The Role of Teamwork in Success on Everest
It is rare that Everest is climbed solo. Even if a climber is alone on the mountain, there is a team at home that has given this person the support to do what he or she is doing.
Everest is climbed step by step and each person must take those steps on their own. Nobody can do this for you. However, it is the team that gives the individual the power to perform.
As I was approaching the summit of Everest on that beautiful day in 2008 I was alone. I was alone in my thoughts and I was alone in my movements. Yes there were other people around me, but essentially I was alone in my own small world. I was performing alone, but I was climbing off the “backs” of my team mates and they were climbing off my back. The team had been essential in my success as they helped to give me the mental and emotional strength to do what I was doing. Without the team I never would have been able to accomplish what I did.
I had another critically important team with me that day. Back home my wife and two children were waiting for news of my ascent, but they were with me every step of the way. Death is common on Everest and many climbers will just sit down and never get up again. There were times when I wanted to sit down and give up, there were times when my body faltered, there were times when my mind wandered. This is when my home team came into play. Thinking of them would snap me back into the moment and force my body and mind to perform.
Everest is not often climbed by teams anymore. It is climbed by groups of people loosely bound together by a common goal; the summit. However, they are not bonded to one another and there is no common vision in most cases. This can work out just fine when the sun is shining and life is good. But when the mountain throws a curve ball these groups fall apart.
It often becomes “every person for themselves” with a few Sherpa and guides trying to help whomever they can. You can see the results of this in many of the tragedies on Everest and other high mountains such as K2. Having a strong and tightly bound team does not guarantee safety, but you have a much larger operating zone. You can tolerate greater extremes and come out on the other side.
In times gone by when small independent climbing teams worked together there was a very strong team bond. This is what was referred to as the “brotherhood of the rope” (It is not that different from the mariner’s code where ships will divert their course to help another ship in distress regardless of time and financial cost). These climbers worked very closely together and supported one another. Today the common practice is to climb Everest with a group of strangers. These people do not have the same bond to one another and there is not the same level of commitment.
If a climber becomes sick or injured it is the responsibility of the guide to deal with. Climbers within teams often will not sacrifice their summit chance to assist a fellow team member and this is even more prominent when it is a stranger in distress. People die every year as others walk by. Often there is little that can be done, but in some cases this help can save a life.
Ultimately being part of a high performance team will make any activity easier, safer and more enjoyable.