SI Vault
Sam Moses
February 16, 1976
The group of businessmen were outward bound on a journey of self-realization, one in which they would fight a maze of peaks and each other
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February 16, 1976

Clawing Up Canyon Walls, Turning Them To Grist

The group of businessmen were outward bound on a journey of self-realization, one in which they would fight a maze of peaks and each other

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When Scottish mountaineer George McLeod says, "I woke up this morning with a genuine sense of joy," believe him. It makes no difference that he woke up to a frozen Utah dawn, tightly wrapped in a mummy bag, with a wool stocking cap pulled down over his bald spots (scars from a fall into an Antarctic crevasse), or that his hip aches from sleeping on his boots, which he had taken to bed with him so that they would thaw, or that one of the first things he will do this joyous morning is throw a pack on his back that weighs half as much as he does. It doesn't even matter that a new moon cradled an old moon when he went to sleep, a bad omen for Scots.

When George McLeod—a 47-year-old, 5'4", 140-pound bearded bundle of joy, former chief rock-climbing instructor at the Glenmore Lodge in Scotland, recipient of the Polar Medal from the Queen—says he has a sense of joy, it's because he's grateful. His haggis fairly sticks on the lump in his throat when he crawls out of his sleeping bag into the falling snow and recites in a brogue:

I had the blues
Because I had no shoes,
Until I walked down the street
And I met a man
Who had no feet

The only trouble is that although McLeod may find joy in waking up stuck to the ground like an ice cube in a tray, others are more inclined to find misery, little comforted by the fact that they still have their feet. Especially if those others happen to be business managers and executives—a breed that generally thinks the wilderness is a Winnebago without air conditioning. That is the situation in which 11 businessmen found themselves one morning last April. They were students in a 10-day Outward Bound course, and McLeod was the head instructor.

Outward Bound personnel wince at the label "survival school"; they prefer "wilderness school." Although students learn sundry skills that could help them survive in the wilds, Outward Bound concentrates on teaching survival in civilization, and its goal is to prepare a person emotionally through a wilderness experience. The Outward Bound theme, whether the students are corporate executives or juvenile delinquents, is self-discovery; or, for those students who have survived their identity crises, self-renewal.

With such ethereal objectives, the instructors must be more than just mountain men who like to eat beetles for breakfast. They must be as facile at reading poetry as they are at tying a bowline, and feel as comfortable discussing Thoreau as they do sleeping under the stars. Many have higher degrees to complement their mountaineering credits.

In Utah that April morning the instructors were keeping a close watch on the businessmen. As with all Outward Bound courses for executives, there was a higher instructor-to-student ratio than usual because the managers are all assumed to be leaders, at least in their own environments. Which creates one obvious problem: with everyone a chief in civilian life, who would want to be an Indian in the wilderness?

In this group, some wanted to lead, some to follow and some neither. Before the men stepped outside the Rim Rock Motel in Torrey, Utah, the small differences (how many packages of freeze-dried meatballs to carry) gave the students time to sort out authority, aggressiveness, persuasiveness and temperament. Within the first few miles of hiking the deeper probing began, as the group worked out its pecking order like a litter of coyote pups.

"You're trying to grandstand this whole show."

"Don't give me that grandstand crap."

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