Summit Experiences

Some of you may be aware that I organised an all-disabled mountaineers’ climb on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania very recently. Our team of four hailed from Scotland, Wales, Australia and Singapore and had never climbed together before the expedition. Kilimanjaro, at 5895m, is the largest free-standing mountain in the world. Though it has many routes, we chose a route to stretch our limits; first as mountaineers and second, as the disabled people that we now are. Eventually, after some illness, bad weather and routefinding problems, we made the ascent on January 18th by the Western Breach route, the most difficult of all the standard routes.

Though just a rocky scramble in many places, the route posed an interesting and tough challenge to a team of four that had 3.5 good hands and 3.5 good legs. Jamie is a quadruple amputee, having lost both hands and feet in a climbing accident; Pete had partial disabilities in both legs, and like myself needed various braces and calipers to walk. Paul was worse off, being hemiplegic and not having a functioning right arm and ( most of ) a right leg.

We reached the top at 3pm, traversed the peak and descended to a faraway campsite; taking 23 hours in all on summit day – on 2 litres of water and 2 cereal bars for food. It was the culmination of a 3-year plan and tremendously enriching for me as a mountaineer and a corporate motivator.

A few key lessons on motivation and leadership came to mind during the climb:

1) By profiling each member with the Q02 profiling tool, we were able to assess how each member viewed opportunities/ obstacles. It allowed us to see who were the extreme optimists and who were less so. by adjusting our viewpoints to the realities we were better able to make the right decisions throughout the climb. This was also pertinent because none of us had climbed together prior to Kilimanjaro. To know is to understand.

2) Perspective -When the going got difficult, a sense of perspective was invaluable. By placing ourselves in past scenarios, our situation immediately at hand could be quickly assessed and action taken to address if our condition was ” dire” or “manageable”. This allowed greater focus at the task ahead. Organisations with a good track record and history of overcoming odds are always better placed to bounce back when they are down

3) Empowerment
– There was no formal “leader” of the expedition. A team of high calibre, experience allows for ‘ leadership’ to fluctuate between those with fresh ideas to get it closer to their objectives, and those with greater strength of purpose. Open and transparent communication combined with our shared vision also helped immensely

4) Flexibility
– we are not obsessed with one specific outcome, other than that it was important to make the climb to the top as a unified team. For example, when our original plans to climb the Credner glacier were thwarted , a ‘Plan B” was already in place; leading to us climbing the next best or the route nearest to our vision of a challenging climb.

5) Overcoming – exhausted and dehydrated, our descent through the night seemed endless – but for the fact we had markers , like an altimeter that told us we were approaching our campsite, as well as the relief that we were out of immediate danger. It was only some moderate suffering that had to be endured further that was the mental burden.