Gathering and Allocating Critical Capital Resources
Case In Point: Sir Edmond Hillary & The Hillary Step on Mt. Everest
At 28,900 feet, just 135 feet below the summit of Mt. Everest where the South Summit takes a slight dip, is a 40-foot treacherous ice and rock face that can only be scaled one person at a time. It is the last obstacle all climbers who desire in making it to the true summit must climb. It is called the Hillary Step.
It was named after Edmund Hillary, a 33-year-old beekeeper from New Zealand, who first successfully climbed Mt. Everest with Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953. Many times Hillary doubted that the pair would reach the top–deep ravines and crevasses, avalanches, and extreme rock walls stood in the way of their success.
In View from the Summit, Hillary recalls in vivid detail, the account of that fateful morning in late May. “Ahead of me loomed the great rock step which we had observed from far below and which we knew might prove to be a major problem. I gazed up at the forty feet of rock with some concern.” A slip at this point would most certainly result in a fatality. There was no other way to the top, but up, one footstep at a time.
Looking back on that day, Hillary commented, “I didn’t know whether we were going to be successful or not. I knew we were going to give it everything we had.” With this fortitude, scraping at the ice and snow with his ax, Hillary chimneyed between the rock pillar and an adjacent ridge of ice to surmount this daunting obstacle, which was later to be known as the Hillary Step. “I pulled myself out of the crack onto the top of the rock face. I had made it! For the first time on the whole expedition I had a feeling of confidence that we were going to get to the top.”
First attempted in 1921 by the British, Everest had seen at least ten major expeditions before Hillary’s. Since Hillary and Norgay, more than 1,200 men and women from 63 nations have reached the summit; a total of 175 climbers have died trying, with as many as 120 bodies interred on the mountain.
Today, it takes more than six months to move the 30,000 pounds of gear up to 17,500 feet. More than 5,000 items are needed just to get a pair of climbers to the top. It is about getting all the resources in the right place at the right time. Todd Burleson, director of Seattle-based outfitter Alpine Ascents and organizer of more than 11 Everest climbs says, “We take the bare minimum to make this work. But if you get up there and find you’ve forgotten, say even a fuel cartridge, you’ve just killed the expedition.”
Everest veteran Ed Viesturs said, “You don’t assault Everest. You sneak up on it, and then get the hell outta there.”