My Recent Trip to Mount Everest Finding Inspiration for Leadership
It was as if I were in a trance as I stared into the majesty of the beautiful Himalayas, and the peak nestled in the clouds, grand and dominant: Mount Everest.
Many leadership books have been written about mountaineering and about Everest, the highest peak on earth, what it takes to make it up and back down again—the teamwork, the courage, and the tenacity.
Even though my excursion was a helicopter trip to the mountain’s base camp, it was still a heart-pounding experience and not danger-free. Just weeks earlier a small plane had collided into the mountain killing all on board.
Only about 4,000 people have ever summited the peak, and over 250 have died trying. Countless stories and legends have been told about it. For all these reasons, I wanted to see it first hand. In a small way, I wanted to feel like the many daring souls who have taken the mountain on. It was almost too much to take in and to follow through with. But we pressed on.
We flew in a helicopter for 40 minutes from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, into a town in the Himalayas at around 9,000 feet. Then we took a bigger more powerful helicopter from there to the mountain at 20,000 feet.
All the stories I had heard of Mount Everest came rushing back, the almost mythical tales of famous people who have dared the ascent; the grand adventurers who first attempted the climb like George Mallory; and those who finally conquered it, like Sir Edmund Hillary. The story of Everest speaks to the beauty of nature that God created. I would imagine it would be akin to looking at the earth from space as a first time astronaut.
That’s how it was for me: Breathtaking.
There were actually so many peaks we had to ask which one was Everest. It is the one with clouds almost always covering its peak (you can see that from the photo we took above). I asked our New Zealand helicopter pilot if he knew why there are clouds around it, and he said, “It’s really not supposed to be up there. It is very high in the clouds.”
To give you an idea of how high this mountain is, the grand and majestic Mount Rainier in Washington state reaches 14,417 feet. The highest mountain in North America is Mount Denali, in Alaska at 20,310 feet. And that’s the level of the base camp for Everest, where we made it on our trip and where trekkers gather to start their ascent to the summit. Everest sits at 29,029 feet, almost the cruising altitude of most commercial airplanes.
While traveling on the plane from the US, I watched the movie Everest. It is the true story of a 1996 expedition gone wrong. In the movie, a few surviving climbers struggle to come down to base camp in an army helicopter. As the helicopter struggles to get to base camp, it almost crashes because of the high elevation.
Our helicopter made it just fine to base camp, although our pilot had to be on oxygen the whole time. The rest of us did not, and we were a little light-headed. I asked him about the movie, why it showed the helicopter was about to crash, and yet ours was fine. He smiled and said, “Hollywood.”
I thought base camp would be this nice field where people pitch their tents. It looked rough. It is actually sheets of ice that move constantly a few feet per day. Landing there is not easy because of its ever changing surface, so we only hovered around the area. Only a few blue tents were pitched. I wondered who might be in them? When would they attempt the summit? Would they make it?
We landed a few hundred feet from the camp in a safer area and were corralled after only five minutes because of the low oxygen at that level. From there, the helicopter took us a few thousand feet lower to a place where we could look straight up at the mountain and take some photos (pictured above). We stayed about thirty minutes and briefly visited a lodge that is open to visitors a few months out of the year. The only attendant there made us a cup of coffee. We sat there quietly, sipping our hot drink as a cold but tolerable wind pushed against us. We were mesmerized, simply staring—at Everest!
From there we flew back to Kathmandu, and began our journey back to India where we had started from. I have to be honest, I was a little nervous before and during the four-hour trip to the mountain. I prayed our pilot knew what he was doing and hoped he had a recent physical check-up because I surely could not fly that helicopter if something happened to him. God protected us.
On my desk now sits a small momento, a round magnet that has the shape of Everest. I look at it to remind myself I must have the courage to take on whatever mountains are before me.
May we all have the strength to scale the Everest we face as leaders!
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