Friday, March 7, 2014

An Illustrative Look At The MountainVision Message

This amazing illustration was created during one of my recent keynote presentations. Such a wonderfully creative way to take a look at the overarching themes I share to global Fortune 500 companies.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

S2S Mission: Mt Whitney

As I reflect back on the previous four years since Erik and I committed to initiating and developing what would later go on to become the Soldiers to Summits program, I am profoundly moved to consider the dozens of amazing warriors I have been honored to share a rope with on each of our expeditions. One of the great gifts of starting this program has been the personal degree of learning I have been exposed to.  I had very little understanding back then how transformational the S2S program would be for me on a very profound level.

Watching these wounded warriors come together as a unit, congeal as a team, prepare for a mission and deal with adversity has taught me more than I can easily convey. I have seen strength and I have seen raw pain. I have learned what it means to stand up in the face of adversity…and in some cases, in spite of it.

Now four years later, as I accept the role as expedition leader again for an S2S project, I am honored to be inextricably connected to a new group of veterans that have dedicated themselves to roping up as a team, committed to the healing process and are fired up to embrace the bounty that the alpine environment provides us.

I am grateful to all the men and women that rope up with us in the mountains. I am grateful to them for their sacrifice. And I am grateful to them for teaching all of us what it means to be a warrior.

Jeff Evans PA-C
Expedition Leader - Mission: Mt Whitney

Friday, November 22, 2013

Avalanche Of Life

It’s that time of year again.
My yard is full of glistening snow. A handful of my fellow Colorado drivers act like they’ve never driven on icy roads before. Flames in the fireplace are a nightly occurrence. And my backcountry skis are practically vibrating at me from my gear room.

It’s time to hit the big hills, climb up them and then ski down them. And I’m not talking about shushing down slopes at Vail and Aspen dressed in your pastel unitard.
I’m talking about earning your turns.
Ski sweat equity.
Tele till you’re smelly.

Skiing in the backcountry with friends is absolutely one of the most pleasurable activities that I pursue. Even when the conditions are less than ideal… i.e. bullet proof, wind blown or just cold as balls… it’s still so much stinkin fun to go out with good peeps, skin up the flanks of some big hill and scoot down steep glades amongst the rocks and trees without the mayhem of an overcrowded ski area.

And other than the occasional gear malfunction or annoyingly painful foot blister there is only one potentially ass whoopin issue that is ever-present.


It’s a fact… sliding down large faces of snow is very much fun.
Another fact… these same large faces of snow react to the laws of physics in a powerfully beautiful yet devastating way as they collapse and tumble on themselves.

I’ve been in two. That’s two too many. I am making it my mission to never be in another.

This morning as I was reflecting on the potential for this season to be fat…and I’m talking phat as in phluffy… I started to consider the massive amounts of precipitation we have received here in Boulder County over the past several months (the same flood that walloped my downstairs). The hope is that this trend will continue into the winter providing us with blankets of fresh pow all season long.

I also dove in to my annual avalanche data review…just to brush up on the nature of why and when a group of innocent snowflakes up and decide they are just tired of sitting where they are and take a fast ride down because all of their millions of snowflake buddies are doing the same thing.

It was then that I began to realize the interesting parallels between the nature of avalanches and the nuances of life.

A few of the snowflakey pearls…

Understanding recent weather patterns…
            Months of history play in to what is happening right in front of you.  It’s always easy to just look at things (people) for what they are on the surface when in reality there are many issues that lead up to how things are manifesting right at this moment. There have been storms. There have been sunny blue-bird days with excessive heat. There have been days with high and swirling wind. Each day is it’s own component that create the picture that we all bring to the table. Acknowledging the past provides us more compassion in dealing with the present.

Weak layers lead to fracturing…
            It’s easy to forget that we all have layers upon layers of personality that all surface from time to time.  Although each layer sits in close proximity to the others, they are all exquisitely unique from the others. In the case of a big ripper avey… it’s always the hidden layer that is the catalyst for failure. As much as we try to hide our unstable layers…those are the ones that require the most attention. They are the ones that break.

Wind deposition can load a slope…
Wind can deposit snow 10 times faster than actual snowfall from storms. Wind will drive snow into sheltered parts of the mountain in many different directions during a storm and deposit significantly more snow in otherwise unreachable terrain. Wind is sneaky. It picks up those sweet little innocent flakes and lays them down in a spot they didn’t intend to lay down in. It’s the mystery variable that is unpredictable. Erratic behavior that leads to dangerous conditions. It's just part of it.

Being smart when traveling through sketchy terrain…
            Just because you’re not on a slope doesn’t mean all is safe. Many accidents occur to parties that are down in a drainage or run off zone. It’s the slope that’s way up high and off your radar that can sabotage you.  Being aware of surroundings and out-of-site terrain is critical.  It’s easy to become complacent in a “safe zone” and fail to recognize that the peripheral issues can slap you down if you neglect to stay vigilant.

Knowing when to stand down…
Sometimes the pieces of the puzzle just say STOP. Go home. Many climbers and backcountry skiers have an internal voice that occasionally will beckon that it’s just too sketchy today. Live for tomorrow. Ego and pride can take you up a steep slope and place you precisely in the sites of a Howitzer machine gun of a slope that doesn’t give a shit how bad ass you think you are or what mountains you’ve climbed in the past. Humility and recognition will place you back at your truck so you can plan for the next day out.

Being solid with rescue skills and traveling with capable teammates…
            I owe my life to the couple of guys I was roped up with in Alaska when I got tumbled down a hill towards a massive, bottomless crevasse. They knew how to self-arrest. They acted quickly in digging me out. They were reliable. Surrounding yourself with trustworthy and knowledgeable teammates is the only chance you have in the case that you are hit by a wall of snow. Also of importance here is for you to be reliable and strong for the other folks in your party. Careful with who you put on your rope team. A time will come when you will need them…and they will need you.

Risky but worth it. The ROI is high…
            The funny thing about avalanche prediction is… the more you know, the more you realize that avalanches are very hard to predict. You can only arm yourself with some fundamental knowledge and skills and be sure that the folks around you are also capable. Avalanches are like the funny adventure of life… they are unpredictable at best… but simply a part of the overall journey. Nothin worth doing is without consequence.
But in the end…it’s worth the risk. Some of my very best days of every year are spent skiing down mountain slopes with my buds… even though we all know the risk. The joy is deep and fulfilling. The risk is apparent. It’s just a matter of acknowledging the contributing factors and embracing them.

Find Your Bliss


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Water That Binds

Just before I boarded my flight back home from another successful climb up Kilimanjaro, I got a texted photo from my wife Merry Beth of our son Jace stomping around in what looked like a few inches of standing water in our driveway.

“Been raining for 3 days now. Our grass is loving it and so is Jace. Safe travels honey.” Merry Beth had no idea the impact this deluge of water from the sky would have on our home and our state of Colorado. No one did.

My 14th Kilimanjaro expedition was just a pleasure as I guided up a wonderful group of women, most of which were from New Jersey.  They all performed well and in spite of my mild reservations on spending 2 weeks with a group of “Yankee gals”, they blew me away with their kindness, humor and fortitude. I was honored to stand on top of Africa with all 12 of them after a long hard summit night. I would return home with a smile on my face and sense of satisfaction assisting these good people in achieving a life long goal.

Then the real climb began….

I awoke Thursday morning in Miami where I was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech to a group of financial advisors the next day. My first night in a comfy bed in 2 weeks provided me the kind of early morning where I continuously kept rolling over and finding deep sleep…over and over again. Until my phone rang and I saw that my wife was calling. Wait, it’s 6am there…an unusually early hour for my morning allergic wife.

“Honey, we’ve got 2 feet of water in our downstairs and it’s rising fast.”

“Not sure I heard you right…. Did you say 2ft of standing water inside our house?”

“Yes. And it’s raining hard. And I’m scared.”

Helplessness. That was my initial emotion. Then fear and concern. Then… it was time to problem solve and assure MB that we would figure this out.

Before I could even send out the help signal flare, my phone began blowing up with texts and calls from my friends that were headed over to help MB with the house.  Friends who knew I was thousands of miles away and unable to take care of my family. The cavalry was on its way.

I heard multiple times from dozens of people…
“We’ve got this.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Tell me what you need.”
“I’m on the way over to your house.”

As the morning unfolded I began receiving photos of a dozen of our friends hauling furniture to higher ground, crawling around in the muck to access soggy boxes filled with random keepsakes and artifacts as well as making calls to our extended network to get the mitigation of water underway quickly.

Throughout the day I continued to hear stories of neighbors installing sump pumps in my house to relieve the volume of water even though their own homes were still filling. Tales of friends taking 90 minutes to drive across town to our house in the middle of the night to deliver pumps and hoses… trying to find roads that weren’t washed away.  I received photo after photo of random shit from my hippy days being saved by the salvage team. I found it so poetically beautiful that many of my old “hippy friends” were finding my old hippy flotsam and jetsam saturated in the crawl space. They put their energy and love into ensuring that hundreds of old Grateful Dead ticket stubs and photos from days gone past were given a chance to dry out and perhaps be saved. The true find of the day was perhaps the most beautifully absurd… my friend Avery comes upon a ziplock bag containing a 2 ft ponytail that, perhaps in an effort to never let go of the long haired hippy that I was in my 20s, I still kept in a box, deep in the crawl space. And now…I get to keep it for another 20 years, thanks to Avery.

I returned home the next night to a house in shambles and a wife that had been strong until she saw me and finally let out all of the tension… sobbing on my shoulder.  She had been so strong the past 48 hours…not sleeping, vigilantly monitoring the house and showing our 8-year-old son how to be strong in the face of adversity.  I held her as the tension and stress of 2 days poured onto my neck from her eyes.

The smell of mold and mildew hit me first. Worse than any locker room you’ve ever stepped foot in.
My furniture and belongings piled all over the garage…pools of water surrounding stacks of soggy boxes. My Dad’s antique dresser dripping water from its drawers. All the furniture stacked high with the wood wilting with water. My son’s childrens books, lying soaked on the cement with all the pages stuck together. All of my medical school textbooks soaked from cover to cover.
Then it was time to step inside…
The living room was filled with mattresses, tables, photos, clothes, guitars and gear. Not any available floor space left. The downstairs was a maze of fans, hoses, dehumidifiers, extension cords and soggy carpet. The water heater was ruined as well as the washer/dryer and HVAC unit. The toilet was off its flange in an attempt to allow the water to flow down the sewage hole. The tub was filled with a layer of brown muck.


As most of the country knows now, Boulder County was crushed with biblical rain last week…. “The 500 Year Flood” hit us. Over 200 folks are still missing. Countless homes were lost. Thousands of basements were flooded and property damaged. Colorado got beat up…bad. Clearly it will take years to rebuild our roads and the communities and lives they lead up to.

But I have seen something beautiful through the clouds. Something stronger than the power of a swollen river or a flooded home.

I have seen love and compassion. I have seen consideration and kindness. Well beyond my house and its efforts, the stories of heroism abound throughout the Front Range. Daring helicopter rescues and life threatening rescue missions. Tales of taking folks in who have lost it all.

In the end we will replace the dry wall, carpet, appliances, furniture and gear. These are just “things” that have only material value. We are viewing all of the lost items as a mandated “Spring cleaning” from the universe. Time to get rid of all the shit you don’t need. A solid exercise for us all.
What I can never replace is the community that I witnessed rally in an effort to help out a friend. I am grateful and proud of our local folks. They are rock-star-heroes and I will seek out opportunities to repay the favor every chance I get.

Now we dry out and move on.

Endless gratitude to my wonderful community of friends… Keith Berger, Mike Z, Terry Stonich, Avery Stonich, Jamie Young , Finn Ingalls, Marci Zakreski, Kelly Garrison, Matt McQueen, Mary McQueen, Paul Lugar, Jerry Kress, Raeanne Vincelette, David Fowler, John Hatch, Kelly Salence, next door Dan and the countless others that offered assistance to MB and I over that 48 hour period and beyond.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Servant Leadership...With a Cappuccino

Heading home after a wonderful couple of days in the Great Northwest feeling stimulated and content from an engaging visit with the Starbucks team. Whenever I return from Washington or Oregon there seems to be this warm and compelling emotion that cool shit is going down up there…like a secret that the rest of us are just not let in on. It’s rugged, hip and proud up there. My kinda place.

When one thinks of a truly global brand that is recognizable both in it’s logo, product and atmosphere… a brand that has succeeded in demanding a universal standardization for all of its employees to follow in order to achieve a destination for community and fellowship within it’s walls... Starbucks has to be in the forefront of any list. In my travels all over the world there is one thing for certain… when I encounter the ubiquitous Starbucks store (essentially guaranteed at some point in any journey), the soy chai ice coffee I order will taste just as delicious in Chengdu, China as it will in Boulder, CO.  You know what you’re getting both with the coffee as well as the warm coffee bean smell and soft music that fills the building.

It goes without saying that in order to pull this off there must be a solid quarterback making the calls for the team. I was aware of Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz and his creation and guidance of the global icon over the years. I was only slightly familiar with the fact that he gave up his role as CEO at the turn of the millennium and coincidentally or not, Starbucks lost it’s unique character as well as a large portion of it’s share value. I had heard that he had returned to his role as master executive in mid decade and the ship had been recently righted. I really knew nothing more than this on the Starbucks saga and was quite oblivious to the mystique that surrounded its founder and leader.

Once I arrived in Seattle to provide a keynote to the Supply Chain team, I was alerted that Howard had requested a meeting with me in his office with a couple of his trusted leaders. I was honored and thrilled to meet such a legend of brand development but didn’t really think much about it as I prepared my keynote and breakout sessions for the team. So I thought it somewhat comical when, the night before the meeting, my Starbucks host asked me “Have you thought about what you are going to talk to Howard about tomorrow?” I chuckled a bit and said no, which prompted a very visible nervous twitch in my hosts manner as she was the one that set up the meeting and knew her “time with Howard” reputation would be deeply influenced by the success or failure of this unknown dirtbag, redneck climber dude and his ability to be engaging with one of the worlds leading executives. A bit of a roll of the dice for sure.

The next morning as I strolled down the hall towards the CEO’s office I see this tall, gangly fellow in khakis and a casual button down shirt walking towards us with a gracious and inviting smile. This guy looked happy and affable but not exactly how I would draw up the master chef of a global entity that had $22 billion in sales last year.

“Hi there Jeff, I’m Howard.”

And with that simply greeting, I immediately got it. This guy surely had more important tasks to tend to that morning but he found time to carve out 30 minutes for me in his office and he had done the research to know my name and my bio. He wanted to get to know who this guy was that was coming to potentially influence his most important commodity…his team.

He was inquisitive, required a lot of eye contact and focused on listening to me speak… even when I constantly tried to circle it back and inquire about him and his story. He wanted to know about my background, what drove me to climbing and adventuring around the globe. He was interested in my family, how old my son was. He wanted to know what components of leadership that I felt were the most critical. He asked how my life experiences had crafted my message. He asked and he listened.

You could tell that Starbucks, it’s employees and what the entire brand represents is critical to him. He lives it.

I have been blessed over the years to meet and spend time with some truly transformational individuals who, upon meeting them, you get the sense that they are paradigm shifting, world churning folks… Tom Brokaw, Dave Matthews, George W Bush (disliked yes, transformational and charismatic, also yes), Colin Powell, Sir Edmund Hillary, Tom Robbins (my favorite author), George Bodenheimer (ESPN CEO) and Phakchock Rinpoche (2nd in line to the Dalai Lama) amongst others. Each of these individuals ooze charisma and clearly have that not-easily-quantifiable skill of leading and influencing the masses.

I have also met and spent time with countless executives that, although they carry the prestige and power of a big title and paycheck that comes with it, don’t incite enthusiasm and a “willingness to go to battle” from their team members. They wear their fine Italian suit and slicked back hair so as to look the part but seem to wield very little real influence except for that of fear.

After 30 minutes with Howard, I understood why the Starbucks team regards him as somewhat of a messiah. He lives for them. He asks them to join his family and represent his love child. He feels strongly that Starbucks represents diversity and community.  He has a history of telling his shareholders that there are more important issues than the bottom line…as he succinctly told a conservative, anti-gay-marriage stakeholder at a meeting last year. “Take your investment elsewhere if you don’t value diversity and inclusion” is essentially what he encouraged the narrow minded suit and tie douche. A testimony to the company’s ethos driven home.

The 30 minutes I spent with Howard that day wasn’t really about content and discussing how either one of us facilitates or conducts ourselves when leading teams. I walked away from that encounter understanding the value that a revered leader places on human interaction and dialogue. So much of our interface these days takes place in the buffered and sterile digital world. We are losing the face-to-face encounters that define our relationships and build trust. I for one am making an effort to do more face to facing instead of type to typing.

As I was leaving the Starbucks headquarters I recognized one of Howards assistants strolling my way trying to catch my attention. He handed me over Howards most recent booked titled Onward: How Starbucks Fought For It’s Life Without Losing It’s Soul.  Inside the front cover was a sincere personal note from Howard that he clearly compiled based on our conversation. He was listening.

As I have poured over the book…which is the perfect balance with the other book I’m currently reading, Greg Allman’s, My Cross To Bear (these two guys have lead very different lives by the way)… I have already dog-eared and underlined multiple pages and paragraphs that are very synergistic with my style, message and life approach.

A few of the jewels:

“There are moments in our lives when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense and the wise counsel of people we trust. But we lean forward nonetheless because, despite all risks and rational argument, we believe that the path we are choosing is the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead.
This is the kind of passionate conviction that sparks romances, wins battles, and drives people to pursue dreams others wouldn’t dare. Belief in ourselves and in what is right catapults us over hurdles, and our lives unfold.
“Life is a sum of all your choices,” wrote Albert Camus. Large or small, our actions forge our futures and hopefully inspire others along the way.”

“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.”

“People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is, and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and authority to act on it.”

“In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we're made of.”

That meeting inspired to go on to deliver a very impassioned keynote to the Supply Chain team. Once the smoke settled from that event I was given the opportunity to facilitate a breakout session for the SCO leadership team based on…you guessed it, servant leadership. Providing key characteristics of servant leadership to the team in order for them to enhance the way they interact with their various teams.

The day was a home run.

Leading teams is a unique and subjective process that can be achieved through countless styles and approaches. Some are effective. Some are not. Some influence partners and teammates through inspiration and buy-in. Others coerce subordinates through fear and manipulation.

I can tell you that my approach and style have been profoundly impacted by a brief, simple 30-minute meeting I had a few days ago with a guy who listens and deeply cares about the people around him.

That... and a really well brewed cappuccino.

Climb High