We asked WQ’s John Quinn to reflect on his trip Kilimanjaro earlier this year in a blog.  We hope you enjoy what he’s written:

I’m writing this from my office in Glasgow where it is warm and I’m feeling reasonably relaxed and happy.  But I’m reflecting on my time in Africa earlier this year, when I was in a tent on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, feeling quite nervous, exhausted and nauseous.   Exhausted because I was trekking up an 5895m mountain, fundraising for St Andrew’s Hospice in Airdrie.  Nauseous because oxygen levels were falling the higher I climbed (at the summit oxygen levels are half what they are at the base).   Nervous because I was five days into a six day climb and about to attempt the final 1000m to the top and I’d been here before.

Five years ago, the altitude and exhaustion  got the better of me and I had to turn back within what felt like touching distance of the top.   This time I made it to the summit.  I was a bit worn out but exhilarated.  Since my return home  I’ve been reflecting on what was different this time to my earlier attempt.  I had trained more and was much fitter.  The group  had chosen a slightly longer route to the top, to help acclimatise to the falling oxygen levels. There was more to it than that however.

We all hope to come away from a personal challenge with some life lessons.  For me, the biggest lesson I learned on the mountain was the importance of good leadership and the strength of team.

the Strength of Team

Of the eighteen of us who started the trek, fifteen made it to the top.  That was a significantly higher success rate than on the previous trek and everyone, including those that didn’t quite make the summit, achieved great things. We all encouraged each other, we were tolerant of our moments of weakness and we all made a big deal of trying to help each other.  Simply asking each other if we were all right made a huge difference. It meant you never felt alone.   We worked as a team.  We waited, we encouraged, we slowed down, we gave each other confidence that we could achieve things together. We encouraged each other to celebrate our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses.  It was a fantastic experience from that point of view.

Managing Expectations

Our guide Joe, was a master at managing expectations.  Working closely with our team leader and doctor, at the end of each day we were briefed on what to expect the next day.This was more than just times, distances and routes.   We were all made aware  what was expected of us individually and we all knew what was expected of each other.  We were expected to be awake on time and be organised. The importance of fuelling our bodies was emphasised and re-emphasised and everybody felt a personal responsibility to the group not to falter for failing to eat or drink enough.  If Joe called a five-minute break, it was clear you had to do everything you needed to do in that time and be ready to get going again.   His experience of climbing the mountain meant he could manage our expectations of what would happen to us. He told us we were going to feel terrible at times, that everybody would run into these difficulties and that we could overcome all of them.   He gave us a sense of perspective ahead of potential difficulties.  He told us we would probably feel so bad at times we might want to turn back, but if we did that then we’d still feel no better but would be going down rather than up.   All of that advice really helped me and , I am sure many others.

We got to the top and we got there together.  The biggest difference between this attempt and my first wasn’t me, it was with the people I was climbing with.  I was constantly nervous that I was going to fall to pieces again, but I didn’t.

A Premium On Positivity

I returned from Africa with memories of a sunrise seen from the top of the continent’s highest mountain.  But more importantly, I returned with a heightened sense of the value of good leadership, of the premium we should place on positivity, of the importance of managing expectations, that sharing knowledge is empowering and, most importantly, of the strength of team.