A Dead Lion

Dealing with failure

When I reached 8500m on Everest in 2013 we turned back with the Summit in sight.

Before this moment it became apparent that our lead guide was so ill that there was no real option but to abort the final section and descend.

Up to this moment I had of course struggled as you do in minus temperatures – strong side winds with only 30% oxygen breathing into my body but I was still strong and focused. For this attempt we had linked to 10,000 students around the globe via Skype so not to reach the top was devastating for me but for the students a real lesson in how important a human life is compared to summiting some random mountain!

For weeks after this event I went into a dark place with feelings of regret and what ifs! I had been in this position before on other expeditions and I feel if you choose to live your life running high end expeditions coping with disappointment is just apart of it.

So lessons learnt from the 2013 expedition was very difficult- I felt I was ok but of course we made the correct decision to get out of there at the point of death.

2019 ascent on Everest was something I was nervous about but also looking forward to. I went with a great company who some of the owners / members I knew already. The team itself were all great climbers with a proven history of a different level of mental strength. So the planets were aligned.

I felt I was the weak link as my fitness was not up to scratch so I headed out 1 month before meeting the team to acclimatise and put strength into my body.

I never assume I am 100% ready for an expedition- I’m an ordinary person who isn’t a natural athlete so in my head I had to prepare more to at least be in a fighting chance of keeping up.

On March 2 I started my walk in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas- beginning in the lower valleys to then climbing the 3 high passes to 5200m in snow blizzard and cold. I walked up 4 mountains above 5000m and managed to sleep and eat well to maintain my health.

By the time I met the ascent team at Base Camp Everest I felt strong light and ready. On reflection though I now ask myself , did I do too much training? Did I expose myself to the elements too early. Now I’m sick and questioning my movements then these are the ‘what if’ moments that spring to mind.

Each day on the build up to the first ascent we would stay as healthy as possible – washing – showering – eating as healthy as possible. One key point is keeping away from trekkers.

Over 40,000 trekkers walk this route to BC each year and pay a considerable lot less then the mountain ascent teams. They walk around the expedition camps taking photographs of the teams like we are monkeys in a zoo. This is all fine of course – we are all living our own adventures. However, bringing germs into an expedition is serious stuff so actual contact with trekkers is frowned up on by some and I agree with this.

There are usually 350 ascent climbers plus guides, porters – Base Camp staff – cooks etc so the community at Base Camp can be in the thousands. This again is a breeding space for germs. I heard that this year there was a mild epidemic of flu in Base Camp which explains a lot.

However, I don’t want to keep banging on about this because in our camp of roughly 30 people I was the only one to get sick and I have no idea why or how this happened.

So how does some one cope with failure?

First of all recording the moment is important. Any decisions you make under stress are generally made through experience. By assessing the moment at the time will allow you a clearer perspective of what is the right action to carry out. Understanding the moment and recording your decisions for future reflection is such an important part of this.

2 months down the line you will question your actions – you will look only at the situation through a new and relaxed perspective forgetting most of the pressures you were actually under.

A final point is that the worst thing you can do at the moment of trying to make a decision is not making one at all. This is why training and experience is so important.

Everything I do right or wrong on expeditions or in my business life is open to self or team assessment. An honest debrief is all part of development – like braking a bone it grows back stronger.

Finally, for me the only way to cope in the future with momentary failure is to make sure you do everything possible in the moment to make it work! Cover all possibilities whilst you are still on the ground so when your sitting at home with a cup of tea in your favourite chair two months later reflecting, it makes it a lot more difficult to pick holes in why you “gave up”.

I have mentioned failure a lot in this but to be honest it’s probably the wrong word. In 2013 we saved a life from the summit and this year I got a bug from some where! which prevented me from pushing on. It also probably stopped me from getting a lot worse further up the mountain where rescue would have been difficult -putting other people’s life’s at risk along with infecting other members of the team.

Failure I feel is not attempting things in the first place. My own opinion is, life is about a series of experiences that can test you and will allow you to see who you really are. Most of us walk around with a shield in front of us pretending to be something different.

Exploration has given me the opportunity to expose my weaknesses. In this way I am pretty happy being who I am – I have never been the best at what I do but I have always followed my passion of seeing what’s around the next corner – with an instinct to explore.

Sir Ernest Shackleton once said,

“ better a live donkey than a dead lion”

Author: Mark Wood

An established polar explorer and adventurer who operates within the extremes of our planet. His next expedition to Mount Everest will involve students from around the globe - this journal was set up to link directly with the teachers, students and the scouts who are involved in the journey.

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