On Mondays, we bring you our series This I Believe, statements of personal conviction from Americans from all walks of life. Today's comes from Phil Powers of Denver, Colorado. Powers is Executive Director of the American Alpine Club, a mountaineering organization. He's led more than 25 expeditions to the world's highest peaks. Here's our series curator, independent producer, Jay Allison.

Mr. JAY ALLISON (Independent Producer): In reading essays submitted to our series, we note that many beliefs require the companion of action. Some essayists have said that belief without action has little practical value. Phil Powers holds a slightly different view. His central belief, while requiring intention, demands a kind of inaction. Here he is with his essay, For This I Believe.

Mr. PHIL POWERS (Executive Director, American Alpine Club, Denver): I believe in the importance of pace. I grew up in a frenetic household, both parents working jobs that demanded their attention 24/7. I was little and fast and rushed around, and I still have that person inside me, always at risk of moving too quickly, missing the connection, making mistakes.

The forest behind our house offered a peaceful respite. My passion for the vertical world took me from tall trees in my backyard to climbing steep cliffs and crags. As a teen, I was moving easily over the landscapes of the American west and was drawn to higher summits.

When I was 19, I learned something called the rest step from an old mountain climber named Paul Petzoldt. He advised me to rest in the middle of each step, completely, but briefly. The rest step, which I still practice today, allows me to walk or climb with little effort. I can move very quickly, yet still find a pause in every step.

The awareness of pace I owe to my teacher has served me whether I'm seeking the world's highest summits, sharing my love for the mountains with others, or kneeling to look my son Gus in the eye when he has a question.

It serves me as I drive, adjusting my speed to gain a bit of calm and reach my destination only minutes behind the record time a faster lane might provide. It serves me at home, where we maintain a tradition of gathering each night at the dinner table to eat and talk to each other. In times of crisis, pace comes to my aid.

Another of Petzoldt's lessons was, when faced with an emergency, sit down, collect yourself, make a plan. When needs seem most urgent, even life threatening, the practice of slowing down offers calm and clarity.

In 1987, I was in Pakistan to climb Gasherbrum II, one of the world's highest peaks. We were a small group, and it was a very big mountain. Our expedition faced more than its share of difficulty. A long storm wiped out most of our food rations, an avalanche devastated our camp, obliterating our tents. One of our party developed altitude sickness, blood poisoning threatened another. In the face of each disaster, we carefully developed a new plan. Snow caves replaced lost tents. Soups replaced full meals. Eventually, we climbed slowly to the top and then made our way safely down.

Concentrating on how I move through the world is important. It's why I reach mountain summits and life goals with energy to spare. There's magic in any faith. Every once in a while, rushing about, my belief in pace rises up, slows me down, and grants me a view of a sunset, a smile from a stranger, or a conversation with a child.

I owe these moments to what I learned from an old mountain climber and have practiced ever since.


Phil Powers, of Denver, Colorado, with his essay for This I Believe.

As always, we invite you to consider writing for our series. Tell us the core principles that guide your life.

Find out more and see all the essays in our series at, or call 202-408-0300. For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.


Today marks the one-year anniversary in our revival of the series. We'll begin our second year of the project on Monday, May 1st.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.