“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”
– Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst The Alps
In the editorial to the March 13 copy of Climber magazine, the editor, David Pickford, discusses risk and the role that luck and experience play in it.
Having had two wobbles last week, the article struck a chord.
The first was downclimbing a five metre pitch on Liatach. I hadn’t seen the water ice between the semolina snow and the sandstone. I hadn’t opted to use the rope. I found myself too close for comfort half way down a five metre drop on to a very very narrow arête, which, due to gravity, velocity and topography would probably have led to a fall in excess of 1500 feet off Liatach. My climbing partner that day had downclimbed very easily a metre or so left of my chosen route.
The second was stood beneath one of the pillars on An Teallach. Faced with a move up and on to the pillar, I spent twenty minutes shuffling around on my front points trying to find an “easier” route on to the rock. This search led me further and further along an ever-narrowing rib of frozen turf at the top of another dead-if-you-fall-off corrie head wall. This time I tied in, followed the crampon scratches off the top off an isolated block, swore at how easy the move was once on it (always the way), and turned up and right in to a beautiful deep frozen grade one gully.
“The natural process of becoming a more calculated risk-taker with time is explained by the analogy of two jars: one which is labelled “luck” and the other “experience”. When we start out doing a risky sport like climbing , our luck jar is full and our experience jar is empty. As we progress, the luck jar gradually empties, filling up by the experience jar as it does. Due to the law of total probability, as your experience of a risky activity increases, so does your exposure to its risks. You might get better at judging them, but they get a lot more likely of getting the better of you”
– David Pickford, Climb, March 2013
The current edition of Climb (March 13) is subtitled “the risk issue – glances in dangers mirror”, the articles therein will be of interest to anybody (including non-climbers), that consciously chooses to push their own envelope.
“Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous” – Reinhold Messner