Choosing the team

Choosing a compatible team is the first step toward an enjoyable experience. Expedition climbing is full of stress, and climbers can be taxed to their physical and mental limits. Climbing literature abounds with "climb and tell" accounts of expeditions in which, it seems, team members despised their fellow climbers; you don't want your expedition to end up being another.

The skill of your team must, of course, be equal to the demands of the climb. Climbing with people of similar technical ability may improve compatibility. Team members need personalities that are compatible with each other, and must be able to live harmoniously with others in close quarters under stressful conditions. The climbers should agree on the philosophy of the trip in terms of climbing style, environmental impact, and degree of acceptable risk.

It's important to agree on leadership before the trip gets under way. If all climbers are of roughly equal experience, democratic decision-making usually works well. If one climber is clearly more experienced, that person can be given the leadership role. Even with a single leader, functional areas such as finance, food, medicine, and equipment should be delegated to others to lessen the leader's load and to keep everyone involved and informed. This also helps build expedition leaders for the future. (You might consider taking a guided climb if this is your first expedition or if you lack capable partners.)

The number of climbers in the expedition depends partly on what route you've chosen. A party of two or four climbers may be best on technically difficult routes because of the efficiency of two-person rope teams and the limited space at bivouac sites. However, climbing with a very small team means that if one person becomes ill or cannot continue, the entire team may have to abandon the climb.

When the route itself does not determine the optimum party size, logistics becomes the deciding factor. As the number of climbers increases, issues of transportation, food, lodging, and equipment become more complicated. The advantage is that parties of six or eight have strength and reserve capacity. If one climber doesn't continue, the rest of the party has a better chance to go on with the expedition. And larger parties usually are better able to carry out self-rescue than smaller teams. However, the logistics of an expedition with more than eight members can become more burdensome than many climbers are willing to accept.

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