Teamwork: The Only Way to Climb...
Teamwork: The Only Way to Climb...
(Note: The following is an article from my latest MountainWorld Productions Newsletter, which I send out via email quarterly. You can read back issues online at my website, or subscribe to receive the newsletter as it comes out.)
On September 26, at 10:02 AM, I stood on top of Gurla Mandhata with 5 of my teammates: Sherpas Panuru, Mingma Chhiring, and Karma Rita, and climbers Kirk Allen and Stuart Sloat. In reaching the 25,502 foot (7728 meter) summit of this remote peak in western Tibet, we became the first American team to do so and only the 13th team to climb the peak, ever.
Clear in all of our minds, however, was that we were not alone on the summit. Our efforts and successes on that day were only possible because of the efforts, sacrifices, and dedication of the rest of our team. David Golden was down at Basecamp, manning the radios during our ascent. David had summit ambitions, and gave a huge effort, but due to the vagaries of high altitude was unable to accompany us to the top. Cynthia Dodson was below as well, a constant supporter throughout our expedition. And, of course, Pemba and Bal Bahadur, our cooks, who kept us healthy and happy – if not a bit portly! – during the entire expedition. (It pains me to admit it, but Pemba actually made us sushi…yes, sushi!…twice on our expedition, and both times above 15,000 feet!)
There were other teammates as well: the staff of Great Escapes, our Nepali outfitter; Eric Simonson and International Mountain Guides who planned all the logistics; Pirjo DeHart, our fastidious travel agent; and, of course, our spouses, friends, and families who supported us in countless ways.
Without the dedication, hard work, and efforts of all of these people, our dream of climbing Gurla Mandhata would never have been realized. And that is the beauty and challenge, the proverbial double-edged sword, of teamwork.
On a mountain, as in life, few of us have all the skills necessary to reach our loftiest goals entirely on our own. Instead, we rely on a disparate group of people with disparate skills all brought to one collective table to pursue a common goal…We rely on a team. The effectiveness - or lack thereof - of our team can mean the difference between success and failure. And in the mountains is that the stakes are high: Succeed, and you live to climb another day. Fail, and you become a trail marker on the slopes of your mountain.
For a team to function well, to have a prayer of reaching its goals, each member must be committed, 100%, to the end goal. There can be no selfishness, no looking out for #1 at the expense of the common goal. I have been reminded of this on more than one occasion.
On Gurla Mandhata, after reaching the top, we returned all the way to 17,000 foot Advanced Basecamp that evening. The next day, although clear and crisp, was nuking: jet-stream winds racked the mountain, flattening tents at ABC and whipping plumes of snow from the upper-reaches of the peak. It literally sounded like a freight train was rumbling along the high ridges. Had we tried for the summit on that day we would have been shut down by the wind at best, frostbitten and in mortal danger at worst.
Similarly, on my first Everest expedition – the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition – we managed to discover the remains of pioneer climber George Leigh Mallory at 27,000 feet on the morning of May 1st. The following morning, the first wisps of the monsoon reached the peak, releasing 6 inches of snow along the way. Mallory’s body was completely obscured, covered by a fresh blanket of white.
In both cases, a 24 hour delay, one selfish act by any member of the team, one person looking out for their own best interest instead of the interest of the team and its goals, and our accomplishments would never have been possible. Twenty-four hours. One selfish act. One lapse in team dedication. And all the hard work, planning, and effort would be wasted.
We certainly need a team to accomplish our lofty goals, to realize our biggest dreams. We cannot go it alone. But, to succeed, we must choose our team wisely: they must be dedicated, strong, and absolutely committed to the end goal. Only then can we begin to climb to the top.
© 2006 Jake Norton/MountainWorld Productions. All Rights Reserved.