What do high altitude mountaineering and FM have in common? | Macro


By Russ Stevens, Account Director, Macro

I love high altitude mountaineering! To clarify; I love reading about it. Having read a large number of classic climbing books it suddenly struck me that there are major parallels between some of the great successes, failures and disasters on mountaineering expeditions and the business goals we set ourselves in the professional world of facilities management.

As a starter: What does the French ascent of Annapurna in 1950 have in common with an FM goal?

In 1950, Maurice Herzog set off with a crack team of the finest French alpinists of the day including the accomplished Chamonix guides, Terray, Rebuffat and Lachenal.

They set off to carry out man’s first ascent of an 8,000 metre mountain - there are only 14 in the world. Before they headed off they had an evening at The French Alpine Club where the club president sent them off with a speech and a clear message that outlined their goal. A very clear, shared, team goal: be the first team to summit a mountain over 8,000 meters in altitude.

The first parallel then. This goal is SMART - specific, measurable, assignable, and time-related. But was it realistic? That’s the question that becomes pivotal to this story. The goal also has some other features that parallel with how you would like to achieve your business goals: You pick the right people with the right skills to do the job and dedicated support teams to provide all the back-up you need.  

Climbing is physically exhausting and doing it at high altitude without oxygen is dangerous so, no-one knows who in the team will actually end up reaching the top. You adjust, and the leader will pick the strongest to go at each point. 

On this expedition, in addition to the finest climbers in France, they had a doctor who was a specialist in climbing injuries and frostbite; the guy from the French embassy who also spoke the local languages; they had sherpas and local labour to carry their expedition equipment. In short they were as well prepared, better prepared even, than any expedition before them. They had all bases covered.

It was no surprise then that on the 3 June 1950, Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal stood on the summit of Annapurna.  And that is when the problems began.

On the way down the weather closed in and they got lost. Herzog himself, suffering with the lack of oxygen to the brain lost his gloves opening his rucksack and his hands quickly froze. Terray and Rebuffat came up to look for them and then the four of them promptly got lost. In a full blizzard they found a crevasse to hide in and spent the night in there freezing.

In the morning they found they were 50 yards from the tents at the high camp and they lay in the tents to wait for the storm to pass. Two were snow blinded and had to be led down the mountain (no mean feat at that altitude and over that terrain) and, amazingly, survived although they suffered weeks of painful injections and amputations to toes and fingers on the trek back to civilisation. In short they were lucky to survive.

Did they succeed or fail?

 Yes, they achieved their goal but arguably the goal was wrong. The goal should have been: be the first team to summit AND DESCEND WITHOUT INJURY a mountain over 8,000 meters in altitude. 

In the end their goal was only half the goal and their lack of preparation for the descent nearly cost lives. 

Obviously in FM we don’t put lives at risk but the parallel of business risk is very real. Are your goals realistic? Have you considered the full journey and not just decided on planning to get halfway? What is your real destination? Don’t be blinded by ‘summit fever’ and be prepared to change your goals or abandon them for new ones without compromising your values. Oh, and read ‘Annapurna’, it’s one hell of an adventure.


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What do high altitude mountaineering and FM have in common?