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In the shadow of Shackleton

Preparing to Summit Mt. Vinson, Antarctica: Getting in shape.

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“Men Wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

As the story is told, this was a employment advertisement put into the London newspaper looking for members for Ernest Shackelton’s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica. Apparently thousands of applications were received for what in print seems to be a rather bleak job. However, the enormous enthusiasm surrounding this ad reflected the human desire to explore, to adventure, and to push personal boundaries.

As you read this, I am on my way to Antarctica in an attempt to climb Mt. Vinson, the tallest mountain in Antarctica and therefore one of the seven Summits. The Summits include the tallest peak on each of the seven continents. This, providing that I make it to the top, will be my final summit of the seven already having successfully climbed Aconcagua in South America (6962m), Carsterse Pyramid in Oceania (4884m), Elbrus in Europe (5642m), Kilimanjaro in Africa (5895m), Denali in North America (6194m) and Mt. Everest in Asia (8850m).

People often ask me why I climb? Why I spend my free time in cold and inhospitable locations? Why I put my life at risk? These are difficult questions to answer, but the basic response is because I love it. It makes me feel alive.

Obviously to climb in Antarctica or to climb Everest you need to be in great shape. The better shape you are in the greater your chance of success and safety, but you also increase your enjoyment. It is hard to enjoy any experience if you are constantly winded and struggling for each step. I want to be able to enjoy the environment I am in and to have the energy I need to make the most of the experience.

Physical fitness is your base line requirement for participation, but once that factor has been met I believe that mental and emotional fitness are critically important. Our minds are an extremely powerful tool and they can work with us or against us. Our mental attitude can help us soar or it can break us. I have seen it countless times in the mountains, on training runs, and even with my children in sports, homework, and piano.

I find goal setting to be the best way to stay focused on fitness. Without a clear goal I find my time is easily filled with other things. I am no different than anyone else with a career, a family, and a busy schedule. So how do I stay motivated to get in the training I need to climb a mountain?

Vision is the first Step. You have to know what you want to do and where you want to go. As Stephen Covey writes, “begin with the end in mind”. Without a clear vision I find myself floundering. Once I have a vision and have set a goal my attitude completely changes. My vision is to climb the seven Summits, my current goal is to summit Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. It is not just in fitness and adventure where vision is important. Every company needs a vision and every leader needs a personal leadership vision. This vision guides all interactions and decisions and keeps us on a focused course.

Action plan. Once the vision and goal are in place you need to develop an action plan to bring it all to life. This action plan must be simple and easy to follow or it will become drudgery and quickly abandoned. You must have a way to track your progress and to measure your success.

Do it with a friend. Solo pursuits are very difficult. As we saw with our recent trip to Kilimanjaro, Success is a Team Effort! The physical challenge may be the same, but the mental challenge is far more difficult when alone. Some people thrive on this challenge, but most of us perform better with others at our side. A friend can help in motivation and the pleasure, I find, is much greater when you have someone to share it with.

Reflect. I really believe that you need to reflect frequently upon your progress. Sometimes we can get lost along the way and not even know it. When I reflect I ask myself if I have stayed true to my vision and action plan or if I need to course correct. Do I intend to continue the plan, adjust it or end it.Through a reflection process I can objectively assess where I am and select my next steps.

Read all entries in this series:

1. In the shadow of Shackleton
2. The final summit
3. Antarctic trial: Summiting Mt. Vinson!
4. Climbing the world

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Uploaded by Scott Kress