Australia’s First Everest Climber Shares Life Lessons From The Top
On October 3, 1984, Greg Mortimer and his climbing partner Tim Macartney-Snape became the first-ever Australians to climb Mount Everest, and one of the first few to do so without oxygen.
Mortimer says the six-week climb put him in an extraordinary state of mind.
“It demands your attention so completely,” says Mortimer. “It’s intense focus. Everything else in your life drops away – family, friends, loved ones, children. They’re still there on your mind, but the big mountains demand that you pay attention to them with laser-like intensity.
“What happens is a six-week meditation. A very edgy, angst-ridden, nonetheless focused meditation. And that’s a pretty groovy place to be in your head. Bizarrely enough, I find it quite soothing – the intensity of focus.”
It’s something Mortimer still taps into today, and is only the start of his many insightful learnings from the climb that can be applied to everyday life. Ahead, he shares the other invaluable lessons he learnt at the top:
Being ego driven will never get you far
“Let me preface this by saying that climbing is very ego driven,” says Mortimer. “You want to go stand on top of the highest mountain in the world, you need a healthy measure of ego.
“But ego drive, which takes the shape of your own personal needs getting in the way of group needs or getting in the way of your own progress by clouding the bigger picture, that’s a problem.
“In a simple sense, it’s where your own ego is such a drive that it gets in the way of a common sense.”
Find beauty in the mundane
“Funnily enough, [menial tasks] became more alive because when you’ve been out on the fringes of wilderness, and struggling for survival in a sense, you’re more attune to the values of the day-to-day.
“I’m more able to do boring tasks like sitting on a tractor slashing a big paddock going ’round and ’round. Previously, I would be annoyed, wanting to do something else, wanting to just get on with it, get it over and done with.
“Now I’m just cruising on my tractor, and just enjoying the process. So, it’s a subtle but important shift.”
…one day you can be firing on all cylinders and just invincible, and the next day doing the same thing, but struggle.
Always focus on the bigger picture
“When you’ve had an experience being in wild places in extremeness, I think it helps you with the skill of taking a step back. Which is not to say that I still don’t get bound up in stuff like if my wife and I don’t agree, or if my kids are driving me nuts.
“But I find I can put my finger on the little trigger, and step outside the situation to look at it from the bigger picture, and cool off a bit.”
“[My biggest takeaway from the climb] is the sense of humility that comes with it. How big the natural forces are in extreme places in the world and how feeble we humans are in the face of that. That may sound a bit weird, but it really leaves you feeling humbled.
“I think [the climb has] led me to have a strong radar for people who are seemingly ego driven. I think my radar for that is quite acute. Not critical – just I see it. My tolerance of bullshit is low.”
Keep coming back to the present
“[The meditative state Mortimer had on the climb] is in my toolkit all the time. As you know with yogic meditative state, you’re more alive in the present. You see the value in the presence of mind.
“It lets you go into the world and you take a bit of the yoga with you, but the world presses in on that. But the more you do it, the more it can be there in the background for you.
“Not so important on the regular day-to-day, but when things get more stressful, it gets more valuable.”
Individuals’ motivations change on a day-to-day basis
“I learnt that people’s motivations are infinitely difficult to understand, and that it can change on a day-to-day basis.
“I learnt that from my own experience in the big mountains – one day you can be firing on all cylinders and just invincible, and the next day doing the same thing, but struggle.
“Once I recognised that in myself, I [realised] okay, well, it changes for everyone else on a day-to-day basis as well. When you view your own motivation like that, that gives great latitude in understanding other people’s motivations.
“If you’re a manager for example, and if someone’s not doing what they should do that day, try to think where they’re coming from – the complexities of motivation.”
(Lead image: Greg Mortimer opening Scott’s hut of the Terra Nova Expedition at Cape Evans on Ross Island, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica / supplied)
Published 25 March, 2019