Rolling with the punches....

26th Aug 2015

A man is great not because he hasn't failed; a man is great because failure hasn't stopped him.  Confucius
I've failed on far more mountains than I've succeeded.  Most mountaineers would probably say the same.  It's a fact of mountain life that the odds are stacked against you - weather, altitude problems, technical difficulties or objective dangers.  There are always more reasons to fail than there are to succeed. 
Over years of going into the mountains you come to accept this, although surely it's always better to achieve your goal? We all love those trips where it all fits together, but another viewpoint is that you need the failures to appreciate the successes. If every adventure ended in success would it feel the same?  I've no idea really, but I do think failure teaches us a lot about how we deal with things and, if mountains are a reflection of our everyday lives, those lessons can be just as useful in other contexts if they are channelled in the right way.
I used to go to the Alps regularly with 2 good friends.  If we didn't manage an ascent of something we'd planned one of them would shrug his shoulders and move on whereas the other was inconsolable for ages (usually until the next successful ascent rebooted his mojo).  My reaction sat somewhere between the two in those days, but nowadays I hopefully lean towards the first.  Whether I succeed or fail there will always be parts of the experience from which I can take positives away and if it bothers me that much I just see it as an excuse to try again.  I just enjoy being in the mountains.
Getting that message across to paying clients can be very difficult.  For some they are paying, in their own minds, for me to guarantee success.  It makes being clear about likely outcomes right at the start very important. What I see them as really paying for is good decision making and, of course, that could mean the right decision is retreat or tackling an alternative objective.
As I write this I am lay in my sleeping bag in a shaking tent at a windswept and snow bound Stok Kangri base camp.  We are at 5050 metres and, after a week of effort and a great deal of money spent, the team know that the current conditions mean we have far more chance of failing to summit than we do of topping out.  The clients are realists and they have spent time in the mountains before, but for many this is still a very hard fought goal.  Time preparing, time training, time away from loved ones and time dreaming of that summit and it all boils down to what happens in the next 48 hours.
So, I'll sleep tonight and hope of waking to more stable weather, I'll hope everyone is still psyched for a summit ascent and I'll hope altitude problems or illness don't pay us a visit.  I'll hope, in reality, that all our stars align.  If not, i'll get the team sat down to discuss the limited options available and I'll get them to face the fact that the most likely one is descent.  I'll also explain the reasons why. They'll understand, they'll move on and they'll look forward to the remainder of the trip.  Hopefully.
Posted by Paul