As Norgay Tenzing, the legendary Sherpa climber, said of George Frey, "Like many men before them, they had held a great mountain lightly, and they had paid the price.
The Law of Significance. No one can do anything of significance alone. Throughout the two days that the four teams of climbers were on Mt. Everest, nearly all of the climbers had times when they felt they were alone on the mountain. This was especially true when they climbed at night and the only evidence that there were other climbers on the mountain was the moving headlamps of the climbers ahead of them. Each climber ascended Mt. Everest for his own individual reasons, and each Sherpa aided the climbers for his own reasons, too. Each climber was on his or her own and, yet, was part of a time.
Several climbers did act on their own during the terrible challenge when they were held hostage by a ferocious, raging storm. Anatoli Boukreev saved several climbers completely by his own actions. Boukreev went several times into the storm to bring back one climber at a time. Because of the weakened state of the climbers, Boukreev could only trust himself to manage one faltering climber each trip. He went into the storm -- into the frigid night -- until he could not. Beck Weathers kept himself alive on the mountain under conditions that would have killed other men. Time and again -- like a cat with nine lives -- Beck struggled on. A few times, Beck was completely dependent on other climbers -- he became completely blinded on the mountain, his face, hands, toes, and an arm became completely frozen -- but it was his resolve and his lizard brain that made him get up, made him move, made him struggle on. Even when he was nearly left for dead when all the other climbers who had made it to the camp were leaving, Beck called out to the last man off the mountain -- and saved his own life one more time.
Makalu Gau kept himself alive by doing the "disco" to keep moving. Beside him, Scott Fischer was failing, dying because he was sick and freezing because he could not move. But Gau kept moving until finally a Sherpa found him. Makalu saved his life, but lost his fingers, toes, and his nose. Rob Hall had the biggest challenge to do something significant on his own. Hall stayed with Doug Hansen, who had collapsed on the South Summit. Hall tried to help Hansen down, tried to figure out how to get supplementary oxygen to Hansen, and tried to get Hansen to rally and help Rob save him. Then, recognizing that Hansen could not help himself, Hall tried to get him help Hansen survive. In doing so -- in staying at the top of the South Summit -- Hall put himself in a situation where he might have been able to get down on his own, if he had started down before he got too cold and too weak from being too high up the mountain. But Hall did not take his chance. He stayed with Hansen until he no longer had a chance to take.
2) The Law of the Big Picture The idea behind this law is that the goal is more important than the role of leadership. When a team has a collective goal, the main objective is to obtain that goal through ethical means and in a manner that ensures the safety of the team. However, the end goal is the target and it supersedes any notions of leadership that might get in the way. Scott Fischer was ill -- most likely from a severe form of altitude sickness -- from the beginning of the climb up Everest. He was an extraordinary mountain climber and an excellent leader, but illness was foreign to him and it clouded his judgment. He was not able to get down from the mountain, even with the help of a Sherpa. Had it not been for the storm, Fischer might have survived. The storm kept the Sherpas and other climbers from getting to Fischer with supplementary oxygen, which is crucial when someone has developed altitude sickness. This may have been the only time in Fischer's life when he could not let go of his leadership role sufficient to aim for the goal of getting all the climbers up -- and down -- the mountain safely.
3) The Law of the Niche The meaning of the law of the niche is that all players have a place where they add the most value. The most apparent application of this principle is the role of the Sherpas in high altitude climbing. The Sherpas spend all their lives at a relatively high altitude so they are physiologically "engineered" or developed to deal with the stress of high altitude climbing. Their capacity is far superior to the average climber, and on par with a climber like Anatoli Boukreev. Sherpa help on a climb can mean the difference between a successful climb and death. But the Sherpa niche is a narrow one -- Sherpa's are very superstitious and fearful of death. The best illustrations of this problem occurred with Doug Hansen and Beck Weathers. The Sherpas came within 100 meters of Doug Hansen when he was stranded at the Hillary Step, but the storm drove them back and they did not persist. Fearful of dying themselves, they left hot tea on the trail with the hope that Hansen would find it. Hansen was immobilized at the time, and his condition made them fearful -- he was close to death. Beck Weathers was rescued several times during the blizzard and was, at one point, left alone in a tent. Literally nearly frozen to death, Beck asked the Sherpa to bring him tea, but the Sherpa would not enter the tent, and Weathers' frozen face -- and apparently the look of one so close to death -- frightened the Sherpa so much that he fled, leaving Weathers alone. Within their niche, the Sherpas were unsurpassable, outside it, they became a liability.
4) The Law of Mount Everest Of all the laws for leadership, this eponymous law is the most relevant. The meaning behind the goal is that as the challenge escalates, the need for teamwork elevates, and it was never more apropos than on this ill-fated and most tragic of the Everest climbs. One of the dynamics of being caught in ferocious and long-lasting storm on the Mountain is that climbers begin to think of their own survival to the detriment of other climbers. This doesn't happen all at once, and it is not a selfish preexisting orientation. Rather, there is a slow dawning that all one can do is save oneself -- if even that. For some climbers, it happens early in a disaster. For others, it comes only when the options seem to have been taken away. For others, like Rob Hall, it never comes. There were many noble attempts to help other climbers, and some were successful. In fact, several climbers survived only because of the teamwork that occurred. Small groups of climbers clustered together, clutching each other, encouraging each other, and trying to create some buffer from the storm by the collection of their bodies. Other climbers dragged their fellows to safety, dogging them, not letting them stop or fall; relentless, perhaps, because in saving the other person they may have been able to convince themselves that they still had some measure of control -- some response to challenge the Mountain back on its own terms. All of these valiant efforts were made all the more difficult -- and significant -- by the fact that the several leaders of the climb were incapacitated or unreachable.
5) The Law of the Chain The word chain is especially poignant in this story of Everest climbers, who work their way up the many hazardous zones of the mountain like a chain of humanity, bound together, not by links, but by raw determination and a common goal. This law argues that the strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link, and it is perhaps one of the simplest -- in terms of construct -- and purest demonstrations of the principle. Few activities that humans engage in are as elegant portrayed as a chain of human links. Yet, that is precisely what high altitude climbing is about. Each season, Mt. Everest is crowded with climbers -- it is consistently "overbooked" and team after team become, then, one long interrelated chain as the actions of one team can have enormous impact on the fate of the others. Timing truly is everything in a high altitude climb. There are only so many hours when it is possible to climb, and even at that, the climbers test the limits of those restrictions -- often to their detriment. The last meters of the…