Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • olyclimber

      WELCOME TO THE CASCADECLIMBERS.COM FORUMS   02/03/18

      We have upgraded to new forum software as of late last year, and it makes everything here so much better!  It is now much easier to do pretty much anything, including write Trip Reports, sell gear, schedule climbing related events, and more. There is a new reputation system that allows for positive contributors to be recognized,  it is possible to tag content with identifiers, drag and drop in images, and it is much easier to embed multimedia content from Youtube, Vimeo, and more.  In all, the site is much more user friendly, bug free, and feature rich!   Whether you're a new user or a grizzled cascadeclimbers.com veteran, we think you'll love the new forums. Enjoy!
Sign in to follow this  
genepires

"stop telling ourselves lies about the risk"

Recommended Posts

I've gotten to the acceptance stage. I accept that climbing may kill, or gravely injure me...but the benefits out weigh the risks. I do what I can to make it as safe as possible using all the usual common sense tricks...and then I just climb. Don't overthink it, go climbing, nobody gets out alive anyway.

A year or so ago there was a great letter in Alpinist written by the sister of a man who died in the Alaska Range. The gist of the letter was that two grown men with children went climbing in the Alaska Range and died - leaving 4 kids behind without fathers. Her take was their actions were utterly selfish and unreasonable - and to pretend that climbing is positive and healthy when the risk of death is so high is unrealistic. It was a very emotional letter & one that makes you question the notion of climbing as "positive and healthy".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few months, specifically in relation to ice climbing. I have read this topic with interest, but also with some surprise about what I see as some pretty cavalier attitudes. In the last few months I've tried to read every study I can about the actual, quantifiable risk of ice climbing. While I see the statistics - i.e. the meta study cited by tvashtarkatena - I can't square them with my own experiences.

 

I am willing to accept that my own experience is only anecdotal, but then I see other people on the board, g-spotter and others, who have a similar experience with fatalities. Why is it that so many of us have personal experience that is several standard deviations away from the mean? Is it that a huge number of casual participants exist that skew the overall picture? I have a hard time believing this to be the case, because then we would all have to be part of some elite section of climbers whose experience is unique. I know for sure that I am nothing special.

 

I imagine that even within the confines of the NFL, very few players have a list of teammates and friends who died playing football. If football players were regularly on TV talking about how even 10% of their teammates had died playing football, there would be a national outcry. Yet climbers cite it all the time - google it - Gadd talks about it, Twight talked about it, et. And it isn't limited to "pro" climbers, we talk about it here.

 

My personal feeling is that the lies we tell ourselves are far, far too prevalent. I would never encourage a single person to give up or limit their climbing because of accepted risk, but I hate to think that people are blindly heading out into the hills with serious misconceptions of what risks they are taking. And worse, has my passion for the outdoors, taught and spread by me, not been sufficiently disclaimed so that others can make clear-eyed choices about what they are doing?

 

Thanks to cc.com for providing this board and to you all for sharing your experiences.

 

Matt Kelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What people said about the experts knowing more people who die just seems incredibly true.

 

the only pretending going on is speaking of climbing in a general sense as if it is all equal. comparing alaska range adventures to sport climbing at smith rock is apples and oranges. You can't speak in generalities about 'climbing is positive and healthy' when climbing can entail everything from TR'ing indoors, southside hood to something alex honold or colin are doing. The subjective opinion about positive and healthy certainly can be held across all spectrum of climbing levels, but the risk sure isn't uniform.

 

you can do some pretty basic relatively lower risk climbing and get a good feeling of positivity, health, and renewal out of it, that is not unrealistic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I imagine that even within the confines of the NFL, very few players have a list of teammates and friends who died playing football. If football players were regularly on TV talking about how even 10% of their teammates had died playing football...

I suspect the better analogy with regard to NFL players, and boxers - particularly in the context of lying to themselves - would be the possibility for permanent brain injuries...

 

[ P.S. love the banner ad for studying mortuary science at some edu that was just up above this thread... ]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What people said about the experts knowing more people who die just seems incredibly true.

 

the only pretending going on is speaking of climbing in a general sense as if it is all equal. comparing alaska range adventures to sport climbing at smith rock is apples and oranges. You can't speak in generalities about 'climbing is positive and healthy' when climbing can entail everything from TR'ing indoors, southside hood to something alex honold or colin are doing. The subjective opinion about positive and healthy certainly can be held across all spectrum of climbing levels, but the risk sure isn't uniform.

 

you can do some pretty basic relatively lower risk climbing and get a good feeling of positivity, health, and renewal out of it, that is not unrealistic.

 

my two episodes that came closest to death involved altitude illness on Aconchossua and setting up a TR. Setting up the TR was by far the closest I came to death. Believe what you want about certain activities being safer than other but I don't believe it. Statistically, a slight risk taken 1000's of times is more dangerous than a moderate risk taken once.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What's more dangerous, skiing or climbing?

 

seems like skiing's way more likely to leave you w/ a social disease :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Believe what you want about certain activities being safer than other but I don't believe it. Statistically, a slight risk taken 1000's of times is more dangerous than a moderate risk taken once.

I certainly believe frequency of risk exposure plays into it all, but my take on it after thirty eight years is still that the predominant driver and divide is subjective vs. objective risk and that is the real gulf between rock climbing and alpine / mountain climbing. I know of far and away more experienced climbers who have died in the mountains than on rock.

 

Almost all the deaths on rock were due to some form of pilot error doing something they'd done thousands of times and, while that does speak to the 'frequency of risk exposure' argument, they were all subjective risks. The mountain deaths on the other hand were almost all related to objective hazards beyond their control beyond them simply making other judgment calls to not be where they were when bad [objective] circumstances descended up on them.

 

I would also say on the subjective side (rock climbing) that 'risk context' plays heavily into the picture - i.e. when Alex Hounold free solos, he does so in a 'risk context' that is highly constrained by both the level of his skills and the depth of his experience - sure he's gambling, but he is extremely familiar with the odds. It is simply much harder, if not impossible, to 'constrain' the objective hazards on a mountain - i.e. you can't control the mountain, you can only gamble on it's behavior.

 

It's also telling that top-tier alpine climbers are injured and die at a far higher rate than do top-tier rock climbers. For me it boils down to what I'm betting on - am I betting on myself (as subjective a hazard as they get), or on how what I'm climbing is going to behave (objective hazards - low on rock, high on mountains). I climbed Glenwood Falls in '76 and three days later it was laying across I-70 spilling into the Colorado River; at the time I was on it I had no idea that was even part of the bet.

 

So I'm still thinking it's a lot easier and more common to 'fool' yourself into believing you'll get away with a dubious bet in alpine versus rock settings.

 

P.S. Can't argue with Ivan on that one...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that this is one of the best threads in a long time. One thing that hasn't come up yet (I don't think) is that mountain sports are rife with negative reinforcement: we run under an ice cliff to get to the other side and don't die. We run under another ice cliff and don't die and before long we convince ourselves that running under ice cliffs is ok if "you know what you're doing". It's not. I only know 3 people who died while climbing but am fairly familiar with the details of all three accidents. In all three cases, they were doing what they'd done many times before and all three were convinced that they "knew what they were doing". I agree with Will, if you underestimate the risks inherent to climbing, you're only fooling yourself.

 

On the flip side, statistics suggest that you should stay at home, eat high fiber foods, not drink, smoke or eat cake, and exercise a little but not too much. Oh and stay away from power lines, nuclear power plants, volcanoes and tall trees during wind storms. Pretty boring. We all choose the risks we take. I choose to climb, drink in moderation, drive wearing a seat belt and occasionally eat cake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I only know 3 people who died while climbing but am fairly familiar with the details of all three accidents.

Curious whether they were they on rock or on a mountain...?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I only know 3 people who died while climbing but am fairly familiar with the details of all three accidents.

Curious whether they were they on rock or on a mountain...?

 

One was a highly respected professional ski mountaineering guide, he slid off a cliff, one was a climber/scrambler, unroped who fell off a typical chossy Cascade peak, the third rapped off the end of a rope. All three were totally preventable. It doesn't matter what they were doing that got them dead, it's that they were all completely convinced that they had minimized the risk as much as possible. And unfortunately, they were probably right.

Edited by mughjie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Leavenworth Alpine Guides: original professional staff, 1980's.

 

Roll-call:

 

DECEASED or woefully injured:

 

Dave Stutzman....one of the best, and one of the most dedicated alpinists I've ever met. Perished off-season in an avalanche in a ski area in Montana.

 

Karl Schneider: traded in a comfortable corporate life to pursue climbing. Avalanche on a peak in Peru.

 

Jeff Splitgerber: flew off a peak and was the first North American paraglider fatality.

 

Bob Nelson: struck by a rock and took a mighty tumble down Mt. Goode.

 

Katie Kimbell: a very talented climber who was terribly injured in rock fall? that nearly tore her leg off, but survived, and to the best of my knowledge, is alive and well.

 

Survived The Experience Relatively Intact:

 

Jim Donini: owner and inspirational figurehead of Leavenworth Alpine Guides....and still one of the most bad-ass climbers of all time.

 

Alison Osius: one of the most motivated climbers ever, who has shared her literary insights with the climbing world for at least a couple decades now.

 

Don Ryan, who used to thrive on free-soloing, took some hard ground-falls, and toned it down quite a bit.

 

Yup.....and those dead guys can be added to the other 20 or so friends that have been killed climbing over the last few decades. Why am I still alive?....I think it's because although I once was a total fanatic, I really did tone it down quite a bit and I'm more calculating and contemplative....and also more successful as a result.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I only know 3 people who died while climbing but am fairly familiar with the details of all three accidents.

Curious whether they were they on rock or on a mountain...?

One was a highly respected professional ski mountaineering guide, he slid off a cliff, one was a climber/scrambler, unroped who fell off a typical chossy Cascade peak, the third rapped off the end of a rope. All three were totally preventable. It doesn't matter what they were doing that got them dead, it's that they were all completely convinced that they had minimized the risk as much as possible. And unfortunately, they were probably right.

Sounds like two due to misjudging objective hazards and one to a subjective mistake. Always a bummer however it happens.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Local climbers who died recently just from cornices...

Joe Puryear, Monika Johnson, and Joseph Bohlig

 

Be ever vigilant!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I know 10 people that have died in the mountains. 8 skiing, 2 climbing.

 

My list is all climbers. Were your lost skiing friends all in the backcountry? It wouldn't at all surprise me if the stats for that game were pretty similar to climbing.

 

Does a heart attack while giving a climbing slideshow in your living room count as a climbing related death?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have never lost a friend in the backcountry or anywhere in the mountains. Chalk it up to consciousnesses partners and luck. I know it will happen, however. There sure are tons of objectives hazards out there that we can not control.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I have never lost a friend in the backcountry or anywhere in the mountains.

 

Me neither but that's just because I don't have any friends.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was a joke. A bad one apparantly. Wish I could say I'd never lost any friends or aquaintances in the mountains.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

sole fatality i've seen out there in a decade is an old-codger w/ rmi dropping deed on the disappointment cleaver - shoulda died meself at least twice in that time, once alpine, once big-wall'n - long as i don't die of pneumonia or boredom...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good thread and an interesting article. A few thoughts:

 

I agree with JH that risks can be divided into external/objective ones (e.g. avalanche, rockfall) and internal/subjective) ones (immediate human error). I stick to rock climbing because I believe it contains far fewer objective risks than ice or alpine climbing.

 

But as some have said, managing risk and overcoming fear are integral to the climbing experience.

 

The Climber 9-1-1 article has a section on risk management that was interesting to research and you might find worth reading. http://mountaineers.org/NWMJ/10/101_Rescue2.html

 

Part of the message is that the perception and management of risk goes far beyond climbing. It is part of the human condition.

 

For better or worse, the vast majority of humans, regardless of political inclincations and educational achievements, make decisions first and then seek evidence to rationalize and justify these decisions.

 

Add to this the fact that almost everyone overestimates their own abilities and you have a recipe for bad decisions.

 

There is no one-size-fits all answer. We each must choose our own path and live or die with the consequences. I just hope you all make your choices with your eyes wide open.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Good thread and an interesting article. A few thoughts:

 

I agree with JH that risks can be divided into external/objective ones (e.g. avalanche, rockfall) and internal/subjective) ones (immediate human error). I stick to rock climbing because I believe it contains far fewer objective risks than ice or alpine climbing.

 

Although I still do alpine climbing, I very much agree; I've lost 14 friends who died climbing. Of those, just two died rock climbing, both while on rappel. One rappelled off the end of his rope during a nighttime rescue on El Cap, and another whose harness failed during the descent on Leaning Tower, also in Yosemite. Both of these can be directly attributed to human error, the one for failing to knot the end of the rope, the other for neglecting to replace a badly worn harness.

 

All the rest died alpine climbing on "big" mountains: Rainier, Kanchenjunga, Alaska Range, Andes, etc. , except for one who died descending an uncharted river on the trip out from a climb in the Andes. They had elected to foregoe the mule trip out, and wound up going over an 800 foot waterfall. That one could also be at least partially attributed to human error, for risking descent of an unknown river on a spur of the moment decision.

 

Also interesting is the fact that of all those who perished on large peaks, all but two (killed by massive rockfall during an ascent of Curtis Ridge on Rainier) died during the descent, which sadly holds true to many years of statistics kept by AAC's "Accidents in American Mountaineering". So two basic principles here: big mountains are dangerous, and descending is dangerous. And descending big mountains the more so.

 

And, of the personal close calls I've had so far, all but one occurred on big peaks and involved objective hazards such as weather, rock- or ice fall, crevasses and avalanche. So I think there's definitely something to the rock vs. alpine comparison of risk.

Edited by Mtguide

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this  

×