Modern Warfare Week

Corps Strength – Listen for Success

As you might guess, people approach me all the time about working out, diets, losing weight, getting in shape, etc. These are people I know: friends, family, students and many more I don’t know; Those who have read my book, or my posts here on SSD. 9 times out of 10 they want to get my take on the latest diet, supplement or workout routine they’ve heard of, or want to relate their recent experience with the same. What they always want to talk (ask) about is the specifics: calories, carbs, sets, reps, mileage, etc. Which frankly, is the last thing I want to discuss, as I always start off with questions; What is their long-term goal, their work schedule, their present routine and diet? Any heath issues or injuries? Then I try to bring this all around to how they’re thinking about this. While people are normally very happy to discuss themselves (as we all are), you can tell that they’re aren’t really listening when I start talking about how to get their mind around this in the right way, as they normally will bring it quickly back to sets, reps, meals, fat, protein, etc., etc. I’ve had this conversation 100’s of times and they’re all so similar that I can probably provide both sides of it myself.

   You know, human nature is a funny thing. It’s immensely powerful and yet completely unbiased. Meaning that it will work equally as well for, or against you and while most people will say they get that, they don’t seem to really understand it. Certainly not to the degree required to harness it for long term success. I’ve found that much of this disconnect is really due to a lack of listening. Learning to listen and hear what’s important vs. what is the loudest, newest or false, is something we all can have a hard time with. About 40 years ago my first squad leader told me. “Roarkey (he always called me that to break my balls), if you’re ever going to be a good Marine, you need to learn how to tell the difference between fly shit and pepper”. When I asked how? He said; “Get the mud out of your ears numb nuts, pay attention and listen” In other words, BS and the truth often look a lot alike and to tell the difference you need to pay close attention and that means listening. The fact is all the information you could ever need about losing weight and getting in shape is out there, but to make it work is secondary to how you think about it. That is the main thing I try to get people to listen too, with mixed results. 

   Right about this time last year, my son were in Nepal making the Everest Base Camp Trek. It was a great experience and everything we hoped it would be. Besides the unbelievable scenery and the physical challenge of hiking above 17,000 ft, another great part was the people. We met people from all over the world there making the trek, a few professional climbers going for the summit and a lot of locals. However, my most memorable meeting I had was with a retired Sherpa guide. His name was Aang Dawa and he is now retired from climbing and owns a “Tea House”. Which is their name for a hostel. His place was our first stop, just up the trail from the airport at Luka. When we were having dinner, I noticed there were a lot of pictures of a local Sherpa on the summit of Everest and some of the other high peaks of the Himalayas. There was also several framed newspaper and magazine articles about him. I asked our guide who he was and he told us that he was the owner. Later than night he came and sat down with us. He was in his 40’s, with the typical bright smile, cheerful nature and muscular build of a Sherpa. His English was very good and for the next few hours (over a few strong local beers) we had one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had.

    His story was that he started as a porter in his early teens, then later attended the famous Nepal mountaineering school in Katmandu and progressed to become a high-altitude guide, (that’s where the good money is). Over the next 20 years he guided for numerous international climb teams to summit all the major Himalayan high peaks, including making Everest 3X. He didn’t boast about his climbing, but spoke like how a man who lays bricks for a living, would tell you how he built a retaining wall, very matter of fact. Even so, he related many very interesting stories about his experiences. As a PT guy, I questioned him a lot about the physical aspect of climbing. He was a firm believer that actual climbing and hiking at altitude were the best physical training for climbing, not cross training. However, interestingly enough he had a lot more to say about the mental aspect of climbing. He had quite a few stories about people who had mental breakdowns during climbs and why some people could handle the extremes of weather and altitude while others couldn’t. Some of his stories were dark humor. Like the time he helped lead a group of climbers to the summit of Everest and once there, one climber told him, “He wasn’t going down”. That he just wanted to make top and now that he had, he just wanted to stay and die there. Aang told the guy he must come down alive, or as his guide he wouldn’t get paid and his family needed the money. So he convinced him to come down as a favor to him. After going lower, the man regained his senses and thanked him for bringing him down, as he had obviously been suffering from altitude sickness and was out of his head.

    The other story that I found very interesting was the time that he was hired by the British military to take a group of about a dozen “special forces”, (what ever that means; SAS, Royal Marines?) to the summit of Everest. They were climbing from the Tibet side and they were a huge party of people that brought in all the best equipment. He said they were all big, tough looking and motivated guys, but in the end, not a single member made the summit after a few hard weeks of trying. Why? I asked, bad weather? No, not really. They wouldn’t listen about the proper process of acclimatization for altitude, they all wanted to rush through it. They all got sick and had to turn around, some having to be airlifted out. I asked if that surprised him? No, he said, they didn’t follow the most important rule of climbing. What is that? You must “listen to the mountain”. The mountain will always tell you when it’s ok to come to the top and when it’s time to stay down. The mountain has rules and you have to listen and they didn’t listen. They thought because they were tough guys they could climb on their terms, not the mountain’s. But they were lucky though, they didn’t die. Many people who don’t listen, do die. It’s the most important thing about climbing. You can learn everything about ropes, equipment, weather and be in the best of condition, but if you don’t listen you may die. At the very least you won’t be successful. I asked him what did they say after nobody made it to the top? Not much, but he added with a grin, they brought “barrels full of money”, so it was a very good trip, they had good food too.

That’s Aang Dawa on the right, me on the left, my son in the center. 

    It was the best night we had on our trip and his advice left an impression on me. It’s a funny thing about many people I’ve met from poor countries. While they don’t have everything that we have here. They don’t have the education, the medical, and certainly not the economic opportunity. They often do have an intuitive feeling about life and living that sometimes seems much more dialed in than ours. I’ve always thought that’s because as they don’t have all the material distractions we have, they actually tend to think about basic things more than we do. In any case I found it to be sound advice and not just related to climbing. 

  I think his advice can apply to many areas of our lives and trying to stay in shape is no exception. Getting in shape and losing weight has rules that you just can’t avoid. You can’t rush it, go in half ass and expect success. You have to listen to those rules, or you are sure to fail. I have learned over the years that your mental state is much more important for success in this area than money, technology or routines. I say all this as I’m convinced that listening to the right guidance and getting the rights thoughts in your head will get you there. A lot of things in life are hard. Getting and staying in shape for many people is very hard, so hard they think it may be impossible, it’s not. Not when you listen for and find the right guidance. You then need listen to yourself and trust that you have the will to do it. Because you do, if you listen. 

I’m off to climb Mt. Rainer in a few weeks and will probably have something to share with you about it next month. 

Till then: “Be safe always, be good when you can”. 

Semper Fi 


BTW I thought his advice was so good I had it tattooed on my calf so I wouldn’t forget.

“Listen to the Mountain” in Nepali

8 Responses to “Corps Strength – Listen for Success”

  1. Gerard says:

    What an amazing line ‘Listen to the Mountain’ this is one Im going to remember and carry with me. There is a lot of cultural arrogance, so called non advanced societies have been connected to the environment for millenniums before the west began exploring it.

  2. Iggy says:

    For many wannabes who don’t measure up in the mountains it’s simply because they wanna keep to the fantasies of climbing rather than the realities.
    Alpinism has been around 150 years, it’s been developed to a high degree as decades of mind blowing ascents attest, yet many still dabble amongst all the exotic distractions and find excuses for basic inadequacies.
    Real climbing is confronting stuff.

  3. Gerard says:

    Another great saying is ‘a man’s gotta know his limitations’ said by Clint Eastwood in the movie magnum force. Eastwood spent time doing serious climbing for the movie The Eiger Sanction. He nearly died on a cliff face in the USA training for the movie. Climbing isnt for amateurs.

  4. Chris K. says:

    Great post.

  5. D Ras says:

    Are you sure it sys, “Listen to the Mountain?” My rule is never get a tattoo in a language I’m not fluent in. It might say, “Listen to the one who mounts you.”

    • MGunz says:

      LOL, I had it triple checked by the internet, my Sherpa guide and our language dept here at the International Training Center. I know that rule too. :(.

  6. MM says:

    Thanks for the post, Gunny – I enjoyed reading it. I’m still learning the fine art of listening – to other people, to my own body, to my own mind, and to my surroundings.

    On another note, I’m considering having ‘Listen to the wife’ tattooed somewhere to remind me of another important path to life’s success. We just had our 21st anniversary last week and we gave each other a ‘high five’ to celebrate making it this long, lol.

    It’s also wonderful that you share these kinds of experiences with your son. Well done.