|Elbrus 2004 - after my failed summit attempt|
There’s one lesson I learned a long time back, that unless you’re one super lucky SOB, or perhaps a demigod – “you cannot summit all peaks!”
There are many reasons why one may not summit all his/her target peaks. After a failed attempt, there could be bad feelings, and even bad consequences – but along these are also good sides to it. Let me share some of these experiences and offer a perspective about ‘failing’ (and why we should experience it once in a while).
My Failed climbs
1. Elbrus, Caucasus Russia (1st attempt). Back in 2004, with the aim to climb both Elbrus and Aconcagua w/in the same year – I shortened my Elbrus trip to fit my available Vacation leaves. (A problem of a working-class mountaineer). On the 3rd day (and onwards), I got AMS’d. Attempted the summit (in very slow climbing fashion), and at 200vertical meters close to the summit (past the ‘saddle’ – or the in-between of east and west peak), weather closed in (a white out) and my lead guide shooed me away! I was ok to continue, although I was hypoxic and both the weather and the guide decided it was time for me to go back and go home! (I returned 3 years after and topped out).
|C3 Aconcagua (Andes, Argentina)|
A lull in a 2day snowstorm (here, mocking myself)
We ran out of time and went down
2. Aconcagua (Andes, Argentina). In the same year, my 14-member team (not counting Argentinean guides) experienced windstorms and relentless snowstorms – we lost precious days and eventually the chance to even attempt for the summit (from our last camp). If I went home after that defeat, that would be my second (after Elbrus) and probably my last blow – and MAY HAVE BEEN MY LAST CLIMB! Luckily, the bad side of me kicked in, I got pissed and wanted ‘revenge’ so I went back (from basecamp). I, (along with a Swede and my Argentine guide) made a successful re-attempt a few days after).
3. Lobuche peak (Himalaya, Nepal). Back in 2003 – during my month-long alpine mountaineering training expedition, my team targeted three 6000m peaks. The first one was Lobuche – a time when I was still nursing my mild AMS causing me not sickness but bad slow climb. The Kiwi expedition leader didn’t want a slow member in the assault. I argued that I could go on my own (weather was fine), or I could go 2 hours ahead). I didn’t win the argument. Argh! Paying thousands of hard-earned bucks to climb and not get a summit is painful! And costly!
4. Island peak (Himalaya, Nepal). In that same trip, on the way to Island Peak – early winter snowstorm blanketed the mountain forcing my team to skip the climb plan. I did a ‘revenge climb’ during my 2006 Everest expedition, designed an acclimatization trip targeting this same mountain. Unfortunately – I got sick and felt very weak during the attempt and made an early quit. (I was saving strength and morale for my main expedition). I concluded – maybe this peak doesn’t like me, I’ll accept that for now. ;)
5. Fuji. Even the relatively small mountain in Japan shooed me away. After a business trip, my colleagues and I went straight to Fujiyama to climb the famous peak. I was a little-only sick before the trip, took some meds, and just climb what was supposed to be an easy mountain. On one of the highcamp stops, I inadvertently fell asleep (was tired and weak) and when I woke up – I instantly ‘felt’ the altitude, with raised heartbeat. I got so slow (2hrs behind my team) – and decided to abort by mid-morning, lest I miss my bus home.
I have many more ‘minor’ / small mountain failures – but they offer the same learning or insights. Here are some of those:
- Failing makes one stronger and tougher. After my first Elbrus attempt, I totalled 15 hours of AMS suffering in a semi-arctic environment (during my summit day). I thought and concluded that I could endure any other endurance punishment in any wintry condition, sick or not sick! That made me mentally tougher and had prepared me for even tougher climbs.
- It teaches us humility. Too much of a success could lead to arrogance if not properly controlled.
- It makes one be more practical and realistic in his/her approach. Failures teach us something. If we learn from them, we can be better in planning things and not just go blindly. For example, if I know that an objective requires +25kg of gear, in a very steep hill, above 20,000ft, that needs to be covered in 6hours – I could be setting myself up for failure or problems. So influencing a change in the plan (team or gear movement), or deciding on what equipment/gears to bring are some things we can control to increase the chance of climb success. Sometimes – keeping your feet on the ground (figuratively) makes you see what’s feasible or what’s improbable!
- Failing makes you ENJOY success MORE! It was said “success is counted sweetest by those who never succeed” – or perhaps ‘counted sweeter by those who sometimes fail’. A successful revenge climb is always meaningful or deep.
- It makes future objectives more exciting! ‘Unknown’ ending is what makes adventure sometimes more exciting! And if you win all the time, maybe the set goal is not really that challenging (vs. one’s level of capability). A failed climb on the other hand (assuming not a miserable, disastrous, super fail) may mean one is rightly pushing his/her limit, or on the right track in pursuing a bigger, related goal.
I failed in Elbrus and almost gave up my Everest dream. I felt defeated but fought again, only to fail the 2nd time – in Aconcagua (at least initially); recovered and went on and topped out Cho Oyu and Everest. Failure is a nuisance – it can make us quit, but it is a temporary ‘issue’ – the key is to recover and try again.
I once saw a tip that said: “Endure your failure for 5 minutes, then move on!”
Check out these posts:
Useful lessons from Rescue (Problem Solving)
Lessons Learned from Mountaineering
Wisdom of the Mountain Guides
Home and Adventure
Other Essential Skills (for success)
More lessons learned from mountaineering