Mountaineering teaches perspective

Alan Tees, Former  President of Mountaineering, Ireland

Alan is an ex-national President of Mountaineering Ireland. He has done first ascents of numerous rock climbs in Ireland and edited the 2001 rock climbing guide to Donegal. Recently, he was in Kolkata as a guest speaker for the second Sujal Mukherjee Memorial Lecture. Abhijit Ganguly speaks to him.

What has changed from the mountaineering experience, then to how it is now?

Well, the mountains do not change much, except for increased erosion on the more popular peaks, caused by the greater numbers of people using the mountains these days. The commercialization of our sport has resulted in much more specialized equipment and clothing, better on the mountains, but this has also spread to the high street where well known outdoor brands of clothing have become fashionable. The mountain experience will, I hope, continue to be timeless, but there is no doubt that after many years in the mountain ranges of the world, the ‘wow’ factor is more difficult to achieve. Strangely, it can happen somewhere locally, as easily as in one of the places considered the most spectacular on the planet.

Could you share your most memorable incident and the scariest one?

Climbing the Matterhorn, and my first unclimbed peak in the Garwal, both with my son, was special, but the most memorable incidents tend to have been when things didn’t go to plan, and this is when your metal as a mountaineer is tested. Making the right decisions is crucial, to go on, go back, or stay? Usually these situations are caused by weather conditions, or bad planning, but more frequently, a combination of both. One such incident was a retreat from Craig Meagaidh in Scotland, through a band of corniced cliffs in a blizzard (with no visibility whatsoever). The weather was obviously the main problem, but this was compounded by the fact that we had decided not to bring a rope, so the leader would almost certainly die, should our compass bearing be even slightly out! Business, similarly, is subject to external forces, but it is all about making the right decisions, and having the right tools to deal with the situation, that ensures survival in adverse conditions.

What lessons has mountaineering taught you that you apply to other areas of your life?

Mountaineering teaches perspective. We are very small, very temporary creatures. When you are in an exposed situation, with the strong possibility of death, or serious injury, should you make a mistake, all other worries such as job, family relationships, etc., become relatively inconsequential, and you can view them more objectively when you return to your real everyday life.

From the corporate point of view, does adventure travel help with team building skill development and leadership quality enhancement?

Thankfully, the daft idea that putting corporate managers into an alien and hostile environment to aid team building seems to have been finally exposed as a cynical con by a few outdoor providers on a largely gullible commercial sector. Some of our best accountants and managers, superb in the boardroom, are totally unsuited to the wilds, and to force them into that situation seems to me to be a form of abuse, almost worthy of legal action. It may work for certain individuals, but cause irreparable damage to others.

As an international ambassador for mountaineering is there one thing that you want people to know about mountain climbing?

Mountaineering should be enjoyable. It is a very broad sport encompassing many differing activities, and it should be fun. If it isn’t, try something else, or alternatively, you should be able to find something else within the sport to suit you better. And as the years pass, so do your needs and abilities. It is a lifetime sport, and people commonly migrate from rock climbing, or alpinism, to hiking.

I think mountaineering is primarily about people, and the mountain environment provides the canvas on which we paint our shared adventures. It is not about conquering the mountain for personal ego, more that we allow the mountain to conquer us, understanding that the mountain must be respected, protected, and never underestimated. As a businessman, I found the spiritual, non competitive nature of mountaineering a welcome escape from the combative commercial market place.

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