Archive for October, 2014

Mount Everest bites back. Lessons from Himalayan mountain disasters

Posted on: October 20th, 2014 by Rob Opie No Comments

The challenge to climb the world’s highest mountain has become a popular sport. You are not required to be in an elite class of mountaineers to reach the summit. Tourists can get there too, with the paid help of locals. The world was reminded earlier this year that Everest should not be treated like a play park for the rich after 16 lives were claimed in one go. This week, more than 30 lives were lost after snow storms triggered monster avalanches in Nepal. South African human brand specialist Rob Opie has a deep interest in the wonders of Everest and how it has helped shape our understanding of human greatness. He takes a look at tragic events on Everest and the message behind it all. He argues that today’s quest for ‘recreational tourism’ is about man misreading the mountain. See the latest details about search efforts, below his opinion piece. Jackie Cameron

By Rob Opie   

Having made it my purpose in life to explore human greatness and share this esoteric knowledge with those who want to know, nothing fascinates me more than Everest. This week, and in April, the mountains did some talking – sending out a very clear message of ‘take responsibility’, to those that now regard it as the ‘playground of the rich’.

Did Everest send out a ‘human like’ message to re-examine the exploitation of the mountain and the legendary sherpas by the Nepalese authorities?

Everest stands 8 848m tall and those who climb to its summit enter what is commonly known as ‘the death zone’ above 8 000m. It’s a zone where ‘helicopters do not fly’; as it is here that the air is too thin for rescue missions. It’s a zone where it is all about man versus mountain – and taking full responsibility.

 ‘You could die in each climb and that meant you were responsible for yourself. We were real mountaineers: careful, aware and even afraid. By climbing mountains we were not learning how big we were. We were finding out how breakable, how weak and how full of FEAR we are. You can only get this if you expose yourself to high danger. I have always said that a mountain without danger is not a mountain. 

                                                                                     Reinhold Messner

The greatest Himalayan climbers all know that nobody ever bullies Everest. Yet, over the last few years the romantic passion for expedition and adventure captured by the great climbers has been replaced by recreational tourism and the commercialisation of the mountain.

The rich are putting others at risk. In April 16 sherpas gave of their lives while helping to map routes to the summit for those who should not be on the mountain. This week, most of the victims were reportedly tourists.

Everest is about taking responsibility for oneself. Man versus mountain. Modern day climbers make liberal use of bottled oxygen and prophylactic steroids and other climbing resources, and it’s the sherpas who have to place all these resources at high altitude.

‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest? If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle of life itself is upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.  

                                                                                            George Mallory 

Here is the key to why modern society, with all of its commercialisation imperatives, is a case of mis-reading the mountain. Reality sets in, lives are lost, and only then are questions asked. Those that are on this mountain should take responsibility for themselves, and not outsource the real risks to the sherpas who carry provisions and  map ‘easier routes ‘ up the mountain to enable ‘the egotistical rich’ to conquer the world’s tallest mountain – those that should never be on the mountain in the first place.

Sadly, the costs are no longer in dollars, but in lives. Timing schedules requiring sherpas to take unnecessary high risks amount to the mountain being bullied.

The great climbers always bided their time and watched the weather, and always knew when to begin the ascent. Today, getting to the Everest summit has become ‘too easy’ thanks to the sherpas who minimise exposure times of lesser-prepared climbers. It has come at great cost, as the mountain will always bite back.

It is time to restore respect for the mountain. Being guided by sherpas to some extent, and most definitely having sherpa porters, is ethically fraught. It outsources the risk to those that are not compensated adequately for placing provisions and ladders on the mountain for those that cannot do the job themselves.

Reaching the summit of Everest has sadly lost most of its meaning and lives are being lost because of this commercialisation. In some way this smacks of our very own gold mining industry, where accidents happen when one drills in a place where one should not normally be operating – too deep or too high is dangerous.

As the Himalayan sherpas now down tools demanding better remuneration and insurance more in line with risk, many houses are missing family members. Has the real message from the mountain been heard?  Further commercialisation will result in more deaths and family devastation, as nobody can ever bully Everest!

The Nepalese authorities have some tough calls to make going forward. Everest – the mountain that tests true human greatness – has clearly spoken.


Turning 50: Three golden tips from great sporting champions.

Posted on: October 20th, 2014 by Rob Opie No Comments

Turning 50 is one of those big birthdays, partly because we’re amazed we managed to get this far – and partly because the next milestone is 60.  Some people have a crisis. Rob Opie, on the other hand, is taking his 50th birthday this week as a gift. He has made a study of the world’s sporting greats and he has watched what differentiates those from the very talented who never make it to the top. He shares their lessons, and his, for turning 50, with us here. It’s an inspiring read. Happy birthday, Rob! – Jackie Cameron

 By Robert Opie*


Robert Opie is turning 50. Instead of having a crisis, he is embracing the opportunity to tackle life like a champion.

This week I sat down to plan my scary one, as most people like to call it. How did the half-way party sneak up so fast? Turning 50 can be daunting or a gift of possibility.

In the golfing world, 50 is when the truly great golfers elevate their careers to the next level. Tired of competing against Rory’s booming drive, they go on.

Bernard Langer is an inspiration at 57. So is Tom Watson at age 65. And what about that cigar-smoking Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has just turned 50.

Ernie Els must be wishing he could turn 50 tomorrow and move on to the lucrative and less physically demanding senior’s tour. I think he even surprised himself by winning the 2012 British Open age 42. So, what can we learn from these great sporting champions as they take on the seniors’ world of new possibilities?

If you are green you grow, if you are ripe you rot

This year I have had the privilege to spend time with so many past and present great sporting champions from Joostie, right through to English Cricketer Jonathan Trott, who had to pull out of the Ashes tour.  As they grow a little older and little wiser, they all have invaluable insights to share, and share they do.

So, about to come out of the tunnel for my second half, I thought I would share with you some of the wisdom of these great champions.

First and foremost:

  1. Great Champions do not fight – they choose to conquer

We recently witnessed a fine example from one of our greatest, AB de Villiers. While our test match statistics are great, our one day team has failed to live up to expectations, so when they went to Zimbabwe last month to compete with the host nation and Australia, they were under pressure.

This was especially so, considering the seedy unpleasantness of the Newlands Test Match early this year when Australia came out on top – using mental dis-integration tactics. But, AB simply upped the game in Zimbabwe – by choosing to conquer, not fight.

“They can sledge all they want; I don’t mind it at all. To me it’s  all about the  privilege of  facing up to the best bowlers in the world – it’s all  part of the game , but they must  also  realize that they can’t expect us to be mates off the field, if it gets very personal.”

AB played a game-changing card, by restoring balance to a situation that had threatened to become out of control. Class players do not make personal chirps.

One day later AB played an unbeaten innings of 136 not out, as SA went on to thrash Australia – and later go on to win in the final against Australia. How different would it have been  for France, if  Zinedine Zidane had  chosen not to fight, and reacted differently at  the 2006 World  Cup soccer final, before he head-butted an opponent. He was sent off and Italy triumphed. The greatest champions conquer – they do not fight, and it goes back many years to one Julius Caesar

                                                   I came. I saw. I conquered.

So, the Aussies had deliberate tactics to create what is called “a state of imbalance”. It worked throughout the Ashes Series against England, but it backfired on them when AB restored balance to “the bigger game” of cricket in Zimbabwe. Sportsmanship prevails over gamesmanship. The great champions just know that! Life is bigger than sport.

  1. Great Champions ‘take heed’

Ok let’s have a look at another example of how great champions choose to conquer, not fight. This learning comes from Everest where every great Everest explorer knows that one cannot bully the mountain, as the mountain always bites back. In April this year I wrote a blog on it when 16 died in one tragic day on the mountain.

The mountain always carries a message to all climbers who begin the accent, and life is the same. Unfortunately, we often choose to fight, not conquer.

This is the way that often leads to physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, disillusionment and ultimately a state of imbalance. Let’s just call it ultimate burn-out!

By the time we reach 50, we’ve all experienced some form of it, at some point in our professional and personal lives!  Well, I have seen and witnessed how the great champions of extreme – on Everest and in the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Cancer wards, do it differently.

They choose to conquer, not fight. They take heed. They listen to the message.

Every case of adversity or state of imbalance carries a message. Deciding to ignore or not taking heed of the message, is what can be termed shooting the messenger – a form of denial and arrogance.

A recent case in point was when many took offence to Moody’s downgrade of credit ratings for four of SA’s top banks, after the African Bank fiasco. But, Moody’s was just the messenger in this case!  Great champions take heed – they listen, they think twice and then they remove “all the wrong stuff” from their game plans. Sometimes, it requires what we term “a radical tactical shift” in one’s game plan.

  1.   Great Champions become humbler and humbler  

Roger Federer springs to mind. So does Jean de Villiers. He must have treasured the tribute paid to him by Dan Carter on receiving his 100th cap last week. So what lies behind “humbler”?

It’s “the unwritten law of gratitude” that great champions grasp at some point in their careers, some earlier than others. They appreciate every opportunity they get to compete at the very top level.

How sad it was to see Francois Steyn throw away his place in the Springbok team and along with it his rugby genius, all for the sake of money. In any case, he is one of the top five rugby earners in the world!

This is when mentorship is sadly missing. So how does the unwritten law of gratitude work? The best example I cite in seminars is being in a pub with acquaintances. You buy the first round, you expect a thank you. It does not happen, so you buy another round. There is no thank you again. So of course you shy away from buying any third round. In fact you probably take offence.

Well, the universe works like that as well. If one does not show gratitude for what one has been blessed with in life, it’s hardly likely that the universe is going to buy round three for you!

If Tiger Woods chose to conquer, and not fight everybody, if he could take heed and if he could become a little humbler, maybe his game will return to the high standards he had when his sole mentor – his Dad was still alive. A golfing genius, he would certainly win many more majors, but somehow he unwittingly chooses to cram his game plan full of ‘all the wrong stuff ’.


If we are all prone to this thing called burn-out, and it usually happens at the approximate age of 42 – often earlier for our sporting champions who are thrust onto the world stage far earlier – well, I say “come on the BIG FIFTY GIFT”!  Bernard, you better watch out for Ernie, and me for that matter! And I am sure that the cigar-smoking Spaniard has a few more tricks up his sleeve.