Waiting in Mount Everest Base Camp – Patience & Perseverance

If you’ve read a few expedition mountaineering books, you’ll learn that waiting in base camp for good weather is a part of expedition life. After you’ve read a dozen expedition books, sitting out bad weather in a tent almost seems like a mandatory right of passage for expeditionary climbers.

But, reading about discomfort and actually experiencing it yourself are very different.  It’s like the difference between reading about a dental visit and actually sitting in that padded chair as the dentist sticks a sharp pick into your mouth – it’s a lot more unpleasant when you’re the one actually going through it!

The summit of Everest beckons, but strong winds rip across the upper mountain on Day 54

And so it is worth waiting for clear weather on Mount Everest. In fact, rest days spent in base camp are not very tough. We sleep late, have a slow breakfast at 8 am, then putter around our tents reading and writing until lunch time. Maybe we take a nap after lunch, do a few hours of gear and personal care, then it’s time for dinner and an early movie before heading off to bed around 9 pm. The excellent cooking staff takes care of all the meals and kitchen cleaning, so it really isn’t rough at all.

Our primary job is to rest, recover, and do some moderate hikes to maintain fitness and altitude acclimatization. In fact, we are supposed to eat and drink as much as possible to minimize weight loss. Sounds like a sweet and lazy deal, doesn’t it? Then why on earth does it seem so terribly difficult to wait for clear weather at Everest Base Camp?

HIGH HOPES

Most climbers at Mount Everest have been planning and dreaming of climbing this mountain for years, or even decades. In my case, I have been thinking about coming here for 40 years. I’ve been actively working toward this climb for more than 30 years.

To get here we train the hardest we ever have. We all took two months off from work, tried to minimize the impact on our families, and spent a lot of time and money to get here.  In short, we have a lot riding on the outcome. After all of that our hopes are quite high.  We’d like to summit in good weather and get to go home early. But sometimes, that’s not how it goes.

While the 2017 Everest season started out smooth and fast, things have changed. Both the wind and snow are taking turns on the south side of Everest breaking the schedule into small, tough to utilize chunks of acceptable weather.  The weather models are struggling to account for all this choppy variability.  So while, we are all hoping for a fast, smooth finish to this two-month long journey, that is not what’s happening.

LOW SPIRITS

When an uncontrollable variable like the weather forces you to just sit and wait, it can be tough.  The first few days are fine – we enjoy the down time and rest. But, once the waiting starts to exceed what you were mentally prepared for, the forced delay can start grinding on you.  Mental attitudes start to decline. Small things start bugging you: the chilly ice under your tent seems annoyingly colder.  The food seems boring. People can get a bit edgy. Spirits start to sink lower.

That is when we have to lift each other up. Crack jokes, take hikes together, cheer each other up. Remind each other that we can endure the wait and get through this.

We also have to trust the proven process and our highly experienced Sherpa guides, western guides, and team leaders. As experienced climbers, we all know that rushing toward the top under an enthusiastic wave of “summit fever” is undisciplined, risky, and unacceptable. We must accept the conditions around us, adapt to them, and act with careful intention.

Perhaps the most difficult part for action-oriented Everest climbers is that while waiting for better weather, our natural instincts to push hard and get the job done are wrong and counter-productive.  What we need to do is to corral those desires, and instead find a way to stay calm and inactive. It takes control and discipline to put those action-driving desires aside, and instead do what you know is right – sit and wait.

This slow-moving period its definitively not about persevering forward in spite of adverse conditions. The main trait needed now is patience.

PATIENCE IS PASSIVE PERSEVERANCE

Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s perhaps been my biggest challenge of this long, long trip. And that is what makes sitting in base camp so darn difficult.

Jim on a training hike to 18,300 ft, with Everest lost in the clouds behind him.

Yesterday was Day 55 of this Everest expedition, and Day 9 of waiting in base camp. Lying in my tent, I slowly sipped a protein-rich recovery drink while staring at the yellow nylon ceiling. My mind struggled with the two major concepts before me – patience and perseverance. How could I persevere, when all I could do was sit and be patient?

Then it hit me: Patience is passive perseverance.

When you need to be active, then perseverance is about action, moving, and pushing forward for progress, no matter how difficult.

But during necessary periods of inaction, then patience is actually the core of perseverance.  When there is no beneficial action to take, then by default being calm and patient is the way to persevere through. Patience is passive perseverance.

A LESSON FROM BRUCE LEE

Before I got into mountaineering, I focused my physical energies on martial arts. During our freshman year at UMass. Amherst, my good friend Chris Flood introduced me to Tae Kwon Do. We practiced a great deal together under our instructor, Danny Chang. Chris also introduced me to martial arts movies, including those of the great master, Bruce Lee. Although some movies were silly, his masterpiece film, “Enter the Dragon”, is quite good and is still a favorite movie of mine today, even though my martial art days are long gone.

In that movie, Bruce has bravely defeated dozens of bad guys and overcome long odds, but then finds himself trapped in an inescapable hall of mirrors. At first, Bruce tries to bash his way out with a mad flurry of kicks and punches to the mirrors, but he soon realizes that fighting against these prison walls is useless. Then Bruce does an amazing thing. He ceases his activity and sits on the floor cross-legged. His chest is running with sweat from his vigorous efforts, but he slows his breathing. Then he takes his nun-chucks, his weapon, and hangs them calmly around his neck. He closes his eyes, focuses, and relaxes.

Bruce had definitely not quit or given into despair. He was being patient until conditions improved when he could once again apply his considerable skill and perseverance to fight his way out. Until things got better, Bruce knew that the smart move was to rest, recover and conserve strength for the next round ahead.

And that is precisely what we need to do here at Everest Base Camp.

When conditions improve, it will be time to engage our active perseverance by packing, climbing, and pushing hard for the top. But, while we wait, patience is passive perseverance.

When action is needed, then active perseverance makes us resilient.

When patience is needed, then passive perseverance keeps us resilient.

And if we can stay resilient long enough, then sometime soon we might get to touch the top of the world.

Posted in Everest 2017 | 17 Comments

Trekking and Training

There are no motor vehicles in the mountains of Nepal. The peace and silence is a blessing. Everyone walks everywhere, as they have forever. This deep tradition led to great trading routes, including the trans-Himalayan trade routes that Nepal developed with neighboring countries.

As tourism came to Nepal in the 1960’s  this walking tradition led to the development of trekking. Trekking is hiking for fun and exploration. You do not need to be a super fit climber to trek. Any reasonably fit person can trek, as long as you go slow. Prior hiking and backpacking experience is helpful, and more fitness is always better when you are walking uphill in the ever thinner air.

Trekking in Nepal is like backpacking from lodge to lodge, or hut to hut. You need not carry a heavy pack as in every village you can get a simple bed and meal. In the Khumbu valley near Everest, there is a village every hour or two. The pace is unhurried, the people friendly, and views always spectacular.

I first trekked Nepal in 1992 with my wife, Gloria.  Over 20 days we covered about 120 miles on foot and had some powerful experiences, We were in Nepal not just for fun and exploration, but also for a more sacred purpose. We intended to have a ceremony, a pueja, at the foot of Mount Everest in remembrance of our deceased friend, and my climbing partner, Mike Price.  Ultimately, we had a deeply moving ceremony at 18,000 feet, which we chronicled in our book, The Ledge.

Thus trekking is tied tightly in my head and heart with friends, climbing, adventure and spirituality. I came back to the Everest area to trek with climbing teams in 1998 and 2015.  The Khumbu Valley is a magical place. I also had learned that many off-shoot areas promised, even more, adventure and beauty. So, with the help of the excellent team at International Mountain Guides, we created a plan for me to try one of these alluring side valleys during the approach to Everest base camp this year.

First, I trekked with my Everest teammates for five days, then I split off northwest up the Goyko Valley. I was not alone as I was accompanied by the vastly experienced Sherpa guide, Phinjo Sherpa from Phortse. We also relied upon Raz, a strong porter from the Rai ethnic group. While my teammates are having a great experience in the classic Khumbu valley, we have been spending eight days in the Gokyo area, just a bit further west.

I know Phinjo from our 2015 Everest attempt. Like many Sherpa guides, he is friendly, skilled, and happy to show his country with visitors. Phinjo has summitted Everest eight times!

Trekking to Gokyo is like turning back the clock 25 or more years. Yes, there is wifi and electricity now. But the lodges are simpler, smaller and we all huddle around the yak dung fire to stay warm in the evening. Lodges are run by families, so their kids run around and we all practice different languages a bit, usually with mixed results, but always with mutual smiles. Acrid smoke from the yak dung fire pulls you back through the centuries.

We have walked from a low point of 9,000 feet to our current lodge at 15,600 feet in Gokyo. We take rest days every second or third day to let our bodies slowly acclimatize. Along the way, we’ve seen griffins, wild sheep and more. Last night while watching my favorite constellation, Orion, drift across a frozen lake, I heard weird high-pitched animal noises.  I called Phinjo away from the cozy fire, and everyone joined him. It was the call of a Himalayan wild cat (not from its much bigger cousin, the snow leopard).

Trekking is often fun, and a rich cultural experience which exposes you to some spectacular mountain places.  It can also be uncomfortable when your stomach is upset, there is no running water, and the trekker in the next room snores loudly. All this trekking has another purpose – to get us ready for climbing higher. In just two more days, I will rejoin my IMG teammates and get ready to begin climbing.

TRAINING

Since we have been on this Everest trip for over two weeks already, it may seem a bit late to still be training. 🙂 Yes, I am no longer counting sets,  reps or laps! But I am most definitely still training. I’m training my body to adapt to ever lower oxygen levels and to the harsh environments of high altitude. When we hike uphill and my heart begins pounding in my chest I focus on controlling my pace and heart rate to match my oxygen intake. I must find a sustainable climbing rate that I can continue for hours.  Going too fast brings lots of physical and mental penalties and those must be avoided.

I’m still training to refine many small systems so that I’ll be efficient later up on Everest.  We’ve got systems for socks, suncream, and snacks. We have systems for cameras, clothing, and crampons.

Most of all, I am training mentally and spiritually. I’m working to be present. I am working to not get flustered when the weather or my stomach turns temporarily sour. There are going to be some great days ahead, and there are going to be some hard ones too. So, I must train myself to stay calm, to adapt, to persevere.  I must learn to accept what is actually happening, and not to yearn for what I wanted or what I planned on happening.

Climbers call this “taking what the mountain gives you”. It’s tricky balancing your drives with taking what is given. This part of high-altitude climbing has great value in our daily lives and careers back down low.

Yesterday we did a steep hike right outside the lodge door here in Gokyo. Gokyo is the last and highest village in the valley, so we started at an elevation of 15,600 feet. After walking 200 meters on a rocky and yak-dung covered trail, we started uphill.

Up, up, up it went as we gained 2,000  feet in just about one mile. For you mountain athletes in Colorado, it’s quite similar to the famous Incline trail near Colorado Springs. Except it sits 9,000 feet higher!

The weather was clear so, in every direction we looked, massive mountains seemed to pop out from a deep blue sky.  I focused on following Phinjo’s heels and matching his steady pace.

Ignore the altimeter. Pay attention to how you feel.  I maintained the discipline to take short fluid breaks every 30 minutes or so, and I was happy to feel that I did not need a rest.  So, we kept grinding our way uphill. Feel your heart. Listen to your breathing. I need to get this right. This is the final training for Everest.

In less than two hours, we pulled onto the rocky summit of Gokyo Ri at 17,650 feet. When I saw the fluttering prayer flags, I smiled. I felt good.  We could see four of the highest mountains in the world, including Everest, just 20 miles farther east.

After 30 luxurious minutes taking in the views, we started down. The pace felt unhurried, but we managed to descend 2,000 feet in about 50 minutes. One knee ached a tad, but all was well. It was a wonderful day.

Very soon the trekking and training will end. Very soon the climbing of Mount Everest will begin.

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Mountains and Mists

Matching my pace to my breathing, the uphill climb felt easy. There was no rush as today’s hike was not about a destination, but acclimatization. If you rush to altitude, your body can not adapt quick enough and you will get headaches, nausea, lethargy, and spaciness. It’s called acute mountain sickness, and it is to be avoided. Worse degrees of it cause fluid to pool in your lungs or brain, which can be deadly. So, we take our time.

Our approach trek to Everest is spread over a leisurely 9 days to avoid all those predictable problems. At 12,000 feet I can feel the altitude through my pulse being about 5 beats per minute faster than normal. But a year’s worth of training is paying off, and the pace feels relaxed.

The daily clouds are closing in, right on schedule. A white yak eyes us cautiously from his position near the drop off to the valley floor. Far across the river, a rarely climbed 20,000 foot peak skips inand out of the clouds.

The trail skirts around a wall made of hand-cut and hand-stacked rocks. The clouds are closing in fast, but a patch of blue sky catches my eye. About 20 miles away, a wall of 20,000 foot peaks crosses the landscape. And ten miles further north juts up a dark triangle. The snow plume being stripped off its summit by the jet stream winds is so huge that it looks like a cloudbank.

Everest. The local Sherpa people call it Chomolungma, the Goddess Mother of the Earth.

Even at 30 miles away from me, I can see how far is soars above everything in sight, and really, everything on the planet.  My pulse quickens and I feel myself smile. It’s Everest!

I have been dreaming of climbing it for more than 40 years. I have been consciously developing the skills for three decades. For the past year, I have trained harder than ever before.  Getting the chance to attempt Everest does not come easy.

Even being able to see the sacred peak does not come easy. To see it today, I had to fly halfway around the planet, and hike for two days.

Then, the racing winds shove bubbling clouds in front of the mountain, and the vision is gone. Ten seconds of beauty is all that the goddess would allow us today.  That’s okay, There will be more glimpses in the weeks ahead as we slowly approach base camp and continue the sufferfest of acclimatization.

If we work hard enough, and the gods are kind to us, perhaps in 50 days or so we will be at the summit.

I stare at shifting clouds but I still see Everest in my mind’s eye, just as I always have.

We stop by the Kumjung monastery to see how reconstruction is going since the earthquakes destroyed it two years ago. The building is nearing completion, and the painters are putting the finishing touches to the exterior. Running on deeply honed instincts from growing up a painter;s son, my eyes lock on the foot of the ladder to make sure its steady. The dirt is not very compact, but the side rail is jammed against a rock, so its good enough.

My father has been gone for 15 years now, so I can no longer show him photos of painters that I always take during my travels. I take the photo anyway and think of him.

The observational and analytical skills that he taught me over 20 years are hard wired. They have served me well on climbs and rescues for 36 years. When the stakes are high or the situation uncertain, I trust these instincts fully as they have kept me and others safe many times.

After a traditional dhal bhat (rice and lentil soup) lunch in an old style communal lodges we begin the 1,200 foot steep descent back to Namche Bazaar. The clouds envelope us and I welcome the brief chance to walk alone for a while. We pass by a long row of hand-carved rock slabs. These mani stones are covered with the same prayer over and over again: Om mani padme hom.  Paying respects to the birth of Lord Buddha, there are thousands of mani stones here, holding dozens of prayers each. The wall stretches for 100 meters, the longest in the Khumbu Valley where the Sherpa people live.

As the clouds close in tighter, I can only see 40 feet ahead. I can barely discern the human outlines of my teammates.   Its as if I am walking down a foggy tunnel, generally following the others in front of me, but also having to make my own choices.  I think of my father who diligently cleared a path for me to follow. I ponder the skills, the hustle and the enthusiasm for adventure that he nurtured in me.

My mind drifts across the years of climbing that have led me back to Everest once again. Are the shadows ahead the instructors and partners that have taught me how to climb?  Are they the mentors that taught me how to teach others to climb?

The mists close in tighter and I only see ten meters of rocky path in front of me.  Will the trails ahead eventually lead me to the summit of Everest? Will I make the right declensions when the tough times arrive, accompanies by uncertainty and fear?

I’ll have to find my way by blending together the trail left by others with my own instincts.  Its what we all must do to find our way forward through the mountains and the mists.

Posted in Everest 2017 | 8 Comments

Rise Again

When the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rattled Nepal in April 2015, it knocked down many schools and buildings. People got hurt; people died.

Already struggling with social challenges and poverty, Nepal was knocked further down by the initial catastrophic quakes and the hundreds of aftershocks that have rattled buildings and people’s nerves in the intervening 23 months.

So, when my fellow climbers and I returned to Nepal last week, we wondered how things would be. We knew that on a large scale, many countries had provided short term and long term aid. Around the world, trekkers, climbers and friends of Nepal had raised money through countless fund-raising presentations, bake sales and donations for numerous medium sized and tiny non-profits helping Nepal. Back in Colorado, other climbers and I chose to support the long-standing dZi Foundation that is rebuilding schools while injecting money into local Nepali communities.

But, how were things on the ground? Was the average Nepali citizen upbeat or discouraged?

The car ride from the Kathmandu airport to the Hotel Tibet showed streets with generally improved conditions since the quakes. Much work had been done, and while some portions of this crowded, dusty, magical city are still in disrepair, most of what I saw looked to be functioning as things do in Kathmandu – a bit chaotic, but somehow sufficient for life to roll forward. I was mildly encouraged by what I saw.

Then, just a half kilometer from the hotel, as we dodged right to avoid an egg vendor carrying thousands of eggs on his bicycle. As our careening driver straightened us back out I glanced left and saw this declaration:

I was so struck by this sign, that I walked back the next morning to stare at it longer and take a photo.

WE WILL RISE AGAIN.

I smiled.

In just four words, some upbeat citizen had made it clear to all who passed that somehow they would all recover and rise again. Even the scrawl itself had already been improved. Some freelance street editor had fixed the transposed vowels in the word “Again”. 🙂

This simple spray painted affirmation told me the pulse in this city was one of confidence and hope. Notice that the message did not indicate that the rising would be by a certain date. Nor did it promise that the rising would be fast or easy. Big recoveries and big progress rarely are.

This simple message was simultaneously optimistic and realistic. Some tenacious Nepali had boldly assured the rest of us that in time, with enough hard work, We Will Rise Again.

Visiting Nepal always challenges me and teaches me something deeper about the world, about humanity, and about myself. As its so early in our long journey I don’t know what might lie ahead. But already, I am heartened by the resilience of one brave soul, who left their uplifting message along that dusty road.

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Leaving for Everest

I’m leaving for Mount Everest. Its hard to even write it let alone actually believe it.

So much training. So much planning and preparation. In the past year I have done 200 workouts to get ready for this huge challenge. Over the past 36 years of climbing, well, I don’ even know how many days I’ve spent developing the skills and judgment so that I could dare to even attempt it.

My friends and family have had to make sacrifices to help me, and they have helped me a great deal. As all the preparation has culminated into a mountain of effort recently, I can see what a wonderful support team I have. I am lucky and I am grateful.

After experiencing the earthquakes and avalanches on Everest in 2015, I was not sure that I would ever return. But, after watching the resilience of the Nepali people in their recovery, and watching the persistence of the climbers who returned to Nepal in 2016, I gradually concluded that I should try again.

Its not about “conquering” the mountain. No one can conquer a mountain. Its about taking on a big challenge that demands you do more, that demands you become more. By taking on big challenges, you steadily refine yourself into a better version of you. Some people are called to marathons or music for their personal crucible to become something better.  I choose the mountains. Or perhaps, they have chosen me.

I’ll embrace this opportunity to grow, and give it every scrap of strength, persistence and resilience that I can muster. There are so many steps to take and so much work yet to be done. We will get to those soon enough. But, for now I have taken a first, big step to becoming all that I can. I’m leaving for Mount Everest.
After a year of preparation, I’m leaving next week to go climb Mount Everest. The training and logistics needed to get ready for Everest is daunting. In the section below I describe the strength building portion of my training.

We’ve just finished an energetic new video that that summarizes what I share with audiences in my keynotes and workshops. It blends a few of the resilience lessons in with a few amazing videos and photos from my expeditions to the Himalayas and other high mountains. Please take three minutes to take a look.

And, if your organization needs more resilience for the challenges, changes and uncertainties ahead, please contact me to have me speak to your team. It would be wonderful to share the new lessons and stories with you when I return from Everest!

Posted in Everest 2017 | 16 Comments

One Step, Then Another

Taking one small step, and then another. It’s how everything gets done.

Building a brick wall, earning your degree, climbing a mountain. One step, then another.  The concept is super simple, but the execution can be tough.

You can get discouraged by external criticism or distracted by other activities and problems (of which there is an endless supply). Negative self-talk can derail you (“This stinks. I’ll never get there!”). Mentally we understand that if we just keep at it we can reach our goal. But, it’s just so damn hard!20161005_102433

My challenge of this type has been being able to run again. I used to love running, especially along scenic wilderness trails. For a decade, I joyfully ran mountains, half marathons, and even a marathon. But, one early season ski day in November 2010, I unwisely launched myself off a big terrain feature. I came down hard onto an ice-solid landing zone. One cracked bone, one severed ACL and two surgically altered knees later, I was up hobbling around.

With a dedicated rehab team, I eventually regained my abilities to hike and climb. But running still eluded me. Each pounding step burned along the residual cracks, holes and implanted parts buried deep in my knees. So, for 5 years I quit running. I missed the exhilaration, the freedom.

Then, after an intense year of training and climbing on Mount Everest, my knees remained comfortable so I decided to try running once again. I sure did not want to give up all the athletic mobility I had regained as a climber, so I knew that I had to be very careful.  Besides, physical pain is a powerful reminder. So, I needed an extremely gradual and cautious plan. Being a “numbers” guy, I decided that I would start by running for one minute. That’s right: ONE minute.

If that felt okay, I would rest up and the next week run two minutes. One step, then another.

With sufficient recovery time and a steady approach, I should eventually be able to run long distance  again. If my knees screamed too loud, I would back off.

Over the past year I’ve completed about 60 runs, with each being a little bit longer than the previous ones. Many runs were good, some were great, and a few were tough and unpleasant.  Most important – its working! Through the discipline of “one step, then another”,  my running abilities have steadily inched upward. I completed my first mile, then my first 5K race.  It wasn’t fast, or pretty, but I was running!

Yesterday, I ran the trails near my house for 80 minutes straight.  Being a numbers guy, I estimate that I ran about 19,808 steps yesterday. Next week, I’ll do that again, and take one more stride.

One step, then another. Simple. Powerful. And, it works.

What goal in your life can you take a step toward?

 

 

 

Posted in Lessons, Speaking of Adventure | 4 Comments

EVEREST RESILIENCE: Part 7 – Begin Recovery

On April 27th, the upper camps of Everest were evacuated. Rocks had ceased falling and medical emergencies had subsided since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake had rattled base camp 48 hours earlier. But, the trauma across Nepal was still growing. Lives lost, homes wrecked, people injured.

Like many people across Nepal, the climbers and mountain workers had all been through a life-altering event. Everyone had seen trauma up close and personal. Some provided first aid while others did the harsh work of addressing the deceased. More needed to be done… but what?

As an emergency tapers down, the participants might feel the urge to leave, or to withdraw into themselves. These are both natural protective mechanisms. For those that can though, stepping forward to begin the recovery is often best medicine for everyone.

Begin Recovery

Helping to begin the recovery is healing. It heals both those survivors who need help, and those who step forward to provide the help.

As we slowly hiked out of the mountains, spontaneous work parties of trekkers, climbers and Nepali mountain workers:

  • Dug through rock avalanche rubble at the Everest field hospital to retrieve medical supplies.
  • Pulled cash from their pockets and gifted it to villagers in need.
  • Passed the hat for donations to jump start community rebuilding.
  • Picked up debris from the avalanche basted base camp (thank you Indian Army team!)
  • Assisted devastated families disassemble their destroyed homes, and saved the valuable materials so that re-construction could begin soon.

Here’s a quick video of my IMG teammates (both Nepali and foreigners) helping a Sherpa family in Phortse. Wood is precious in this beautiful alpine village, so we are working to carefully retrieve the important tree-trunk beams:

Once back in their home countries, many people that I traveled and climbed with in Nepal contributed money to Nepal’s recovery effort, and multiplied those efforts by sponsoring numerous fundraising events. The charity that I have partnered with is The dZi Foundation. There are many other worthy organizations too.

The people of Nepal are resourceful and resilient. They have endured tragedies before and they will move past this one too. But they need help with the recovery. They need our donations and our visitations. And, they need us to share fortitude with them, as they rebuild their communities and their resilience.

Once a crisis is past, use your energy and courage to begin recovery and to amplify resilience in others.

Stay resilient!

Jim Davidson
Speaking of Adventure

Note: This is the seventh video in a series that I shot on Mount Everest after the earthquake on April 25, 2015. There will be another new video posted here soon.

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EVEREST RESILIENCE: Part 6 – Escape from Camp 1

Here’s an exhilarating and scary video of our helicopter escape from Camp 1 on Everest, two days after the massive earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. Get in and hang on!

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EVEREST RESILIENCE: Part 5 – Calm Leadership

Some 24 hours after the massive earthquake in Nepal, we got hit with a huge aftershock. The entire Khumbu Glacier beneath our tent slid back and forth several inches. The 6.5 magnitude tremor rattled the fragile ice we were living on at Everest Camp 1.

Just as they had yesterday, giant avalanches ripped off the summit ridges right above our camp site. Ice blocks tumbled down the 4,000-foot wall from the West Shoulder of Everest toward us. Across the Western Cwm valley, more debris tumbled down the 6,000-foot north face of Nuptse and piled up at the bottom, just two hundred yards from our tent.

Having spent the last day trapped at Camp 1, unsure of how we were going to get off of Everest, we were already plagued with uncertainty. Now with avalanches growling and the Earth moving beneath our boots once again, our team’s anxiety leapt higher.

In this video from that moment, watch and listen carefully to our excellent guide and leader, Emily Johnston, in the blue jacket:

Calm Leadership

When a team is scared, calm leadership is crucial. Notice how my teammates and I looked to our leader Emily for support and direction. In just 30 seconds, Emily demonstrated several key attributes of calm leadership, including:

  • Speak with clarity, calmness, and moderate volume (no yelling)
  • Acknowledge people’s feelings and concerns
  • Provide a positive perspective that the team will endure
  • Share key information

Emily did all this in the first minute, and she did far more in the days ahead to lead us calmly and safely through scary times up on Everest.

Calm leadership holds teams together during uncertainty and increases everyone’s resilience.

Stay resilient!

Jim Davidson
Speaking of Adventure

Note: This is the fifth video in a gripping series that I shot on Mount Everest immediately after the earthquake on April 25, 2015. Watch this space for another video on Thursday, December 3, 2015.

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EVEREST RESILIENCE: Part 4 – Stop & Think

We huddled in our tent at Camp 1 just twenty-five minutes after the earthquake stopped. Because the avalanches had finally ceased pouring off the shoulder of Everest, the noisy powder blasts had quieted. The air was filled with urgent chatter gushing from the radio in multiple languages.

Camp 2 above us had been shaken, but they were okay. The radio messages from Everest Base Camp (2,400 feet below us) were heartbreaking. Desperate calls went out for more doctors and any one with medical training. People had been injured. People had been killed. Rumors trickled in that the massive quake had rocked much of Nepal. The scary aftershocks had begun and many more could be expected. Although we were momentarily safe, the future felt very uncertain. What should we do???

If the immediate danger to yourself and your companions has abated, it’s time to STOP & THINK. Here’s a brief video of us struggling to do just that right after the quake:

Stop & Think

Scary things happening around you can make your mind reel. Worry, fear and uncertainty feed off each other, and your thoughts might leap wildly from one concern to the next. Some panicked people seize upon the first possible action that occurs to them, whether or not it is correct, or even useful. While natural, such emotionally driven responses must be constrained so that you can do the most important step: THINK.

Look at the specifics. Determine what they mean. Use strict discipline to separate objective facts (ex: the slope above us just got shaken) from subjective fears (we might get buried by an avalanche!). Look at your position from several different angles. Ask other calm people how they see the situation.

In the absence of rational thought, you might impulsively rush into some action that could make your situation even worse. With your mind racing and your heart pounding, it takes self-control to make yourself sit and think. But it is usually the wisest action.

There is an old wilderness adage: if you get lost in the woods, stop, sit down, and think. Its solid advice, and it applies to every dangerous situation where you find yourself struggling to stay resilient.

When uncertainty and anxiety loom large, it’s critical to stop and think.

Jim Davidson
Speaking of Adventure

Note: This is the fourth video in a gripping series that I shot on Mount Everest immediately after the earthquake on April 25, 2015. Watch this space for another video next week.

Posted in Everest 2015, Lessons, Resilience | Leave a comment