A new route in the Alps – motivated by the fear of failure?


A management consultant commented yesterday that he hired me as a motivational speaker because, he believed as a mountaineer, I was ‘bold, innovative and unique’.

It is difficult for me to judge, but one thing that matters is to be true to myself and to walk the talk. When I deliver speeches about managing risk, leadership, teamwork or overcoming adversity, I always speak from real, personal events. I am still learning as a climber.

Just last week, I realised a dream in the mountains with a friend. I was reminded of an important lesson: that fear of failure has the potential to motivate us to perform to the highest level.

In 1999, I spotted an old aid climb (Burkli & Keusen, 1972) on the south face of the Gross Simelistock in the Swiss Alps. I had a hunch that it would make a great free-climb.

Andy on the crux pitch of the new route 'Ecstasy', Gross Simelistock, Switzerland. Photo Alistair Lee.


 This June, Twid Turner and I tried the route. Twid and I had trained together in the Alps to become mountain guides back in the early 90s. Our paths have since diverged as he now lives and works as a full-time guide in Switzerland, but we still enjoy the opportunity to climb together.

Our first attempt failed because of mixed weather and the sheer difficulty of the climb. We returned last week, fitter, hungrier and with a cameraman! Some people perform better under intense pressure. Certainly being filmed on the most difficult section of the climb made me fight to succeed – I nearly fell on four occasions.

The reason I clung so tenaciously to the rock wasn’t due to a fear of falling; it was more because I feared failure. There was a storm due, we had work commitments and families waiting at home. We had limited time. And there was the camera. I dug deep and gave 120% effort. I am sure Twid felt the same. Neither of us wanted to let the other man down. Sometimes you realise ‘this is our chance’ it may not come again.

When the filmmaker, Alistair Lee of Posing Productions, has edited the footage, I will share some of it with you. It should be spectacular. Alistair said he could see the fear in my eyes. After watching it, you can judge whether it was ‘the fear of failure’.

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