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
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.