Monday, July 30, 2012

Mountain Safety: Possibilities

Bergfuhrer and mentor Howie emphasizes acknowledgement of the possibilites.   Delusion is counter-productive, to say the least.  Accept the possibilites and hope for the best, Howie will say.  Embrace the most appealing possibilities, but keep one's mind open to all that is possible.  "What may happen?"  "What am I capable of?"  "What could I be capable of?"  

Those of us who go to the mountains accept a certain amount of risk.  We try our best to be as safe as our mothers expect us to be.  However, we cannot hide the fact that death is a possibility.  We must accept that.  Serious injury is also a possibility.  Often, an euphoric neophyte's first sobering revelation in the mountains is the idea that "wow, it can happen to me!"  The best mountain travelers will permanently incorporate that truth early into their decision-making and proceed all the better for it.  Reward need not be reduced because, in this case, perceived risk has been elevated.  To the contrary, accepting this truth and honoring it's potential consequences can only lengthen one's career of enjoying the mountains.  

Additionally, with regards to risk management in the mountains, one must immerse themselves in a study of what level of safety is possible.  Risk and safety are not absolutes.  How safe is it actually possible to be?  What skill and equipment is actually out there to protect me?  Am I doing what I do because it is actually the safest way to reap this given reward? Or am I under-informed and under-trained for managing the risk of this given objective?  It could be argued that many people climbing in the High Sierra (and elsewhere, I am sure) are taking on risks simply out of ignorance of the tools available to mitigate that risk.  Perfectly reasonable, intelligent people, motivated by inspiring alpine climbs, are taking off doing "the best they can" to eliminate unnecessary risk.  Is their (your? my? our?) best actually the best?  That is the question.  What level of risk-mitigation is possible?  

These questions, and the study of how alpine climbers choose to answer them, are on my mind.  We do the best we can, of course.  And our best is constantly improving.  As Maya Angelou said "I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better."  I would like to simply propose that we can do better by knowing just how much better it is possible to be.  As for learning how much better it is possible to be, stay tuned...

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