Last Sunday May 24th, was the anniversary of Mark Auricht’s death on Mt Everest in 2001. Mark was a proud South Australian and well respected in the outdoor and business community. He was one of the early adopters of adventure-based experiential learning, applied to the field of organisational and leadership development in Australia.
Over the next 12 months, as we commemorate the 20th year since Mark Auricht's passing, I would like to share more of his life and legacy by posting a blog with excerpts from the book I published in 2017 as a tribute to Mark. The values and character traits that he demonstrated by example, and his ability to draw out the hidden gems in others – are too valuable to become lost treasure.
From The Spirit of Adventure Calls - a tribute to Mark Auricht's life and legacy,
This Excerpt covers the story of Mark Auricht & David Hume - the first Australians to summit Mt Makalu,
Chapter 1 Facing the Truth of Impermanence
...By now my torch was almost out and the moon had gone behind the Makalu Ridge, so it was really quite dark. This made it difficult to pick up the trail of my footprints that were now barely visible between the shadows cast by odd shaped bits of snow, threatening to lead me astray. I seemed to walk for endless hours down this ice field and I remember distinctly two voices, one on each shoulder: one saying “you’ve gone too far, you’ve gone too far... you’re lost,” and the other voice saying “you’re doing fine just keep going, you’re doing fine, just keep going.” These two voices were just battling... I don’t even know the time frame but had I lost my way then it would have been all over.
Eventually I was enormously relieved to find the fixed rope which led back to Camp 4 so I knew then that I was still on track and almost home. I clipped onto the fixed rope which cut diagonally across this large ice field and began abseiling down. Previously on the trip I had damaged my left ankle, twisting it quite badly. As I abseiled across the ice field with all my weight on my left foot, my ankle gave way and I tumbled off the slope and around the ice face, a sheer wall of blue water ice dropping down into a dark abyss. In my mind I could see myself falling off the ice field in slow motion, swinging sideways on the rope for what seemed like eternity before smashing into this hard cold wall of ice which brought me to an abrupt and painful halt. My life was now literally hanging in the balance by an ice screw which the rope was fixed to above me.
In the forefront of my mind I could see this image of the ice screw tenuously holding the rope and I thought: “Will it hold?... or will I fall helplessly into the darkness?” Then a strange thing happened in that moment... I reached the point where I completely let go... I had no fear and I didn’t care whether it went one way or the other... I distinctly remember that feeling...
Excerpt from a story told by Mark Auricht about his Mt Makalu Expedition 1995
In horror of death, I took to the mountains.
Again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death,
capturing the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind.
Now all fear of death is over and done.
Milarepa―Tibetan Yogi and Poet
In The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, Tibetan Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche tells us the fear that impermanence awakens in us, that nothing is real and nothing lasts, is, we come to discover, our greatest friend because it drives us to ask the question: If everything changes, then what is really true? Is there something behind the appearances, something boundless and infinitely spacious, that we can depend on, that survives what we call death?
Sogyal Rinpoche goes on to say that impermanence has already revealed to us many truths, but it has a final treasure still in its keeping, one that lies largely hidden from us, unsuspected and unrecognised, yet most intimately our own. He says that with continued contemplation and practice in letting go, we come to uncover in ourselves, something we cannot name or describe, something that lies behind all the changes and deaths in the world. Over time our obsessive grasping to permanence begins to dissolve and fall away. As this happens we catch glimpses of the vast implications behind the truth of impermanence, we begin to experience a new dimension of freedom and we come to uncover a depth of peace, joy and confidence in ourselves that fills us with wonder and gradually breeds within us a certainty that there is ‘something’ that nothing destroys, nothing alters and that cannot die.
Perhaps this ‘something’ is what Mark experienced in that moment on Makalu or what Canadian mountaineer, Jamie Clarke referred to when he said after his first summit of Everest: On the other side of fear, is freedom.7 The truth of impermanence then is a double-edged sword: the edge of loss and all of the pain and fear that human beings experience because of it, and the edge of freedom, peace and truth that we experience when we let go.
Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.
Rainer Maria Rilke―Letters to a Young Poet
Mountaineers, I suspect, must come face to face with the truth of impermanence and slay their dragons in order to discover the treasures that lie beyond the veil of their fears. Those of us who don’t understand why people risk their lives to climb mountains like Everest are perhaps unlikely to face this truth by choice but more likely when the inevitable tide of life brings it to our shores.
Mark contemplated this truth prior to climbing Makalu in 1995 and came face to face with it during the climb to the summit and during his arduous and heartbreaking descent to safety. Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world at 8463m, just 385m lower than the summit of Everest. This was the first time that Mark had attempted to climb a peak above 8000m.
There are fourteen mountains on earth that are more than 8000m (26,247ft) above sea level. The first recorded successful ascent of an eight-thousander was by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, who reached the summit of Annapurna on June 3, 1950.
When Mark returned from Makalu in June 1995 I remember meeting him in the Adelaide Botanical Gardens to hear about his experience. I hadn’t seen him for over three months and was excited to hear the story but also mindful that he had come face to face with a ‘dragon’ and needed an empathic ear to help unravel the knots he carried within his heart and mind. His story was inspiring, confronting, and as it turns out, a prophetic glimpse of what was to come.
In my next blog I will share the full story of Makalu from a transcript recorded as Mark told this story to a group of leaders.
Beyond the triumph and tragedy in the Himalayan mountains, this book is also about the journey that takes place within all of us, when we explore the limits of our self-imposed boundaries. May it serve as an inspiration and a compass for future leaders, adventurous souls and explorers of human potential.
Click here to read the whole book - The Spirit of Adventure Calls: A Compass for Life, Learning & Leadership
The boom is coming - are you paying attention? How prepared are you?
Have you taken SDOC, made repairs, strengthened your rigging and re-shaped your sails for peak performance?
If you are the skipper, have you improved your ability to lead your crew in uncharted waters?
When we are sailing along care-free, running with the wind and there is a sudden wind shift or a rogue wave, we need to be paying attention! There can be life-threatening consequences when we are complacent or not being mindful as we sail on into the future. The image above, taken after a day of 'good luck' on the water, bears witness to the painful lesson I learnt about paying attention to the boom while sailing during a brief moment where a rogue wave and a sudden wind change threatened my face with a fast swinging boom. I say 'good luck', because my brain was very lucky to survive the impact of this oversized baseball bat. (for the full gory story, see the prologue of my book page 21).
Sailors need to be ready for unexpected storms no matter how good the current forecast might be. Skippers need to know how to reef their sails when the winds become too strong for ‘light-wind settings’. They need to be aware of safe harbours they can retreat to during a storm where they may need to baton down the hatches and wait for the sun to come out. During their time of retreat, boat crews will rest, make repairs and replenish supplies for continuing their journey when the time is right.
Cyclists protect themselves from the headwinds by waiting in the pack, before surging ahead again when conditions are more favourable. Those who use this rest, repair and renewal time wisely and are ready to act when the time is right, are more likely to emerge strongly from the pack.
You will have wonderful surges forward. Then there must be a time of retreat,
rest, review and renewal before the next forward surge.
Accept this as part of the process and never be downhearted.
Adapted from - Eileen Caddy
In September 1983 - Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, won the America’s Cup after 132 years of domination by American sailing crews. The Australians were 3-1 down in the best of seven final series but then won the last 3 races in a row, winning the Americas Cup against improbable odds. During their early losing streak and particularly over the final 3 races, the Australians weathered the storm of pressure from the American crew; the intimidating scoreboard that threatened their confidence; and the nay-sayers in the world media who said it couldn’t be done. After every race they repaired breakages, strengthened their areas of weakness, re-shaped their sails and worked on building a resilient and optimistic team-mindset. The Australian’s used their rest days to continuously improve their boat but more importantly their team culture and processes. It was not the ‘mystique of the winged-keel’ (that in truth - was a blessing or a curse depending on the conditions), it was the strength of the crew who triumphed in the end, especially their commitment to self-improvement during the downtime between their racing efforts. In fact, most successful sports people will agree that what you do and how you think during the space between your efforts in the arena, is just as important if not more so – especially when the inevitable storms come.
As we begin to re-emerge from isolation and re-engage with our work teams and customers, there are some important questions to consider: How will we go about the process of preparation for the new conditions we find ourselves in? Will we carry on with old habits, past structures, ‘proven processes’ and patterns of thinking and behaving that were working before the storm hit (assuming they will be ‘good enough’ to meet the challenge)?; or will we take the time to: scan for weak points in our business model; build team resilience and agility; strengthen relationships; and create innovative ways of progressing forward in uncharted waters? These things don’t happen by chance, they require us to pay attention!
Some are good at navigating rough seas and others need to tap into the experience of the grey-bearded, weather-beaten old skippers who love being out on the high-seas!
Free Spirit True North specialises in building team resilience and developing leaders who can lead teams in challenging terrain, using the following methodology:
1. Providing experiential learning challenges (indoor/outdoor) that help learners to gain strong insights into character traits and behaviours that contribute to personal and team resilience. Then through group discussion and coaching, to identify strengths and action plans for improvement in behaviour.
2. Facilitating a review of existing business models & team culture, using a ‘SDOC Take’ process (Strengths, Development needs, Opportunities & Challenges).
3. Re-setting the Team Compass (guiding principles and strategic direction) Reviewing Team Agreements and processes for feedback and improvement.
4. Assisting leaders and their teams to make innovative improvements (reshape the sails), that will position them wisely for the next leg of the journey.
For assistance in facilitating workshops or retreats that will help your teams to strengthen their agility, resilience, team culture and strategic direction, Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a piece I wrote in late 2016 after returning from a month walking in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I was in the last year of writing my book and was sitting down to write one morning, reflecting on what it is like, returning from the jungle. As we start to come out of the 'COVID19 Jungle' and try to re-enter the world from which we came, we notice that things have changed - not only in our outer world, but also within our inner world. We may not be able to articulate this or put our finger on what has changed within our psyche or our heart but we do feel different (at least I do - are you feeling different?) I've been talking to a few colleagues who go on remote adventures and they have all commented on this familiar feeling of returning from the wilderness.... read on and perhaps ask the question of yourself that I pose at the end of this blog?
Excerpt from: The Spirit of Adventure Calls: A Compass for Life, Learning & Leadership Chapter 29 - page 256
Published 2017 - Wayne Enright
John Mayer’s song “Say what you need to say” is playing in the background, prompting me to write what’s on my mind and in my heart. I feel a bit strange this morning, sitting at my desk, looking out into the garden. Part of me wants to be out there among the plants and the sunshine and fresh air, while I also want to be here writing. My desk is as close as you can get to being outdoors, especially if I open the wide French doors and let the outside in, but I still feel the ‘tug of war’ between these two worlds. I often notice this contrast more when I return from an adventure. My inner world has shifted and feels incongruent with the outer world I have come back to. The resulting perturbation causes me to change a little each time.
I either have to change my outer world or the way I operate in it to match the shift inside of me,
or allow the internal shift to dissipate and slip back into my comfort zone.
I’ve just returned from another month in Papua New Guinea guiding a couple of groups across the Kokoda Track. The transition back to the ‘civilised’ world is always challenging but has been more difficult this time to say the least. A month of walking meditation in the jungle, pristine mountain air, beautiful waterfalls and rivers, inspiring cultural experiences and open-hearted people have taken me to a place in my consciousness that feels assaulted when it rubs up against the reality of city traffic, un-reality TV shows, news headlines, advertising and time deadlines. I feel the gravity of ‘civilisation’ pulling me away from the natural beauty and simplicity of where I feel a belonging.
The longer I spend in the wilderness with people of another time, the more I notice the disconnect between the inspiring qualities of things such as nature; adventure; beauty; love; joy; peace and balance, and the sometimes stressful world of media; technology; time constraints; money; noise; processed food; chairs; shoes; political correctness and over-regulation.
This contrast is sometimes overwhelming, confronting, painful, depressing and in conflict with my heart’s truth and my more natural state of being. It jolts my senses, creates fog in my mind, perturbation in my soul and imbalance in my body. I feel a hint of sadness in my heart feeling this disconnect between my true nature and ‘the sea of cars’ (as Murray refers to it in his book ‘My Life in a Sea of Cars’). I wonder if others feel this distance from nature and their wild heart? Perhaps part of my purpose is to reconnect people with the inspiring qualities of nature, adventure, play, and journeying back to where they feel they belong; places that make their heart sing and where they feel most alive? I hear about ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and often think that ‘Adventure Therapy’ is as important for ‘adults at risk’ as it is for young people at risk.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods and rapture on the lonely shore; there is society, where none intrudes,
by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not man the less, but Nature more.
Written by Wayne Enright - September 2016
A question to leave you with
Adventuring into the unknown by choice or by chance (especially an experience that is prolonged and challenging), inevitably changes us and can leave us anxious, confused, out-of-sorts or perhaps enlightened, renewed or inspired, as we re-engage with the world from which we came. However we feel about this double-edged sword, this shift in our outer and inner landscape offers an opportunity and a challenging question:
Will I embrace the change and opportunity in my outer world and the way I operate in it
to match the shift inside of me, or allow the internal shift to dissipate and slip back into my comfort zone?
The choice is mine.
In North American Indian culture, the word 'Medicine' is often used to define the unique gifts of each person. It is considered a tragedy when people don't take the time to explore those gifts or don't have the confidence to express them. It is for this reason that I take the risk to express my truth in writing. Some years ago I lost my voice for a time and in the journey back to speaking again, I discovered that 'voicing' one's 'Truth' is a healing and health-enhancing gift that I once took for granted. Writing, art, taking journeys in nature and guiding life-transforming adventures, are my 'medicine'. This blog is an expression of this 'medicine'. I trust that the words I write, might inspire you to think about your 'truth' and your 'gifts' and I hope that you enjoy some of the 'adventures' I share.