currently instructs mountaineering and outdoor leadership to over 4,000 cadets in the CO mountains. Goat is the Executive Director of the 50 Summits Challenge and the energizer bunny of creativity behind the project. 

 

 

WHY I CLIMB

I first started rock climbing as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. I really enjoyed the mix of physical challenge with the critical thinking aspect. You can be physically fit, but that doesn't overcome the problem solving, mindfulness and attention to detail required to overcome the safety and route-finding challenges. I climb everything from huge mountains to short walls because it gives me a powerful way to release stress, to feel alive, and to push my limits. It helps balances out the difficult life of being an Airman!

 

HOW I TRAIN

I train for climbing in unique ways. If it's a big mountain, I focus on cardiovascular endurance by swimming long distance in the pool. For all my climbs, I practice yoga weekly. Yoga strengthens all muscles— especially the core ones that are so critical to climbing. I especially appreciate the strength of focus and ability to calm down that yoga brings to my climbing. These days I'm more worried about pulling a muscle or an injury, so stretching and moving with intention is key.

CLOSE CALL

"A few years ago, I was on Granite Peak, which is the highest mountain in Montana and one of the more difficult high-points in America...”

WHAT I EAT

 

I eat a lot during outdoor sports. I like a big breakfast that has protein and fiber so I don't get hungry quickly. After that, I consume a lot of water and eat small snacks like CLIF Bars, nuts, granola and protein bars every hour or so. If I need a quick blast of energy or to sharpen my focus, I'll down an energy gel packet with a little caffeine. On some big trips, the quick complex sugars and boost to my mental attention have been a life saver, literally!

 

GEAR TO GET

I'd recommend everyone consider getting a satellite location-communication device. Whether a simple one-way system like the entry level SPOT Tracker, or a more robust two-way device like a Garmin inReach, it's an invaluable tool to initiate rescue during an emergency or just to check in with loved ones and let them know you are running late. Whether you are climbing at your local crag or deep in the wilderness, cell phone coverage can be hit or miss. So, the satellite capability is nice to have.

 

CLOSE CALL

A few years ago, I was on Granite Peak, which is the highest mountain in Montana and one of the more difficult high-points in America. It was part of the USAF 50 Summits Challenge, which supports Airmen who want to take the Air Force flag to the highest point in each state. 

It was a mixed group of climbers that included ROTC cadets and senior officers. We had taken a lot of safety precautions as we made the final push to the summit, up loose rocks and steep gullies. However, one of the less experienced climbers dislodged a microwave-sized boulder that roared down the gully. Our last climber was at a narrow point in the steep gully and had nowhere to go as the rock came toward him. We all yelled to him that the rock was coming, but I couldn't see anywhere he could go to avoid it. Luckily, he followed the steps in our morning safety brief. He looked for the rock, saw it coming and, rather than run, he ducked behind the narrowest part of the gully.  

I figured we would have a critically injured climber, but by crouching down, the large boulder only grazed his helmet and left him covered in dirt and small rocks. We took steps to freeze everyone until we could all reach a safe spot and discuss what happened. At this point, the climbers who were too shaken up or afraid turned around. The remaining climbers reached the summit roughly 20 minutes later.

The lesson from this event was: climbers are responsible to themselves and the group to move in a safe, intentional manner. If you are climbing well beyond your ability level, you may be unable to move in a way that keeps the climbers below you safe.It's essential to act in a way that protects those around you and to turn around before you get in over your head.