If you decide it’s time to change your life, climbing Everest will do it.
On 23 May 2010, Ray White residential sales contractor Stephen Bock reached the summit of Mount Everest. He describes it as “the best business development course I’ve ever done”.
Overweight, unfit and unhappy, Bock spent a gruelling 11 months crashing through every barrier put in front of him to be the 61st Australian to summit Everest, and part of the country’s largest successful climbing team of five.
Bock had already achieved enviable professional success, making the top 5 per cent of international sales at Ray White, but his personal life had taken an unexpected turn. As he approached middle age Bock felt the walls closing in. The written contract he’d made with himself as a teenager to climb Everest by the time he was 40, and a timely proposal from expedition leader Ronnie Muhl, marked the turning point.
“It wasn’t negotiable,” Bock says. “The door opened and I grabbed it. It was one of those clear moments in my life when I leapt without anything making sense.”
For almost a year Bock and his teammates trained with Australian personal trainer and coach Joe Bonington, son of Britain’s most famous mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington, from 4am to 6am every day of the week. Wednesday evenings the team’s fitness was tested and the week was capped off with a 50km walk carrying weighted backpacks every Sunday.
"Our training sessions were about pushing yourself to the limit, to the point of vomiting, then really turning the training on,” recalls Bock with pride. “I had the flexibility of being my own boss to tack the training on to either end of my business day. I was sleeping four hours a day and eating eight times a day. We were training like demons and yet I had incredible energy.
“Everyone’s fit who attempts Everest, the thing that made us successful on the mountain was the mental conditioning. You hit your wall every day.”
It took 60 days for the Aussie team to reach Everest, including the 10-day walk to Base Camp, a six-week rotation phase of gentle acclimatisation – where three out of four people wash out – and finally the six-day window when the world’s tallest mountain grants rare entry to her frozen peak. “A lot of what I learnt about business and myself had very little to do with that little bit of real estate at 29,000 feet and everything to do with understanding the person you need to become,” Bock recalls. “There’s a metamorphosis just to set foot on the mountain.
“It gives you a whole different reference point to work from and what you learn about the human spirit is amazing.”
While he felt “rejuiced”, the climb personally and professionally destabilised Bock and for 12 months he thought of walking away from real estate. Instead, he turned his attention back to his profession determined to do it differently.
Unexpectedly, the climb was a springboard for completely different business opportunities: an adventure travel business with Muhl called Adventures Global; motivational speaking; books: and soon a documentary. “I’ve come back to my life rejuiced and so passionate and excited about the next chapter,” Bock says.
“It forces you to be more accountable to your goals, you set a different level of expectation. There’s also an incredible inner confidence. There’s nothing I could be confronted with, no matter how challenging, where I wouldn’t be able to draw on my Everest experience as a source of strength.”
These days, Bock stays fit and focused by training for his more manageable mini goals of 100km races.
Climbing into mountaineering
Joe Bonington works with many high-end business people who are looking for new ways to challenge themselves.
A physical challenging experience can be drawn as a source
“Professionals can relate to the journey, the preparation and the strategy for conquering something like a mountain. It’s the perfect analogy for what they do in business,” he says.
Bonington says there are plenty of great climbs and mountaineering courses available across the Tasman in New Zealand; in fact, he rates Kiwi climbing companies Aspiring Guides NZ and Alpine Guides NZ with the best in the world. South America is another high-altitude hot spot.
Like most adrenalin sports, it’s easy for avid adventurers to throw mountains of cash around.
One company that claims a 100 per cent success rate for paying guests reaching Everest’s summit charges as much as US$80,000. Lower-end companies will more likely charge about A$30,000.
Like Sydney’s Kent Street, most major cities will have an “adventure alley” precinct where quality outdoor gear can be bought from different outlets.