Issue Management: Teapots and Tent Poles (cont’d)

December 27, 2015

Most are familiar with the Into Thin Air disaster on Mt. Everest – the 1996 incident detailed in the recent movie Everest in which many climbers were killed in a storm high on the mountain. What the movie alludes to, but doesn’t make very clear, is that the storm was just the final straw. The seeds of the disaster had already been planted through a series of smaller incidents and mistakes that then became unmanageable in the face of the storm – the miscommunication on bottled oxygen resupplies, the failure to fix ropes high on the route, one of the guide’s illness, the failure to turn back to high camp on time, etc.

In my experience, that’s how most disasters come to happen in the outdoors. Usually it’s not one big incident such as a storm that alone creates the disaster, but the aggregation of little incidents creating a “failure chain” that breaks when the big incident does occur. Even seemingly small problems can contribute to the failure chain because you just never know what “big incident” might happen, whether a “small problem” is actually significant. Disaster can sneak in through the smallest of cracks, so it’s important to deal with all issues as they arise – to take those links out of the failure chain.

Of course, making it to a summit (or to the pole) also involves a large degree of calculation. You can’t can’t let every issue delay the expedition or you’ll never make it to the objective. I suppose that’s where judgment comes in to the picture – knowing how and when to address issues before they come problems while leaving a healthy margin of safety. Maintaining that perspective while in a changing and challenging environment – cold, wind, storms, physical stress, isolation, etc. – that’s the trick.

So bringing it back to the mundane – I’ve had a slew of issues to manage so far. Tent poles, teapots, an injured foot, bad snow conditions, weather, you name it. So far
I’ve been able to manage them, and issues of these types are to be expected on an expedition like this. Certainly nothing for me to be overly-dramatic about! But they’ve really slowed my progress. Nonetheless, I feel the situation is still under control safety-wise so I’ll get my new pot from ALE and continue pressing on.