Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Author Ann Latham hiking above the tree line to the summit of Mount Washington in the White … [+] Mountains of New Hampshire

Richard Latham

As an avid hiker who keeps hiking higher, I was not surprised to get two books for my birthday about tragedy in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. While both books by Ty Gagne were fascinating, what amazed me was that the fatal flaw behind both tragedies was a simple strategic mistake that many businesses make frequently. They chose a perfectly reasonable and sound strategy, but then failed to recognize the underlying assumptions, particularly when those assumptions proved false.

Now don’t get me wrong. In any hiking disaster such as those described in “Where You Will Find Me” and “The Last Traverse,” there are numerous variables involved. The difference between a challenging hike and a tragic hike can be only one of those variables.

The Presidential Range of New Hampshire – Mount Washington in particular – has the worst weather in North America. Until recently, it held a long-standing record for the highest ever recorded wind speed at 231 mph. With multiple weather systems frequently converging on these steep ridges, the weather is extremely hard to predict. Fierce storms arrive very suddenly. Temperatures drop precipitously. Clouds engulf all and destroy all visibility. Snow falls fast and furiously. It can be 80 degrees in the valley and below freezing on the peaks with winds averaging 75 miles an hour and gusts well over 100. I’ve been on near-by lower peaks in the summer when the weather shifted and I could not add layers fast enough to avoid shivering quite seriously. Weather, specifically rapidly changing conditions, often plays a tragic role in the lives of hikers; that was certainly the case in both of these stories.

However, weather isn’t the only factor of great significance. Other factors include hiking experience; fitness; planning; clothing, food, water, and gear; goals, level of commitment to those goals, and willingness to cut the hike short; group dynamics; previous successes and failures; how often a hiker stops to eat and drink; trail conditions; availability of open mountain huts and shelters; cell signals; if, when, and how carefully a hiker checks the high summit forecast; ability to think through scenarios and risks realistically; the presence of other hikers on the trail; and many more.

Hiking in the winter, which was the case in both of these tragedies, amplifies many of the risks. As a result, there are two basic strategies informed hikers follow, especially when going above tree line. You can choose to be fast and light or slow and heavy.

If you choose fast and light, it means you expect to be up quickly, traverse the ridge with speed, and be back down below the tree line well before the weather changes or darkness arrives. To facilitate your speed, you carry less gear.

If you choose slow and heavy, you carry enough gear – sleeping bag, bivy sack, lots of food, thermoses of hot drinks, insulated water bottles, extra warm layers, etc. – so you can survive a night on the ridge in sub-zero weather where you are super exposed to windchills that are simply terrifying to me. With all that gear, you simply can’t move as quickly as you might on a perfect summer day.

In both stories, the hikers consciously chose fast and light. They estimated the time they would spend climbing to the tree line, traversing the ridge, returning to just below tree line, and descending to the trailhead. They got an early start and knew how little day light they would have in February. One even had a handwritten itinerary marking expected times for her departure, the tree line, the first summit, return to the ridge, the second summit, etc., until she was to return to tree line and, finally, the trailhead where her husband would meet her and take her home.

While myriad factors contributed to their deaths, the fatal flaw occurred early. In both cases, the hikers arrived at tree line significantly behind schedule. Due to snowy, icy trail conditions, they simply were not fast! In fact, they were proving to be quite slow! The fundamental assumption underlying their chosen strategy, fast and light, proved to be false!

This is the same mistake businesses make. Every strategy is based on assumptions. If any one of those assumptions proves to be false, you need to revisit your strategy. People often ask me how often they should do strategic planning. They expect a calendar-based reply. Instead, I always tell them they need a new strategy as soon as their strategic assumptions prove to be wrong.

Not moving as fast as you expected — too slow like these hikers? It’s time to rethink your strategy. Understaffed or otherwise without important resources, in other words, too light? Rethink your strategy. Not consciously assessing risks, without a Plan B, and/or unable to recognize when to bail out? Rethink your strategy. Not getting the results you expected? Rethink your strategy. Seeing unanticipated behavior from your market or competition — such as encountering other hikers who decided to turn around? Rethink your strategy.

If any of your strategic assumptions are false, it’s time to rethink your strategy!

Most of you are lucky in that barreling ahead, instead of rethinking your strategy, will only lead to disappointment or slow failure. You probably won’t freeze to death.

Had these hikers stopped when they first emerged above tree line, realized they weren’t fast and consciously recognized that they weren’t equipped to be slow, they could have acknowledged their failed strategy and begun Plan B: turned around, descended, and lived to hike another day.

Do you know what assumptions are the foundation of your strategy?

What did you believe was true when you set that strategy?
What did you expect would be happening now?

Do you know if those assumptions are still accurate?

If not, it is clearly time to rethink your strategy!

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The post Fast And Light Or Slow And Heavy: Strategy Lessons Above The Tree Line appeared first on WorldNewsEra.


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