This case study discusses the Mount Everest tragedy which happened sometime in May of 1996. It looks into the critical decisions that the climbing teams came up with before and during the event.
Michael A. Roberto; Gina M. Carioggia
Harvard Business Review (303061-PDF-ENG)
November 12, 2002
Case questions answered:
We have uploaded two case solutions, which both answer the following questions:
- Why did this tragedy on Mount Everest occur? What is the root cause of the problem?
- Are tragedies such as this simply inevitable in a place like Mount Everest?
- What is your evaluation of Scott Fisher and Rob Hall as leaders? Did they make some poor decisions? If so, why?
- What are the lessons from this Mount Everest – 1996 case for general managers in business enterprises?
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Mount Everest - 1996 Case Answers
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1. Why did this tragedy occur on Mount Everest? What is the root cause of the problem?
Hiking Mount Everest is a risky activity and the aim of every professional climber. It looks like the power of nature and mountains is unconquered. However, every year the best of the best is trying to prove it wrong. They find themselves in Nepal to fight the element and to summit the top of the world.
In my opinion, there is the only factor that generalizes all the roots of the tragedy. This is, let us say, a base of the source. At the beginning of the 1990s, the commercialization of Everest begins.
The first commercial expeditions to Mount Everest start to offer mountain tour guides who are there to realize the dream of every climber. They deliver it all-inclusive. It includes the delivery of participants to the base camp, organization of the routes, and settlement at the camps on the way, training, acclimatization, and others.
However, summiting is still not guaranteed. Simple huh? All of that for 65,000 USD back in 1996. In pursuit of big money, the mountain guides and the companies accept to take clients with low climbing experience. This they do even if it is clear that they would not have a single chance to summit. Organizers start to act extremely irresponsibly towards the mountain, which takes away the lives of people year by year. In the history of Mount Everest, there have already been up to 250 deaths (only known ones).
The main reasons for tragedies are avalanches, severe weather conditions, fallings from height, health issues such as lack of oxygen, frostbite, etc. Back to irresponsibility. During the expeditions in 1996, the climbing was not well prepared. In the preparation stage of the voyage of Mountain Madness, it was purchased an insufficient amount of oxygen equipment, which was a critical moment later.
There were also old-fashioned radio sets that weren’t working regularly, which did not allow guides to stay connected to the base camp during the climb. Tour guides were even ignoring the precautious measures and continued the planned summiting the day when the weather was not expected to be good. They also did not follow instructions when it was agreed to start descending at 2 PM, and they did not turn back those who were running late.
Of course, hacking Mount Everest is all about nature power, weather conditions, experience, and probably some luck. However, the rules which started to be broken in pursuit of huge revenues with the commercialization of Everest appeared to be fatal back in 1996.
” We don’t need competition between people. There is competition between every person and this mountain. The last word always belongs to the mountain” – Anatoli Boukreev.
2. Are tragedies such as this simply inevitable in a place like Mount Everest?
This sort of tragedy is inevitable in a place like Everest. That’s totally true. Climbing is a dangerous activity by itself, but it becomes too risky when it comes to the summit almost reaching 9000 meters above sea level when the human body is not supposed to function at this sort of altitude. The smallest mistake or recklessness will cost a life. Every person deciding to summit Mount Everest realizes that it can be their last climb.
The best thing a human being can do is to maximally prepare physically and mentally, plan the schedule of acclimatization and summiting, observe the weather forecast, acquire necessary equipment and follow regular instructions for hiking an 8000-meter peak. This gives no guarantees, however, minimizes the risk of fatality by human mistake.
3. What is your evaluation of Scott Fisher and Rob Hall as leaders? Did they make some poor decisions? If so, why?
Rob Hall and Scott Fisher were among the first mountain guides to start the commercial guided tour to Mount Everest. Beginning in 1992, Rob Hall founded the first expedition-guiding company Adventure Consultants. With vast experience in climbing at a high altitude, he successfully summited Mount Everest 5 times and guided 39 clients to the top. Rob was considered the safest guide, and that’s why he was charging more than his competitor companies.
Rob seemed to be determined to his rules and always explained the process of climbing the summit. He was well-organized, experienced, and responsible. He did a great job providing an acclimatization routing. His team of tour guides consisted of two climbers: one with more experience and the other with less. Rob did not have…
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