Jeff Evans addresses the faculty of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Feb. 13.
Jeff Evans addresses the faculty of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Feb. 13.

You’re ascending Mt. Everest. One of your first challenges on this two-month journey is to cross an icy crevasse four feet wide. Your feet on the icy edge, you have to jump to the other side to continue. A slip, falling in the crack, and you’re lost forever. And by the way, you are blind.

“Who,” Jeff Evans asked, “would you want to step up to that cliff with?”

Evans, who gave a guest lecture for the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery faculty at Hotel Zsa Zsa Feb. 13, described the leadership challenges he learned while leading blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer, on mountaineering adventures for the last 20 years.

A climber for 25 years, Evans also has completed 13 Himalayan expeditions.

“I have learned about the Sherpa attitude – selflessness, trustworthy, no whining, and doing it for others around you,” he said of the renowned guides from Nepal.

That attitude, he said, exemplifies servant leadership. “Fostering the success of others, nurturing others. We need more servant leaders,” Evans says.

Experts told Evans that Weihenmayer was more likely to die than summit Mt. Everest. Because of the trust between the two climbers, Weihenmayer became the first blind climber to summit Mt. Everest, and their group of 19 holds the record for the most people reaching the top of Mt. Everest in one day.

Evans said he learned an important leadership lesson on that expedition. After two arduous months on the mountain, the group was nearing the summit. The rope they were following went two ways – one was cemented under the frozen ice, the other went up an unsteady path that would have proven extremely challenging for Weihenmayer to traverse.

“I had to decide who I was and what my character was – dig out the rope to make it easier on Erik, or go the way that was easier for me and harder for Erik,” Evans explains. He spent the next two hours digging out the frozen rope.

Dr. Walt Lowe, chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, first heard Evans speak at the American Orthopaedic Association meeting in Denver this summer and invited him to Houston to share his message.

“Our ability to go where we want to go – professionally or personally – is only limited by ourselves,” Lowe told the faculty audience. “This is a big team here. As long as we stay together, our opportunities are endless.”

-Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School