Everything we do in life has some level of risk of injury or death. Each person assess the level of risk involved in doing a particular task and weighs it against what is to be gained. Risk verses reward. Climbing and skiing come with inherent risk. Weather, avalanches, rock fall, loose rock or long run outs with poor protection all threaten to ruin your day. It’s your ability to assess the many changing variables, including your fitness level and headspace that can lead to either a great day in the mountains or total disaster. Throw in a partner who has a different level of skill, experience, fitness and desire and you have a very complex situation. And of course there’s intuition. Those “bad feelings” you get that need to be either honored or squashed.
After the recent deaths of my good friend Allison Kreutzen and her boyfriend Kip Garre, I found myself having to explain why someone would do something as dangerous as attempting to climb and ski Split Mountains Northeast Couloir. First of all, Allison and Kip were extremely skilled and experienced mountaineers and were well within their ability. Second, it was a very important goal of theirs to ski another fourteen thousand foot peak. For Kip and Allison it was an acceptable risk.
We live in such a privileged society that we have the time and resources to perfect our given sports to the point where we can risk our life for fun, fame, ego and personal satisfaction. As a man approaching fifty with a family of four, mortgage and a career, what I view as an acceptable risk has changed over the years. That doesn’t mean that I quit climbing (I tried to several times) or backcountry skiing, I just modified my program to manage the risk, and still have rewarding mountain experiences. I no longer free solo, climb ice or Cutler sandstone. I’m also down to just a few trusted partners. Although it’s extremely hard sometimes, I try not to judge others about what they deem to be an acceptable risk. It’s their choice.
A truly dangerous situation for me is to listen to my ego and think that I’m still the climber I was ten to fifteen years ago. While I may have the fitness and experience to pull off a big day in the mountains, I don’t have the time, dedication, or even the desire to climb at a high standard. With all I have going on in life, I find it difficult to get my mind focused on doing hard routes. That obsession has been lifted. I worry about being too cautious to climb fast enough to avoid a building thunderstorm. I don’t want to be in such hurry to get back home or to work the next day to not back up that shitty rap anchor. I don’t want to rely on my memory and think a given pitch will feel as easy as it did back in the day. Some of my old partners stopped calling, and I pass on a lot of invitations to go climbing. My success as a climber and skier has always been about being on the right route, with the right partner, on the right day. The enjoyment and satisfaction I get from climbing these days has nothing to do with the route’s grade, danger, or the hard man points to be gained. That’s my choice.
But let’s say instead of climbing and skiing my passion was being a cop (I know, that’s a pretty extreme stretch). Early in my career I would want to work in the city where the action was, gunfights and high-speed chases every night and day. Later, having had a few close calls and nothing left to prove, I could move my family out to the country and maybe take that desk job as chief of police. I would still love being a cop, and might even see a little action now and then, but my chances of being around to see my kids grow up would be much greater. Risk verses reward.
Recently, I’ve been taking my kids to the local skate park and started skating again myself. I had my old JFA deck tuned up and bought a shit load of pads and a new helmet. The muscle memory came back pretty quick, but I’m still asking myself if skateboarding is an acceptable risk.
(Photo: Positive Vibrations 2000 by Hans)