Adventures of a mother of 7 – Johanna Gustafsson

Because it's there!

When 8 years old I learned about Mount Everest, and ever since I have dreamed about climbing up there. When I became middle-aged and sensible I thought that it's impossible.

2012 when I turned 50 I suddenly got this crazy idea to fulfill my childhood dream. Now, almost 2 years later, after studying, training, researching & finding solutions, it seems possible!

If things go well I will summit in May 2014, if things don't go well I will hopefully do it another year. If you want to follow me vie e-mail updates you can subscribe to them.

Teamwork (I have had second thoughts whether to publish this)

On Aconcagua I learned a lot about teamwork. I thought I knew something about that being a consultant, running team-building trainings, facilitating team work etc.

But no, I knew nothing. A description for a team is (by my main guide): "A team walks within half a meter distance from each other and everybody pees at same time, during the break". 

Me, a 7 kids mother, had some problems with that. Forced to drink three times as much as normally, I insisted on having a privilege to pee when I want. Especially when that didn't slow down the group at all. I could hike up to the group in a minute after my private break. Finally i was given that privilege, but I was told, I should be grateful.

The only other rule was also too difficult for me. I tried to explain that you can't make a Finn walk in a close line in free nature. We are so few, we never can form a line at home. I told her it is a cultural thing.

For me it was really difficult walking that way, my steps were not same length as those of the guides, and never so slow. Step, stop in middle, step, stop. My steps go without stopping. Stopping hurts my hips and knees. And eating that dust from the others boots is no fun either.

I agreed to be the last one in line, but then 5 meters back was too far! Sometimes I escaped. Honestly, by mistake. In the beginning I really couldn't understand that in the wide, flat area, you couldn't go at your own speed, some hundred meters ahead, talking to some of your just found new friends.

I think half of the mountain was laughing at us. "The prisoners are coming!". Head down, silent, not a hint of a smile when arriving to the camp, looking like we were to be shot by dawn.

But somehow I ended up having a huge amount of friends in the other teams. They all seemed to have fun.

Victor S, a very experienced guide with a 100% track record with clients on Everest, taught me that the most important advice to summit Everest are:

  • Smile
  • Be in a good mood
  • Have and attitude:  the problems can be solved

I tried to talk about this with my team. The answer was, "Johanna, you are so inexperienced on the mountains, be silent". Well, I tend to be too talkative for some.

A moment on my own, with just a photographer

A moment on my own, with just a photographer

The worst experience with my team (I really have difficulties to call it a team, because it was only a group of people forced to be together for 2 weeks) was the last day when we came down from high camp. I arrived at noon by my self-made sleigh. I waited for the others and for food. Two hours later there was a radio message – still half an hour. No, they didn't come even then. I went to see an art gallery and there I met lots of Finnish friends. We had fun for a while and of course I was then late for the lunch.

All the others were already seated and had started. My jacket was left by a chair and all my things were there, so they must have known that I was somewhere nearby. What did my team do? They ate all the food. Not exactly all, they left me two stamp-sized pieces of pizza crust, the dry corner. No water melon, no drinks, nothing else. They were sitting there when I came. Nobody apologized for eating all, nobody mentioned anything. I asked my guide Eli, if i could get something to eat. No, it is not her responsibility, she said.

I went to the kitchen and asked for something to eat, because I was really starving. We had had almost nothing after the summiting attempt the previous day. 3 hours after returning from the summit-attempt we got a half a cup of spaghetti (no sauce, nothing else). In the evening we got a fistful of mashed potato with a hint of tuna, nothing else. In the morning I got absolutely nothing, no hot water even. So I was starving. 

The main chef said that there is nothing to eat for me and started yelling together with my guide Eli that I should shut up. I started yelling back, told them that I will stop yelling for a while, but start again, if there is no food coming. Dozens of people came around us. Then a miracle happened, a young man from the kitchen appeared with 3 slices of fresh, warm pizza. I cleaned our table for him, and he offered me even more pizza, I was saved.

This is a how our team worked. I really can't understand this. Me, born in a big family, having 7 kids of my own, had learned to check that everybody gets something to eat. You never eat the last piece of food if somebody is still missing. I really couldn't understand my team. Didn't they care or didn't they know how to behave? The worst was of course our main guide Eli. All the service from her, at least for me, stopped when we didn't summit. 

Not all the people in our team were that terrible towards me. The U.S. couple actually never said anything nasty. The same you couldn't say about about our British lady or Australian gentleman.

It is amazing what a little pressure does to some people. You can become something closer to animals, fighting for resources, splitting into friends and enemies. You forget all your mum taught you. The group pressure to exclude the odd one is a much stronger force than the team spirit to include.

But a team built by exclusion is often led by fear and is seldom successful in the long run.

Luckily I had friends all around the base camp. They came from every corner, told me about their next plans, their feelings, asked for my contact info and we had great moments, even though none of us summited. Those lucky ones who summited had vanished days ago.

Life is great, but sometimes teams suck.

Johanna Gustafsson – the Everest project