Newsletter 1515 May 2001
Ellen Miller: Let Me Tell You About My Team
In my debut dispatch from Everest, I am choosing to write about a subject that I value, and a quality that exists in our expedition. Call it teamwork, group dynamics, camaraderie, or just plain getting along with each other. I feel as qualified as anyone to write about it, as I am the veteran of several commercial expeditions (some with great energy and others in which the climbers were simply too lazy, old or unmotivated to accomplish the task). I am also a serious participant in stressful, international, multi-day team races (Eco Challenges, etc.), where team interaction is key.
We came together in Kathmandu, seven weeks ago, 10 different nationalities, operating in 5 different languages. What we have become is a cohesive team made up of strong and rugged individualists. Here at ABC, we exist in an environment of relaxation, where we can remain healthy and strong for our ascent. However, don't mistake our relaxed approach for apathy or fear: each team member is very focused on the summit.
Our team members have enough experience in the mountains to be humble, and our guides bring years of leadership experience. Chris, a true 'people person', is the entertainment director, continually humoring us. He has guided over 70 international expeditions and pioneered two extremely technical new routes in the Himalaya. He brings this accumulated wisdom to the expedition. Asmuss, the Great Dane, lives in the mountains of Chamonix and summited Everest last year. He is a true professional, respecting the process and adding to the enthusiasm of the team. Andy Lapkass, the gentle giant, (who has towed me around race courses worldwide; we are racing teammates) has a quiet, strong and humble style of leadership….exactly the kind of guy I want to be with on summit day on Mt. Everest. Andy is one of the world's leading 8000 meter guides, having successfully guided Lhotse, Everest (2x) and Cho Oyu (3x). This is his 6th Everest expedition. The Himalayan Experience Sherpas are a strong team themselves, under the leadership of Lopsang. Russ and Lopsang have operated 15 expeditions together.
Russell Brice, the owner of Himalayan Experience is responsible for bringing this team together. He is no Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a curtain, shouting orders. Russ leads by example and from a position of earned respect. There is no one guiding Everest who has his level of experience (11 Everest expeditions and dozens more in the Himalaya). You can even argue that no one else has the personality, resources and desire to provide the level of care and service that Russ does, time and time again.
Russell humbly claims that it is the price point (not the outrageous, perhaps greedy, $65,000 or the simply ludicrous, perhaps life threatening, $18,000), his humble style of advertising, and his 'no bullshit' approach to operating his expeditions that attracts us: like-minded clients. We know better. As educated, experienced mountaineers, it is Russ' reputation that attracted us. We knew that on Everest, you largely get what you pay for, and our lives are worth the price tag he sets. Afterall, this team is made up of fit, focused people looking for value. Consider that 6 of us are return clients. Two of the members are professional mountain guides.
Before each trip, Russ says he is always a bit anxious about how we will all interact. It is really hard to pre-qualify clients based on personality. He does try to meet everyone before they sign up, but attracting an international clientele makes this nearly impossible. And even the strongest clients can get homesick, physically sick or burnt out by the stress of two months on the north side of Everest. This is a hard place to be.
On the mountain, we are experiencing an ebb and flow of helpful energy, the give and take of true teamwork. Recently, I happened to be teamed up with Eco-Challenger Owen West (Yes, the guy that raced with the Playboy bunnies), and hey, although I'm no Playboy centerfold, Owen saved me at Camp 2. He did our chores, prepping the tent and brewing some tea, before I pathetically crawled into the tent, after a cold and windy ascent. Owen had lacked energy our first trip up to the Col, and he was returning the favor. "It goes both ways, baby!" Owen says.
We both know that we will probably end up depending on each other sometime later in this expedition. This is not just a feeling that I have in my gut about Owen; I have it about my other team mates as well. Jaime and Keiron have enjoyed the same energy exchange. Even here in our luxurious ABC, respect and kindness prevail. We treat each other with respect and dignity. Table manners, heart felt "good mornings" and acts of kindness define our team's dynamics. It is energizing and gratifying to be a part of such a solid team, that is blessed with outstanding leadership. This is a dangerous game we are playing here, and it is important to me, should I need to, to be able to turn to a team mate, be it client, Sherpa or guide, and ask for help and never doubt that I will get it. It seems to boil down to our shared attitude: a positive mental attitude.
There seems to be a ridiculous belief that somehow, sometimes, optimism lacks intelligence and that optimism stems from a lack of experience and naiveté. I don't believe that. I believe optimism is a choice, and I feel fortunate to be a part of a team that agrees.