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glassgowkiss

Applauding risk acceptance beyond your own limits

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I've been having good conversations with friends and partners this winter about the difference between risk tolerance and risk awareness.  Some people I know recognize the risks and hazards accurately and are ok putting themselves into situations that I would not be ok with.  Other people I know will go into the same situations never even knowing they are at risk.  My conversations have been in the context of avalanche hazard while backcountry skiing but it applies to alpine climbing/mountaineering as well and the conversations have been positive.

I'd rather have a partner with a high risk tolerance and enough experience to recognize the risk than a partner that will charge into less risky situations thinking it's just as dangerous as walking down the sidewalk.  It's easier to have conversation about mutual risk acceptance with someone who can see the hazard even if they are willing to tolerate higher risk.

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I started paragliding in Fall of 2016. You learn very quickly, that when shit goes sideways, it goes fast, and there is no pausing for a second. Hence as a complete newb I was told by a very experienced pilot: "Your bag of experience is empty, your bag of luck is full. The trick is not to use your luck, while getting your experience". Hence I fly a slow, stable paraglider (ENA), I don't take off if there is more then 5mph wind speed difference in 3 minutes, I don't fly when wind is crossed on takeoff more then 15 deg, and in general I will not take off unless I know I will have a safe flight. I have walked off launches a few times, and I am glad I did. 

Accidents will happen, climbing, paragliding, heck- I broke my ankle in November in a bouldering, padded gym. However I have noticed paragliders have much better safety culture. They have accident reporting. Plus I think they have much better mentorship culture. As a few pilot I was corrected on several occasions- see something say something is a norm. But in general pargliding is also regulated and formal. You actually have to take a course, pass exam, fly under a supervision of instructor. To become paragliding instructor you need to jump through a lot of hoops. 

 

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You know what, it's OK to acknowledge that you are sad when your friend is dead, no matter what behaviours they exhibited when alive. 100% of life still ends in death.

some people post tributes to lost friends. bob posts long PMs telling people that their dead friends were somehow unworthy. both are coping mechanisms.

i'll still be sad when bob dies.

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I have to say, I thought at the time that that JBerg ascent was a shitty idea.  Still do.  Too much objective hazard.  Who am I to judge, though?  They wanted to go that way and they did.  

Friends and family get to deal with the grief.

I think more and more these days that participants in "Adventure Sports" are self-serving and often selfish thrill seekers, myself included, who rationalize what they do in whatever way makes them feel best, damn anyone else.  Die doing something dangerous and the rest of the adherents hold you up as "ballsy" or whatever.  No grieving parent wants to hear how ballsy their child was, no grieving partner can heal their broken heart and try to put their life back together knowing how sick your ascents were. 

I don't buy the "died doing what they loved" BS, either.  See above.  I'd rather die of a heart attack in my sleep than crushed and broken in terror. 

I read the Gadd article Bob posted, and I get it.  The Reaper stands behind us all, waiting.  Should I give him extra reasons to tap me on the shoulder? Not so sure these days, as the beard gets grey.  

My worthless $0.02.

 

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11 minutes ago, Choada_Boy said:

I have to say, I thought at the time that that JBerg ascent was a shitty idea.  Still do.  Too much objective hazard.  Who am I to judge, though?  They wanted to go that way and they did.  

You are the person who has judged, I guess. It might be more accurate to say "Too much objective hazard for me".

I would much rather be dependent on my speed and skills to get through that threatened slab section on Jberg than be stuck under a clusterfuck of bumblers knocking shit (and themselves) down on me on the Cleaver or below the Pearly Gates. Similarly, I fret less climbing up the Haystack Gully in thin, difficult ice conditions in winter than I do in summer when the hordes are sketching about above me.

Only two people fully understand the risk on the Jberg route. Both measured it against their abilities and chose to proceed. To this day anyone else passing judgement on it is doing so with incomplete info. It's no different than big-mouth Krakauer writing a book about the 96 Everest disaster from the perspective of someone at sea level- the frame of metrics is just wrong. I've been in situations where I needed something from the lid of my pack and, as Beck Weathers said about his gloves, it might as well have been on the moon. "He should have just stopped and put on gloves" might make 100% sense at sea level, but at 28,000 feet or, as was my case, in 100+ MPH wind, it's nonsense.

Thousands of people a year spend about the same amount of time under the Ingraham Icefall, where Peter Whitaker and team nearly got the chop, as we spent on those slabs. There is a trench-path below the icefall and with it comes a false sense of security.

That said, Jens' (Klubberud, not Holsten) description in the TR he posted is more dramatic than I recall and than what I wrote for my TR and the AAJ article.

My Dad came home from work in April of 2000, went for a run like he did almost every day, and then fell over dead at the kitchen sink from a heart attack. He didn't even have time to turn off the water or call out to my Mom, who was asleep one room away. Another friend had both his parents killed and his wife and newborn kid severely injured by a drunk driver as they stood at a crosswalk in Seattle. The only guarantee in life is death. In the mean time, I try to make conscious, reasoned, internally-referenced choices and refrain from judging the risks other take.

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Loren, I didn't mean to tear the scabs off old wounds for you, I just thought the TR from that FA resonated well with this discussion. While it's true that none of us are getting out of here alive, and I personally lean in Choada's direction of not being in any hurry about it, the calculation about risk and reward with all the associated elements is deeply personal and I'm not inclined to second guess anyone's choices. I always liked this FA TR which is why it stuck in my head. I don't think we've ever met, but I had Jens K come climb in my yard and I was really impressed by his composure and level of calculation in onsighting difficult rock routes.

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It's a good discussion. Very good. I'm not at all suggesting otherwise. Just that it's very damn easy to armchair judge the risk choices of others without all the information and/or from the perspective on one's own abilities.

And I'm not immune from it- sure seems like maybe Dean Potter and Dan Osman had adrenaline habits that led to increasingly risky behavior with narrower and narrower margins for error.

If someone can go solo Astroman, which I couldn't aid up, all the power to them. It would be insane and too risky for me, and entirely within their abilities and risk margin. And in terms of the 'not being in a hurry to get out' thing you mentioned, I think it's helpful to evaluate one's motivations. If this kind of behavior becomes "need" and "have to" it's a pointer to an addiction that can easily overrule/cloud other aspects of risk evaluation.

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Sometimes I've wondered if part of drives people to relentlessly ratchet up the risk, or persist in an extremely high level of risk-taking well into their mid-thirties and beyond might be a consequence of a void elsewhere in their lives. The single-minded pursuit of anything that requires a super-high level of dedication and commitment can preclude participating in quite a few other activities that give life meaning, purpose, and direction.

I can imagine that if you aren't careful the domains of life outside of high-risk, high-commitment outdoor pursuits can atrophy to the point where an unhealthy amount of your identity, joy, and purpose come from activities that entail a significant amount of risk - and that's part of what keeps you on that path. 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, CascadeClimber said:

The only guarantee in life is death. In the mean time, I try to make conscious, reasoned, internally-referenced choices and refrain from judging the risks other take.

I've come to this conclusion as well @CascadeClimber.  Ironically, part of what got me there was watching @Jens and @Alex simul past me and my partner at breathtaking speed on the upper NE buttress on Slesse many years ago.  With the right skills, things that I consider insane can be casual.  It's somewhat a matter of perspective and ability.

 

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1 hour ago, CascadeClimber said:

You are the person who has judged, I guess. It might be more accurate to say "Too much objective hazard for me".

It states "objective", you can choose to ignore it. But if you climb for instance under active seracs, your skill has nothing to do with return in one piece- it's pure luck- nothing more, nothing less. 

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Another thing I've often wondered about is how people approach the question of what approach to take with their kids when it comes to high-risk outdoor activities.

I'm definitely trying to expose them to the natural world as much as possible, and there's a certain amount of risk involved in that, but there are a handful of activities that I've engaged in that I'll continue to participate in at some level, but not only won't encourage, but will quietly hope they never develop an interest in.

Alpine climbing and WW kayaking are at the top of the list. There are only so many "there but for the grace of God go I," moments you can experience before the universe's serene indifference to your existence, and the capacity for low-probability/high-mortality events to negate any level of skill, experience, or preparation make you question the wisdom of encouraging your kids to head down the same path that you've taken, no matter how much you've enjoyed it. 

Once they reach a certain age, if it becomes clear that they're hell bent on one or both no matter what I say I imagine I'll relent and do everything in my power to make sure they understand the risks they're taking and how to mitigate them, but I'll be quite content if it turns out they never develop an interest in either. 

 

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12 minutes ago, olyclimber said:

I imagine getting drunk could fit under denial. 

funny...i usually file it under acceptance :)

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11 minutes ago, JayB said:

One thing I've often wondered about is how people approach the question of what approach to take with their kids when it comes to high-risk outdoor activities.

I'm definitely trying to expose them to the natural world as much as possible, and there's a certain amount of risk involved in that, but there are a handful of activities that I've engaged in that I'll continue to participate in at some level, but not only won't encourage, but will quietly hope they never develop an interest in.

Alpine climbing and WW kayaking are at the top of the list. There are only so many "there but for the grace of God go I," moments you can experience before the universe's serene indifference to your existence, and the capacity for low-probability/high-mortality events to negate any level of skill, experience, or preparation make you question the wisdom of encouraging your kids to head down the same path that you've taken, no matter how much you've enjoyed it. 

Once they reach a certain age, if it becomes clear that they're hell bent on one or both no matter what I say I imagine I'll relent and do everything in my power to make sure they understand the risks they're taking and how to mitigate them, but I'll be quite content if it turns out they never develop an interest in either. 

 

this man's answer: hell no!  christ, i barely have confidence in my own ability to not get myself killed when i get distracted from something shiny - plus, i'd never hear the damn end of it from the wife if i croaked one of the kids... plus, holy shit, i thought you went to the woods to get AWAY from your city life :)

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Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, olyclimber said:

I imagine getting drunk could fit under denial. 

Interesting you mention drinking. I talked a couple of days ago with RN working in mental health. Funny thing: in some instances climbing could be classified as text book addiction. Somehow when someone drinks themselves to death or o.d. on heroine or fentanyl, you somehow don't usually hear that they died doing what they loved.  

Here is a short definition of addiction: "Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences."

Edited by glassgowkiss
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you also usually don't hear of climbing being classified as text book addiction though.   

the whole "died doing what they love" thing...well that i think depends on your outlook on life and death.  as has been pointed out several times in this thread already, life is fatal.  we all go, and most of us don't get to choose when or why.  "died doing what they love" is something not something that dead people say...its what the survivors say when they are trying to cope with the loss of a friend or a loved one. it just sounds better than the alternative.  it does seem a bit silly, but people cope how they can.

What will you do when the Risk Gestapo show up to take away your paragliding equipment because someone else deemed it too dangerous a sport?

 

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44 minutes ago, glassgowkiss said:

It states "objective", you can choose to ignore it. But if you climb for instance under active seracs, your skill has nothing to do with return in one piece- it's pure luck- nothing more, nothing less. 

Actually, I don't believe that's true. Time spent in areas of high objective danger is a key metric. I've soloed the North Face of Chair in less than 20 minutes and seen people take many hours on it. I accept one form of risk- that a technical error on my part will lead to a large fall, to reduce another form: Objective. Relative to Jberg, Jens and I free soloed the slabs in about 20 minutes. Roping up and pitching them out would have taken hours. As it turned out, that time difference would have been very critical. We had to skills to safely solo and the time we saved doing so likely saved us.

More recently, a slow guided group, including a friend of mine, on Liberty Ridge was forced to make camp on the ridge. They were all wiped out by avalanche during the night. More skilled climbers simul or free-soloing would have made Liberty Cap that day and not been on the ridge when the avalanche happened.

That isn't to say that the going fast in one place couldn't put you in the wrong place at the wrong time later.

If you've been up the DC you've climbed under active seracs. As mentioned, there's a people-trench there and most folks assume incorrectly that lots of people going somewhere means it's safe. I have always felt uncomfortable under that icefall and rest before entering the shooting gallery on the way up and routinely jog past it on the way down. Ignoring objective danger is a recipe for trouble. Making considered choices about it, even if they are contrary to what other people would do, is my preference.

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I'm curious, do you consider wind an "objective hazard" in your paragliding @glassgowkiss?  I understand you have sideboards as to when you'll take off, but it seems like it isn't totally within your control either.

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I find risk fascinating. It seems that humans are often irrational when it comes to risk assessment and risk management/mitigation.  I don't have formal training in this area, so others may have expert opinions to contribute that are more sophisticated than mine, but here are a few thoughts.

It seems that risk involves the following factors: 

A - inputs: intrinsic and extrinsic actions or non-actions. Intrinsic refers to our own actions or non-actions whereas extrinsic is everything outside us, including the actions and non-actions of other people as well as acts of nature and other non-human actions. Note that extrinsic inputs include both objective hazards like avalanches as well as other humans who may drop things on you or trigger avalanches above you).

B - Outcomes, good or bad.

C - Probabilities of outcomes given certain inputs.

Note that you can only affect A, and even then your direct control is limited to intrinsic actions/non-actions.

Risk assessment is about understanding the relationships between A, B, and C.

Risk mitigation/management is about changing certain inputs in an effort to achieve or avoid certain outcomes. Classically, the ways to deal with risk are to avoid, reduce, transfer, or accept it.

A few quick thoughts, each of which could be its own essay:

1 - There are risks, rewards, and consequences in everything we do. Social. Career. Financial. Physical. People rarely think about all of these.

2 - There is a continuum of consequences in many situations. Life is rarely as simple as fell/didn't fall. 

3 - Consequences can come from in-action just as easily as from action. 

4 - There may be time-dependent, delayed, or cumulative effects that complicate the ability to connect 1, 2, and 3 in a causal way.  For example, not exercising or smoking might have no discernible immediate health consequences, but their impact can be devastating if they become a pattern. Many people are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the long term consequences of the myriad of behaviors they perform.

5 - Skill, speed, experience, planning, gear, and strength can be inputs. Alex Honnold is far less likely to fall off 5.12 than me. 

6 - I find climbing interesting because it forces us to think about risks. The ability to rationally assess and manage/mitigate risks can benefit us in every facet of our lives. I hope my kids learn these skills in climbing or another facet of life.

I'm still learning, that's for sure.

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i highly recommend the book "the drunkard's walk" for reasons that are both immediately obvious and not

a history of the science of statistics and therefore generally a work on the subject of randomness in the universe, one of it's key observations is: humans are complete shit at figuring odds

risk management of course is not much more than measuring one's odds wisely and making decisions based on them

if the author is right then, we're doomed as a species to make dangerous decisions and suffer as a result when the drunkards walk puts us in front of a speeding mac-truck :)

truly, an enjoyable read, even when the math passed well above my head - dude teaches theoritical physics AND writes star trek episodes... https://www.amazon.com/Drunkards-Walk-Randomness-Rules-Lives/dp/0307275175 

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1 hour ago, olyclimber said:

you also usually don't hear of climbing being classified as text book addiction though. 

 

Not usually. However, one of the most open, honest, and complete books I've read about climbing is Jim Wickwire's, "Addicted to Danger".

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4 minutes ago, CascadeClimber said:

Not usually. However, one of the most open, honest, and complete books I've read about climbing is Jim Wickwire's, "Addicted to Danger".

climbers make up a tiny fraction of the population, and most climbers manage the addiction just fine, so that's hardly surprising

shit, i'm a fan of addictions - they're fun...until they're not...try to stay on the horse as long as you can, no?

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6 hours ago, JayB said:

Sometimes I've wondered if part of drives people to relentlessly ratchet up the risk, or persist in an extremely high level of risk-taking well into their mid-thirties and beyond might be a consequence of a void elsewhere in their lives. The single-minded pursuit of anything that requires a super-high level of dedication and commitment can preclude participating in quite a few other activities that give life meaning, purpose, and direction.

Not sure about the above but whilst in my early 30s I was finishing grad school. During my last year I climbed number of 5.11 R rated routes on a regular basis. Since then the number of R rated have been very few. I have attributed the head space to do those climbs to being highly focused on grad school which carried over to my climbing. 

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