Teamwork: The Only Way to Climb…
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.
(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.)
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,
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!)
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
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.
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