Leading with Your Heart

Now, don’t grip. I’m not going to quote lyrics from Barbara Streisand’s song.

There’s something about the quality of leadership that, when the leader moves the journey from head to heart, we respond in a deeper, more soulful way. The legacy of a culture is remembered with more significance when compassion and altruism are motivating forces rather than sheer accomplishment. The way the world behaves sometimes you’d think it a hard thing to do when, in fact, we live with examples in and around our lives that prove its existence.

No surprise, then, that the first and upcoming Hall of Mountaineering Excellence Awards inductees took everything they did to heart. It may seem a little odd to be bringing matters of the ole pumper into the well-organized and sometimes ego-driven world of mountaineering but those unfamiliar with the philosophies, accomplishments, and sacrifices of these honorees will do well to sit up and take notice.

Charles Houston, Bob Bates, and Bob Craig came to terms with the Brotherhood of the Rope back in 1953 when, during an unsuccessful summit attempt on K2, they found themselves with a critically ill expedition member in need of a rescue descent. They might well simply have left him behind but the challenges of the ascent to that point heightened the team’s cohesiveness. During the down climb a misstep caused an almost catastrophic series of falls and entanglements – and on instinct led most certainly by the need to protect the lives of his friends, Pete Schoening jammed his ice axe behind a boulder and hung on for the dear life. All but one survived and the attention each paid to the others during the remaining descent confirms the depth of their friendship.

Houston went on to become the leading authority in altitude sickness, hypoxia, and acclimatization, and Craig founded both the Aspen Institute, a non-profit dedicated to fostering values-based leadership and open-minded dialogue, and the Keystone Group, another non-profit aimed at settling environmental issues among quarreling groups before landing in court.

Bob Bates, member of the Harvard 5 mountaineering group along with Houston and Bradford Washburn, found himself alongside Washburn after they’d been forcibly abandoned in the Yukon. A successful first ascent of Mount Lucania notched on their ice axes but thereafter they survived 32 days and 156 miles in an epic struggle for survival. I doubt there was ever any question that they’d work together to complete their journey to safety.

Bates followed up that expedition by working with the Army to develop improved clothing and equipment for US mountain divisions, and in turn benefitted our daily backcountry lives and well-being. His autobiography, The Love of Mountains is Best, says it all.

And then there’s Yosemite. What’s the first name that comes to mind? Well, besides John Muir.

I’ll give you a hint. It begins with Yvon and ends with Chouinard. In addition to reinventing climbing gear from aid to ice, he rattled the cage of the piton-hammerers, ostensibly destroying the very product that started his business, and advocated a new style – what he called clean climbing – to avoid scarring the rock. From that philosophy was born not only passive pro but a business model in both Patagonia and Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. that fosters ethics, environmentalism, and the opportunity to care for each other as well as the earth. Not a bad legacy to leave, eh?

Come walk with these giants, then, when they are honored April 10th at the American Mountaineering Museum. It’s a heartfelt chance to thank them with the same graciousness and altruism they so freely shared with us.

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