“Good Morning, Possums…” Our Final Goodbyes and a Tribute to Greg Mortimer, Our Expedition Leader

“Good Morning, Possums…” Our Final Goodbyes and a Tribute to Greg Mortimer, Our Expedition Leader

I can vividly remember waking up today in a nice comfy bed in resort hotel in Ushuaia…but then, the shock of no morning announcement from Greg Mortimer…no more “Good Morning, Possums” to start my day!  So melancholy about this…I will miss that morning greeting, as will my Homeward Bound companions.  We all have a bit of the blues…knowing that our time together on the MV Ushuaia is now over.  But, there is also a sense of joy, since collaborations and friendships are on-going or just beginning, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and others while on this journey.

I’m sharing this cartoon below, designed by the very clever Matthew Davidson, who has drawn many hilarious cartoons based on the “culture” of Antarcticans (people who work or live in Antarctica…that’s what we call ourselves at times).  I thought this one was quite appropriate for today.

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We’ve left Antarctica behind for now, but perhaps looking at the wonderful photos of penguins and memories from our expedition will improve our mood and put some smiles on our collective faces!

An early wake-up call and shuttle ride to the Ushuaia airport began the trip home for about twelve Homeward Bounders, including me.  Long flights and hours waiting in airports around the world and collecting and rechecking our heavy luggage…that’s what we had to look forward to.  But, we would soon be reunited with family and friends, so that made it worthwhile!  First leg of the journey…off to Buenos Aires!

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A last selfie at the airport in Buenos Aires, and then many of us split up to fly to other South American cities (me to Santiago, Chile) and some straight to Europe, New Zealand or Australia.  It really hit home to me how far away many of us live from one another.  I’ll miss these women SO MUCH! Not far behind us, other HBers were boarding planes in Ushuaia…many of us trying to get home before Christmas.

Once in Santiago, I was on my own…for the first time since November 29th when I met Deborah Pardo at the airport in Buenos Aires.  Since that moment, I’ve been with or surrounded by others 24/7.  It was a strange feeling of solitude after so much interaction.  It gave me time to reflect on Homeward Bound and I found my thoughts drifting to our amazing expedition leader, Greg Mortimer.  Many bits and pieces went into making Homeward Bound such an incredible experience for me, but I am convinced that the expedition would not have been so amazing  if Greg wasn’t our expedition leader.

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(photo by Dyan DeNapoli)

Greg worked as a geologist for the New Zealand Antarctic Division (now Antarctica New Zealand) in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and fell under Antarctica’s spell, like so many of us have.  Later on he and his wife, Margaret, got involved in the Antarctic tourism industry, and started a company called Aurora Expeditions.  Greg and others have shared the mystery and beauty of Antarctica and other wild places on the planet with travelers from around the world.  Greg told me that they had sold this business a few years back and now he likes to be at home, on the farm and raising sheep.  This man of many wild adventures is one of the calmest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.  He made the funniest comment to all of us at the opening dinner when he was introduced and looked out over a room FILLED with primarily women.  He smiled and asked us all to be kind to him.  How could we NOT be kind to this man?  He was a fantastic leader!

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(photo by Niina Kauto)

I’ve known about Greg and his adventures for many years.  In fact, one of the books in my classroom was “White Limbo:  The 1st Australian Climb of Mt. Everest,” an expedition Greg was a part of in 1984.  At the time he was 32 years old, and his dedication to climbing and expertise had already been established.  He had ascended many difficult climbs and the challenge of Everest was met with success and the summit for Greg, but not for all of the members of his team.  I can’t help but think now, how Greg’s leadership skills were honed as he climbed mountain after mountain, planned expeditions, and faced enormous challenges in his climbs around the world.

Greg’s good friend and author of “White Limbo,” Lincoln Hall notes in the Epilogue that he feels like a survivor, and indeed he was.  Lincoln summited Everest years later in 2006, on his second attempt, and was part of many other climbing expeditions along the way.  After the Everest expedition with Greg he wrote “Friendships are deeper, the sunshine warmer, there is value in everything.”  I’ve felt much the same way each time I have returned from Antarctica, and definitely after the Homeward Bound experience.  There is a bond that was forged with the women of Homeward Bound, but also with the few men who were a part of our group…including Greg Mortimer.

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(photo by Holly North)

Greg (and Lincoln) was part of the first expedition to climb Mt. Minto in Antarctica, in 1988.  Greg shared some of that story on our last night aboard the MV Ushuaia.  Just getting to Antarctica was difficult enough, and they often felt like the odds were stacked against them during the expedition.  Things such as pack-ice, blizzards once on the continent, cold and wind, combined with awful storms while at sea challenged Greg and his team members.  One of my favorite parts of this story was when Greg talked about meeting his future wife, Margaret, who was a cook on their small boat (yes, he called it a boat…he was forever correcting us on board the Ushuaia because we kept calling it a boat, not a ship) headed to/from Antarctica.  As their boat was practically laying over sideways due to strong winds and wild seas, Margaret (the only woman on the expedition) yells out from the kitchen, “Do you like your eggs runny or hard?!”  She seemed totally unfazed by what was happening all around them.  Greg told us it was that moment when he knew he was going to end up with Margaret!

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(photo by Carol Devine)

Leadership skills and those “blue” characteristics we learned about in our LSI (Life Styles Inventory) would be critical to success in expeditions like the ones Greg was a part of for many years.  Each piece of the puzzle in leadership would count on these skills.

** achievement (a lot about our personal effectiveness)

** humanistic-encouraging (our tendency to care about and encourage others as well accepting others for who they are) qualities

** affiliative (the degree of commitment to forming and sustaining solid relationships)

** self-actualizing (accepting of yourself and others and situations “as they are” and personal fulfillment)

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And, I thought back to our values cards…what values would be most important to Greg and his fellow expeditioners?  How would those values serve them well in the darkest and brightest days of their journeys?  How will our own values serve us as leaders in whatever path we take in life?  I really liked reflecting on these values as part of our leadership course.  How will I protect these values as I move forward from here?  I know it’s important to stand strong and not compromise on our values, and in discussions with my HB colleagues they reacted with many similar comments.  It’s hard to stand true to values when we face challenges in our lives, but I know I’ll try harder to do this in the future.

Here are just a few of many of my key values that I pulled out of our deck of cards…many of these words could be used to describe Greg as our leader.  I’m also reminded that we have different values in our work/career compared to family and even our leisure time.

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I asked my Homeward Bound “sisters” to send me their photos and thoughts about Greg.  I can’t include them all here, but it’s pretty obvious that Greg had quite a fan club on our voyage.

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(photos by Holly North)

From Fabian: “He is a book waiting to be written about leadership; he became everyone’s brother, father, best friend, confidante; he was aware, calm, loving, present, and he danced around our needs and the itinerary like a humming bird. In slow motion he was dazzling, at Greg speed he just got stuff done.”

From Robyn: “I found him an amazing character – always warm and interested, full of knowledge, unfazed by anything.”

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(photo by Niina Kauto)

From Sea: “My favourite memory is me standing with him looking out over one of these amazing, clear, calm scenes with all the peaks and asking him about the mountain that was named after him and which he’d climbed. He pointed at the mountain in front of us and said “I climbed this one too and we named it after our friend, the most amazing fella, a WW1 veteran.” (I forgot the mountain’s name unfortunately). Even when he was asked to talk about his massive accomplishments he usually made the story about someone else. A true leader, humble soul and one of my favourite men on the planet!”

Even our Captain, Waldemar Wichmann, had such respect for Greg and his contributions to our journey.  Someone in our group (sorry, don’t know who) coined the new hashtag #belikeGreg and as far as I know he was the only individual who inspired a hashtag!

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As I was reading “The Loneliest Mountain” also written by Lincoln Hall prior to going on the Homeward Bound expedition, I picked out this quote by Greg, which really resonated for me.  “I very deliberately did not take one photo and did not write one word about the expedition.  I just wanted to be right there at that minute, every minute, and nowhere else.  And it was necessary, because on the surface it was such a simple operation just to go down to Antarctica in a little boat and go to climb a mountain, but that simplicity hid the complexity of the whole operation.  For it to succeed there were a million different things to be dealt with at one time every day.  No time for anything else.” 

Greg’s words made me think about being present on the expedition each and every day; not to just take photos snap, snap, snap…but to step out from behind the camera and really be in each place and take it all in – the sights, the sounds, the wind, the beauty of nature.  Although I didn’t have the responsibilities that Greg had on either the Mt. Minto expedition or Homeward Bound, I did see the extreme value of being right there every minute.  Thanks, Greg, for those words of advice (not meant to be advice necessarily, but I looked at them as so).

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(photo by Kess Broekman-Dattner)

This is a wonderful article and video from Australian Geographic.  Much of it comes from an interview in 2013, but it was reprinted in 2016.  I do hope you’ll take the time to learn more about this remarkable man.

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/adventure/2016/03/profile-greg-mortimer

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(photo by Dyan DeNapoli)

Thank you, Greg…you made this journey special.  I valued your leadership, friendship, calmness, kindness, humor, and knowledge that blended seamlessly to make this trip something truly magical.

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(photo by Tina Schroeder))

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