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Richard Watson, Group Manager, Microsoft UK.
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Category Archives: Mountaineering
Why is saying ‘I don’t know’ so hard to do in business? Perhaps we want to be seen as experts rather than people who are continually learning. Levitt and Dubner note in Freakonomics that this is one of the most destructive forces in business.
I am a professional mountaineer and mountain guide. As a leader on skis or in crampons, I feel at home. I think I am good at getting the best out of my team in this mountain environment. After 30 years plus, I already know a lot: I’ve done my 10,000 hours and some.
I’ve always enjoyed reaching the summit of a mountain via a ridge climb. Whether working as a leader on a well-worn classic route or trying a first ascent, a good ridge lingers long in the memory. But what makes them so special?
One of the biggest challenges we face in life is dealing with change. It’s the same in the mountains.
To avoid accidents you need to see the world clearly, see the changes happening and then change your behaviour. When you are a novice just starting out, there is so much new information to interpret that it is hard to fully understand each situation.
Snow conditions and weather represent the two biggest elements of change in the mountains. In order to survive as an Alpinist, you need to gain enough experience to clearly interpret these.
The great tower of El Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos d’Europa is one of the most famous mountains in Spain. Ever since seeing a photo of it as a teenager I wanted to climb it. However, for one reason and another, it would take me many years to succeed and teach me a few things along the way.
I first tried to climb Naranjo de Bulnes 20 years ago, alone and in winter, approaching on skis. I was working in Spain and I had a couple of days free. The weather was so bad I never made it to the base of the mountain and I had to take refuge in a shepherd’s hut overnight. I left without even seeing the peak.
At 6am the storm was still raging and it was almost 10am by the time we got going. We decided to travel light as we had so little of the good weather window left. Straight away it was a test of teamwork and motivation: taking it in turns to break trail through deep snow, navigating around crevasses and trying to stay warm. Periodically, I took compass bearings just in case the visibility dropped; Simon placed waymarks in his GPS.
After flying 12,000km, we arrived in Ushuaia. It was dark, bitterly cold and blanketed in snow. Our skipper Marcel gave us a warm welcome onto his lovely boat, Iorana, and poured three glasses of very fine red wine. My kind of basecamp!
After a couple of days negotiating paperwork, first with the Argentinean navy and then the Chilean navy in Puerto Williams, we set off west along the Beagle Channel. Strong winds meant we often only moved for a couple of hours before seeking a sheltered anchorage. We were trapped in one spot for two days, the wind roaring in the channel. Almost a week after leaving the UK we finally got close to the big, pristine mountains. We had met just two fishing boats since leaving Puerto Williams, and now there was no one. We passed a couple of Megallanic penguins and up ahead glaciers calved into the sea. The mountains here felt raw and inaccessible, guarded by impenetrable forest right down to the water’s edge.
In September 2013, Simon Yates and I set off to explore new routes in the mountains of the Cordillera Darwin in Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America. We would be the only people climbing in a mountain range as long as the Alps: the only access is by boat. On the map there are a few red lines denoting previous explorers’ routes. Most of the map is blank, totally unexplored – a rare thing in today’s world.
When Award winning filmmaker Paul Diffley and I discussed where to make a mountaineering film, Scotland in winter leapt out. It is where I began my mountaineering 30 years ago and remains one of the most challenging environments I have faced. It is also one of the most magnificent.
I recently bumped into a French alpinist in Glencoe who explained that 10 top French Alpinists had come to Scotland in winter to train for a trip to the greater ranges. My own mountaineering career began in Scotland 30 years ago and, despite having climbed all over the world, it remains a very special place for me.
So what makes a day out in Scotland in winter so challenging?
Everest – An Enduring Legacy
The first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 was an inspiring story of human courage, great leadership, teamwork and motivation. Importantly, it was also an example of a famous event leaving a lasting legacy for future generations. Following that successful ascent, theMount Everest Foundation was formed, initially financed from surplus funds and royalties, ‘to encourage and support ‘exploration of the mountain regions of the earth’. 60 years later the charity is still going strong, handing out thousands of pounds to pioneering climbers and scientists each year.