Skip to content

Agility: A Journey not a Destination

After the Lean-Agile DC conference, Sanjiv Augustine and Bob Payne and I sat around discussing the future of agility. one of the topics we talked about was that agility was not a transformation, but a transforming journey. In thinking about this we discussed the fitness landscape concept from complex systems and how to get across the idea of a landscape rather than a peak destination.

Thinking back to my mountaineering days, I remembered one of my most memorable trips—the Ptarmigan Traverse (PT)—called by Outside magazine “The Country’s Most Beautiful Mountaineering Route.” The PT is the most vivid of my memories about the satisfaction of a journey. Hopefully your journey from agile to agility has a few beautiful traverses also.

For utterly spectacular pictures see the Outside magazine story Details about my PT follow.

Jim in back

I did the Ptarmigan (PT) in 1989 with four other climbers and a guide. It was a glorious trip. Other than the approach trail on the first day (and on the last) we didn’t see another person the whole week. The PT was about 35 miles long and gained 11,000 ft. in elevation, not counting the peaks climbed which added a couple of thousand more. We took 6 days to complete it.

The first leg of the journey used the Cascade Pass trail, a 2.7 mile, 30 switchbacks, 1,800 ft. gain endeavor to get warmed up—with heavy backpacks including climbing gear, tents, food, etc. for the 6-day trip! The scenery from the top of Cascade Pass was magnificent, but we had a way to go up to Cache Col where we camped the first night.

From camp at Cache Col, we descended to Kool-Aid Lake where the mountains around us looked impassable—which is often the case in the rugged North Cascades. But on the PT, there’s always a way to sneak through. Here, the route follows the Red Ledge (very narrow), a broad angling ramp, around a spur, then on to Yang-Yang lakes where we camped the second night. The terrain around the lakes was drop dead gorgeous.

There was a steep glacier climb out of the lakes where a misstep would result in a serious slide. We did rope up for this part of the climb and learned a later trip had to take an alternate route because the snow filling in the crevasses on our trip had melted and there wasn’t a safe route through.
From here my memory fades. More up and down, climbed a few peaks, until reaching a small lake and tundra where we camped for the last night. It had been a shorter day, so we got a chance to relax. This was an area we learned was famous for Sasquatch sightings. It was a beautiful day and evening so most of us decided to forgo tents.

The hike out was a real slog, down a poor trail, often bushwhacking, through a bushy area where we met three anglers, the first other people we had seen since Cascade Pass.