Learning In Thin Air
One of the great things about running the Athena Alliance is the vast amount of knowledge and sharing. For the summer months I thought I would like to share with you some of the great articles written by my Alliance Members. On May 21st 2008 our Alliance Partner, Scott Kress stood on top of the world, he had just successfully climbed Mount Everest. He shares with us his experience and his learning.
Learning In Thin Air
by Scott Kress
It was a pretty amazing site to see the world from that height; the same height at which commercial jets fly. I could see hundreds of mountains, the arid Tibetan plateau and the curvature of the earth. I was exhausted, but overjoyed at the same time.
I am not an exceptional athlete, nor am I not blessed with super human genes, I am just a normal person with a dream. My dream was to climb Mount Everest. Like many people with big dreams I did not really expect it would come true. I had climbed mountains all around the world and even guided for a while, but I always felt Everest was out of my league. Then life happened and I changed my view.
In the spring of 2005 my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was admitted to the hospital and died a few short months later. It was too quick, he was too young (61). I was shocked that something like this could happen. I started to think about my mortality. Then I was also diagnosed with cancer. Mine was caught early and with a couple quick surgeries I was cancer free, but the shaky hold we have on life would stay with me. I resolved to live out my dream of climbing Everest.
I set out for Nepal in March with four friends. Our intention was to climb the North East Ridge in Tibet, but the Chinese Government had different ideas and cancelled our climbing permit at the last moment. They were fearful that we would interfere with their attempt to carry the Olympic Torch to the summit as part of the international torch relay. We quickly re-grouped and secured a permit to climb Everest from Nepal via the South Col and the Southeast Ridge.
Arriving at Base camp on April 9 we set up our home for the next seven weeks. We began to make climbs higher and higher on the mountain to acclimatize to the lower levels of oxygen and pressure and to stock our higher camps with gear, food, and oxygen. I traveled through the infamous Ice Fall, spend time at our rugged Camp 2, climbed the deadly Lhotse face and slept at the spectacular Camp 3. I was now acclimatized and ready to make my attempt on the summit.
Once the Chinese made the summit with the torch we were allowed to go for the top. After Camp 3 I strapped on supplemental oxygen and marvelled at the increase in my strength. I had not noticed how debilitating the lack of oxygen had been. My trip to Camp 4 was exciting and full of anticipation of what would come.
Once in Camp 4 I spent several hours resting, drinking, and eating and then departed for the summit at 9pm. The full moon shown bright and led the way through the dark. The night was relatively warm, but my toes were still going numb. After 10 hours of climbing I reached the top. I slumped down in the snow too tired to celebrate, but I had made it.
Our team put four out of five climbers on the top. We were very successful and I attribute this success to several factors. We worked as a team and supported one another and we did not succumb to the rumours and drama all around us. I dared to dream and with careful planning and attention to detail, I made it.
Lessons learned on the world’s highest mountain:
1) Leadership is a critical factor in determining the team culture.
2) Team dynamics will strongly influence personal commitment and level of risk adversity
3) A strong team culture enables the team members to better deal with change and challenge
4) At least 50% of success is dependent upon leadership and team development
5) Open communication helps leaders make better decisions and helps team members commit to the decisions
6) Open communication also enables the leader to learn of challenges as they arise and alternative views and ideas
7) No one can climb alone, it takes a team to make it to the top