Teamwork in mountain climbing

4 May 2017
A review of a recent adventure

I recently worked with a talented team that had been tasked to climb the world's highest mountain. Climbing mountains is by definition uphill work - but equipped with frayed and knotted ropes and weighed by luggage this team had an extraordinary task ahead.

The expedition planners observed their party progress in a tedious ascent to the summit from Base Camp. From their vantage point they could just make out the individuals in the team. All eight... nine... or was that seven? It's difficult to see through the freezing fog. Who was leading again?

We had the partnership of hired sherpas. With their knowledge of the mountain they led us through the deepest gorges and across the sheerest cliffs into a series of criss-crossing patterns - dangerously close to the edge. Sometimes the ropes got tangled, and tempers would flare - but on the whole this crew stuck to their professional ethic and pushed on.

When I joined the team we set about strengthening our ropes - improving our knots - and looking at alternative routes and better tools that were certain to help the ascent. The maps we were provided were outdated so we redrew them. We went back to basic principles. We improved our climbing fitness. We studied new techniques. The experience was bonding - and we grew and supported each other through communication and learning. We felt stronger each day.

With each passing week, new and unexpected challenges would loom. Avalanches, snowstorms, and freezing fog. Oh, the freezing fog. We always rallied and saw our way through - always with the promise of better things to come. But sometimes it felt like the instructions from Base Camp had us heading into the storm despite the warnings. Had we misunderstood something?

Eventually we lost an experienced and reliable climber. Then another, and another. Fresh recruits were sent to make up the numbers. It was imperative that we persevere with our mission and not deviate from the plan. And each new team member arrived with the same optimism and keen observation for improvement to the tools and routes and with their eye on the final destination.

Sometimes the summit looked closer, but mostly it was just an indistinct shadow in that freezing fog.

I wish I could tell the rest of this story, but by the time the seasons had turned full cycle I had abandoned that mountain and I had left my tools on a plateau somewhere for another climber to find and use on their ascent. Others felt they had been reduced to the luggage porters, and departed to join other teams where they could apply knowledge and skill.

The brave few that remained continued slowly and steadily, and the summit was eventually reached by a small party of four. At Base Camp there was reported wild celebration hero's welcome. The summit had been reached.

(Well done team. I know you're out there somewhere doing great things…)