Standing at 2500 feet above the raging Atlantic, the
cartographers tell us Mount Errigal is Donegal’s
highest point. My climbing companions told me
in no uncertain terms that Errigal was Ireland’s
highest point – and I wasn’t for arguing.
On a beautifully sunny June 5th afternoon I joined
four other members of Smácht Donegal on a trek to
the summit. The SHAG (Smácht Hairy Audacious Goal)
set out by our leader Joe Coyle was Kennedyesque in
its construction. ‘Stand on the summit of Errigal and
return safely – healthier, wiser and wealthier’.
That we did, is a testament to seven factors. These seven
factors are as applicable to achieving results in business
and life as they are to safely scaling a mountain and
returning richer in every facet.
1. Find a Leader Who’s Walked the Walk:
Long before Roald Amundsen ever became the first man
to reach the South Pole and bring his entire crew safely
back he had payed the price of leadership in full. He actually
went and lived with Eskimos – people completely adept at
living and thriving in conditions similar to what he would
experience in the South Pole.
Joe Coyle’s mother came from the Bluestack Mountains
and as a strapping teenager, he and his brothers spent their
summers herding sheep the length and breadth of that
beautiful landscape. ‘It gets in on you’ he explained to me.
‘Like a child learns to talk and walk you learn the ways and
mysteries of the mountain naturally. You don’t think about
it. You just learn the difference between right and wrong,
safety and danger’. In the jargon of accelerated learning
they’d refer to this as ‘conscious competence’.
2. Have a Clear SHAG.
‘Stand on the summit of Errigal and return safely –
healthier, wiser and wealthier’
3. Be Prepared to Make Hard Calls if Circumstances Go Against You.
One month earlier, we had been scheduled to climb Errigal.
We had it cleared with Danny in Donegal County Enterprise
Board; the notices had gone out; busy people had put it in
their diaries and taken the afternoon off. The night before
Joe texted me to say the weather didn’t look great and if it
didn’t improve in the morning he’d call it off. I tried to
charm him with a positive offensive. ‘It’ll be fine Joe.
Let’s have a positive expectancy and we’ll all be grand’.
He was equally assertive. ‘Padraic, if we can’t see the peak of
Errigal at 9am we’re not going. Safety is paramount. Positive
expectancy is no substitute for hard facts. And that’s final’.
4. Dress for Success:
The morning of June 5th was one of those rarities where
the skies were clear blue and the sun shone brilliantly. We
had our tea and scones outside on the lawn in front of the
CEB and the girls arrived appropriately dressed. Light
summer dresses, short skirts and, as Joe described them
in the pub afterwards ‘Sunday lunch shoes’. The toots from
the cars of local lads going to work told us that they approved.
Not our Joe however. He wouldn’t bring them on the bus.
I thought it was harsh at the time. Five hours later, despite
a really vigorous climb, I was frozen as I rested on the last leg
of the climb. At 1500 feet, even in sunny weather, the wind
chill factor is bitingly cold.
5. Rest often:
We were scarcely a half mile from the car park at the foot
of Errigal when Joe called a halt for a rest. I couldn’t
believe it. Here, this legend of a man, who’d once walked
50 miles in a day across the Bluestacks from Mount Charles
to Downings, taking a breather so early. He had us look back
at the car park; look up at the summit; and observe the
marshy ground beneath our feet. I though of the girls
‘Sunday lunch shoes’ and tried to imagine how they’d have
looked in this terrain. Big Joe had been right after all.
As we gathered our breath joe explained that if you can
succeed in keeping your heartbeat below a certain stress
point ‘you can walk forever. That’s one of the great tricks
I learned from the men of the mountain’.
I though of Amundsen. On December 12th 2011, he noted in
his log book ‘Going and surface as good as ever. Weather
splendid – calm with sunshine’. What’s significant about
this is that Amundsen was only 45 miles from his
ultimate destination – the South Pole. At this stage he was
unaware if Scott, his opponent, had beaten him or not.
What would you have done in similar circumstances?
The temptation would be to go all out and go for it.
Not Amundsen. He travelled 17 miles that day. He adhered
to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in
good weather, careful to stay far away from the red line of
exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet
pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace’.
It’s interesting that Scott faced 6 days of gale-force
weather and travelled on none. Amundsen, au contraire,
was confronted by 15 days of such elements but succeeded
in travelling on 8 of those. On one such inclement day,
traversing a dangerous mountain pass he noted in his
diary ‘It has been an unpleasant day – storm, drift and
frostbite, but we have advanced 13 miles closer to our goal’.
6. Manage Different People Differently:
We all went at different paces. I was quicker to begin with.
Joe hauled me back and asked Liam Foy to lead. This was
one of Joe’s few mistakes because Liam took off at a pace
that would have left Usain Bolt gasping. We would not see
Liam for another 20 minutes where, at this stage, he was
decidedly off piste, as the skiing fraternity say. Liam’s great
faith; my fear of having to explain Liam’s disappearance to
Michael Tunney, CEO of Donegal CEB; and Joe Coyle’s loud
voice succeeded in reuniting us shortly before the summit.
I have an acute fear of heights and Joe literally marshalled
me through the hairy bits. When one approach didn’t suit me,
he found another.
7. Keep a Close Eye on the Elements at all Times.
‘Carl, what do you see’ says Joe to Dr. Carl Diver. ‘I can see
Tory to the west, and Aran Mor, and Gola where my Dad
comes from’. ‘And what else’ asks Joe. Carl proceeded to
name every island, lake, mountain and stream in the vicinity
and yet Joe still wasn’t happy. ‘What do you see to the South
West Carl? It would be a little longer before we all saw what
Joe was observing which was a band of mist rapidly approaching
from the south. ‘We’ll not be delaying’ said Joe and proceeded
Back at the car park Joe called another break for water and
fig roll biscuits. ‘Why didn’t we have these earlier’ said the other
member of our party Pete Geronimo. ‘Because’ said Joe ‘You don’t
celebrate victory on the 20 yard line’.
I learned a lot from Errigal and Joe Coyle and our group.
Join us next Wednesday in Dunfanaghy where we’re going surfing.