Don't Forget Your Gear In Baltistan: Reasons To Create Group Habits

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Pablo Edronkin

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If you are travelling with a couple of friend in Baltistan and suddenly find out that you forgot to take with you some important piece of your equipment, what could you do?

Indeed, you will have to improvise because it is doubtful that you will find the things you need in places like Skardu or the Siachen glacier. Then, confronted with the facts, your group will start looking around for spares. You and your friends will likely try to ask some locals about alternatives suing gestures, English and perhaps even one or two words from the Balti language, considered rather arcane even by many of those living there because they don't have much time to thinker with the niceties of that ancient form of Tibetan.

After a couple of hours, some learned individual, a policeman or someone with knowledge about your predicament and your language will tell you that in order to shop for what you want you should better go to Islamabad, a proposition that might not be easy to implement within your current schedule. That could even spell the end of your expedition as you have planned it because doing something like going to trek in the Karakorum range without a good sleeping bag or fuel for your portable, pocket oven might be imprudent, and if you forgot to take with you things like those items, then you will have to act very reasonably and redraw your plans, or indeed, go shopping in a city far away, and spend a lot of time and money otherwise needlessly.

A good exercise in teamwork: The construction of an igloo as a survival shelter.

Forgetting your gear is related to bad planning in almost all cases; it is human to err, indeed, but if you are within the framework of your group, good planing should translate into cross-checking that should help you and your companions avoid such mistakes. Despite that nobody seems to talk much about that, the ability to perform cross checks is one of the most powerful features of any sort of team. This requires good group management, leadership and teamwork.

In some professional activities such as aviation, such interacting processes are studied at the scientific level. CRM, or "Crew Resource Management" or "Cockpit Resource Management" is a discipline that studies specifically how to turn a cockpit into an efficient working environment, not just in order to decrease costs, but fundamentally to increase safety, and that includes to a large extent all sorts of cross checks between crew members.

In aviation, like in the case of martial arts, many procedures and attitudes are practised repetitively until they become second nature, true habits. If the engine of an aircraft fails, its pilot will attempt to control and keep it in a glide, in the case of a plane, or autorotation if it is a helicopter, even before sending a mayday message or attempting to turn the engine on again. This is almost any reflex in the case of almost any pilot. First he or she will "fly the thing" and then begin to review the problem and attempt any sort of solution. In order to be able to do so, the pilot must have this procedure ingrained in the mind as much as anyone "knows" how to open or close a door and perform such tasks without even thinking about them.

In the case of any team or group, attaining such level of reflex activity and empathy for constant cross-checking and supervision requires a lot of practice. Teamwork is like a muscle, it needs to be worked on constantly and regularly, starting with simple team tasks. This is why it is generally mandatory that members of an expedition should know each other long before attempting anything exotic. Baltistan is not the kind of place where to learn hard lessons in teamwork.

Simply nature; dawn in early fall, Patagonia.

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