Alison Levine
Team Captain, 1st American Women’s Everest Expedition and adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy

I want to take you with me on a trip up Mount Everest with the first American Women’s Expedition.

Two Steps Forward Three Backwards

  • It will take you 10 days just to climb up to base camp.
  • You will stay here several days to get acclimatized to the altitude.
  • After this you will climb to camp #1. Then you hike back to base camp. Yes back!
  • Then you get to climb to camp #2. Then you turn around and hike back down to base camp. You will stay here a few days.
  • You must come back to base camp to eat & drink and then get some sleep.
  • This process is very difficult both physically and psychologically.

You keep climbing back and forth to base camp, you have to get used to the atmosphere slowly, you have to do it really slowly or you will die!

  • Any time you are above 18,000 feet your body begins to deteriorate
  • Psychologically it is very frustrating!
  • Even though you are going completely backwards you are making progress

Sometimes you have to go completely backwards in order to get where you ultimately want to be!


Facing Your Fears


Each time you leave base camp you face huge ice chunks the size of buses the move around 4 ft. per day. You could be crushed by these at any moment. Then you have the huge crevices. (see above) You move across these on aluminum ladders, not the most secure method of crossing such a death trap. All this is very difficult and scary.

Fear is OK, it is a normal human emotion!

It is complacency that will kill you!

  • Complacency will do you in!
  • You must be prepared to react at any moment. In the blink of an eye you could be in a deadly situation on that mountain.
  • She tells about a picture where she is smiling at camp #3 which is at 24,00 ft. She states sometimes you must smile even when you don’t feel like as a leader. When you are in leadership and you feel like absolute hell, put smile on your face because you have responsibility to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
  • You have a responsibility to those you are leading, to those on your team around you, you must be an example to those you lead.
Dealing with Change

Change is inevitable!

  • Mount Everest presents an environment that is changing constantly. At the peak weather and storms come up fast and change the whole dynamic of your situation. You better be prepared to handle change or you might die!
  • Storms are always temporary! Nothing last for ever. Remember to keep your bearings knowing the clouds are going to clear up.
  • You must make decisions and take actions based on the current situation at hand versus the plan you made at the bottom of the mountain.

Focus more executing and less on planning

One Step at a time


  • High Camp 26, 000 feet, death zone, where human life can no longer be sustained your body begins to deteriorate here, you are slowing dying at this altitude.
  • In order to ascend the mountain at this altitude you must take one step and then 5-10 breaths. Another step, 5-10 breaths. You must do this all the way up the mountain.
  • After making it to high camp we still had 3000 ft to reach the summit which is 29,300 feet.
  • At one point I got overwhelmed thinking of the task ahead taking a step and 5-10 breaths.

I had to break the journey down into smaller increments in order to overcome the overwhelming feeling!

  • I would pick out a rock a few hundred feet from me to focus on. That would be my goal and once I reached that I would pick out another spot to focus on and we did this the whole night. One step, 5-10 breaths.

Handling Crisis Moments


  • We left at 10:30 PM and reach the South Summit by 6:30 AM and then my air tank failed.
  • Had a great deal of fear at this time, thought I might be having cerebral edema where your brain swells and you die. Of course if this was really happen I would not even be able to have the thought about having it in the first place.
  • We fixed the tank of course because I am here and survived that crisis.
Storm Clouds on horizon
  • We had travel all night and got to the South Summit and then there was a sudden change in our situation.
  • Storm clouds came in on us in an instant.
  • We had to make a very difficult call and turn our team back around and head down the mountain.

You have to be able to make very tough decisions when the conditions are very difficult  around you!

Sometimes it is much more difficult to turn around and go backwards than to continue on, but sometimes that is the best decision!

  • You have to make decision on basis of how it will affect all the others on team.
  • We all know of times when one person’s bad decision has brought whole organizations down.
  • Sometimes you don’t have to have total clarity to just put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.

The team got within 200 feet of The Summit and had to abandon the quest!


Danger When You Least Expect It

  • On the way back down the team faced a near death experience as an avalanche of huge ice chunks came rushing down the mountain towards them.
  • It stopped just 4 yards from them.
  • They had passed through this area seven times safely without incident, but the eighth time nearly killed them.
  • Must never let your guard down and keep your focus and remain calm under fire.
Reaching The Summit
  • Originally had no plans to try it again but did last spring in honor of her friend Meg who had recently died and had been encouraging her to try it again.
  • Got to high camp again and another storm came, it was really bad, others were turning back.
  • Conditions were terrible, wind and visibility were extremely bad. You are climbing blind with 10,000 ft drop on one side of you and 8,000 ft drop down the other side.
  • We decided to continue on and made it to the top.

You don’t always have to have total clarity to put one step in front of the other. 

  • Getting to the summit didn’t feel that great.
Getting to the Summit doesn’t change your life! It is much more about the lessons that your learned along the way!
  • There are always going to be more mountains to climb.
  • You have to willing to weather the storms.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.
  • Got to be risk taker.
  • Use your failures to learn going forward.
  • Going forward I have to do better.
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