Mountain pathways

The previous article explored the relevance of bounded applicability in both climbing and business using mostly theoretical examples.

This post offers 3 very real examples in an attempt to prompt reflection.

I’ve included a series of images from three recent-ish climbing trips below.

When looking at the images, I encourage you to consider how the environment (situation or context) determines the approach — everything from preparation (planning, fitness, training) to the tools (clothing, equipment) and methods applied/used (technique, climbing style, communication, risk mitigation).

Ice & mixed climbing in Cogne, Italy 2018–19

Ice climbing mostly involves climbing frozen waterfalls. The mixed element applies when rock is exposed on the route due to a combination of water flow, density of ice and many other factors.

Strength, climbing skill and precision are required here. Despite the temptation to butcher the ice with your axes, you need to act more like a surgeon. Rarely does any part of your body touch the ice directly due to the use of axes and crampons that are specifically designed for near vertical ice… It’s pretty cold, too!

Mountaineering at Altitude, Nepal 2018

Nepal is the land of the giants, containing 8/10 of the highest mountains on earth (from sea level). Performance in this environment is significantly impaired by reduced levels of oxygen at altitude, noticeable from ~2500m.

Climbing here demands a high level of endurance and cardio vascular fitness yet not necessarily a high strength or vast experience of technical climbing. This is more of a marathon with a different set of challenges posed by spending >14 days above 4000m to acclimatise whilst camping at ~5200m at a temperature of -32 Celsius when climbing.

Rock climbing in the Dolomites, Italy 2019

The Dolomites consists of numerous 600–800m climbs up to ~3000m. Add the exposure, brittle rock and changeable conditions to make this a challenging experience.

Rock requires core strength in addition to balance. It is not about pulling yourself up something, it’s about being deft in the way you contour your body and intimately respond to the feeling of the rock. Travelling light is important, as is finger strength and some resilience to cuts or general discomfort (where do you go to the bathroom when climbing a vertical wall for 6–8 hours?!).

Taking stock

Hopefully what emerges from the images and prior narrative is the variation in approach despite all activity sitting under a banner of climbing.

Taking a one-size approach or using a single set of tools in the same way would be foolish, let alone dangerous. For example, if I tried to fix anchors (any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load to the climbing surface) to ice using the same hammer & piton approach as I would on rock, the ice is going to fracture and put me and my partner(s) at risk of serious injury or worse.

Acknowledging there is consistency and some minimum standards in the lead up to and during any climbing activity — to plan routes, put together a rough itinerary, determine the equipment required, form a training plan — I am asking for trouble if I think that I can use the same approach that succeeded in Nepal just because ‘it’s climbing’.

Hell, even if returning to the same region of Nepal, at the same time of year, with the same gear to climb a mountain of a similar height, I cannot default to the same approach in either the lead up to or throughout the trip.

Just because I’ve been trained in the fundamentals and achieved a goal of climbing at altitude in the Himalayas, this doesn’t create a best practice that I can then apply to climbing ice in Italy.

The need for different approaches can be obvious when the shift in context is dramatic but when you’re sat in the same office all day and have done things a certain way with some success in the past, familiarity can breed contempt.

Successfully delivering Project X doesn’t mean you can copy & paste the same methods for Project Y.

Packing up

If you do not approach each project in a thoughtful & deliberate way, you’re creating unnecessary risk.

To avoid this, take the knowns & unknowns plus variables into account before starting a journey with a sense of direction that evolves based on the reality.

Know your environment and constantly scan it. This is the same in business where your company or project is going to be in danger if you fail to prepare, identify and react to the ever adjusting context.

In the next article, we’ll explore sensemaking with a real-life example of when things go wrong.



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