/ Will Gadd's lecture made me think.

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puppythedog on 18 Nov 2012
I've posted this in Rocktalk but could have just as easily posted it in Alpine/Expedition/hilltalk/winterclimbing or any that was closely linked to those outdoor activities.

I was at Kendal this weekend (lucky me) and whilst there I attended Will Gadd's lecture about managing risk. I was thoroughly moved by the opening ten minutes when Will highlights a list of friends that have died out in the mountains or other activities he engages in. He then speaks about being truthful with ourselves that what we do is risky, that we can make comments about risk of different activities such as driving a car but that really that's Bu115hit, his mates didn't die driving a car.

Will then talked about why take the risks then, and how to manage it as best as possible.


For some reason this experience at Kendal really resonated, I've recently bought myself some stuff to start to play in the Winter arena and maybe the Alps. I climb when I can and sometimes run it out and sometimes I don't. I have often told MrsTheDog not to worry, that I'm a safe person but felt the need to acknowledge that although I manage my risk as well as I can there is always the chance that things could go awry, that I could get injured or conceivably worse.


I'm posting because I wonder if anyone else was at the lecture, if they were did it hit a nerve with them.
I also wonder how people consider risk, has this changed throughout your climbing/walking etc careers, how do you justify what you do?
highclimber - on 18 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: sounds fairly obvious to me - take part in a risky sport and ignore the risks at your peril. I know the risks I take but I think a lot of people to try to push the boundaries and sometimes too far.

I'm not saying Will's mates did just that but that the risks in climbing are innate and cannot be avoided, just managed but even that can't stop all the risks - Mont Maudit this year is a case in point
puppythedog on 18 Nov 2012
In reply to highclimber: Yes it was Mont Maudit that imediately flashed into my mind when I reflected upon having bought the winter gear. I'm not having a crisis of confidence in whether to climb or not but I am reflecting upon it.
I don't only risk my wellbeing/life etc but also the happiness of my wife. Seems reasonable to give that quite a lot of thought.
highclimber - on 18 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: you sound like a sensible guy to me. you can sometimes over analyse these things. I am sure Will Gadd was mainly talking to those that are a little bit, erm, wet behind the ears when it comes to assessing and managing risk.
puppythedog on 19 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Any other thoughts on the risks we take, how honest we are with ourselves and our loved ones?

I also think the lecture was mostly aimed at those with experience who become complacent in certain situations as well as Newbies.
Skyfall - on 19 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

> that we can make comments about risk of different activities such as driving a car but that really that's Bu115hit, his mates didn't die driving a car.

But it is true for me at least that more people I know have died in car crashes than climbing and I've been climbing for almost 20 years now (greater ranges, alps, winter, trad, sport etc). And more climbers I know have died from causes other than climbing.

> For some reason this experience at Kendal really resonated, I've recently bought myself some stuff to start to play in the Winter arena and maybe the Alps.

I agree that climbing is a lot about managing risk and that the nature of those risks change as you switch between climbing disciplines. However, I would try not to let that weigh too heavily on your thoughts. As you become more experienced in alpine and winter climbing, you do get very good at managing risk in my experience. My suggestion is to adopt a structured approach to learning the skills you need, and don't rush.
Skyfall - on 19 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

> Any other thoughts on the risks we take, how honest we are with ourselves and our loved ones?

I'm not sure it pays to be too expansive (note that I don't say honest) about risk with loved ones. I have always been honest about it when asked (so far as my knowledge allows me to be honest) but I don't harp on about it to unnecessarily worry people. Your loved ones probably aren't stupid.

I think it's still true that more serious accidents occur in sports such as horse riding and diving - so there are worse things you could be doing. Just don't take up soloing in any serious way - eventually it does become a numbers game (my personal honest opinion).

> I also think the lecture was mostly aimed at those with experience who become complacent in certain situations as well as Newbies.

In my experience someone who has come up through a trad background is probably more at risk when sports climbing as this is not what they normally do so it's not 2nd nature but is perceived as 'safe' and their natural risk assessment defences go down. Just an example.
Jim C - on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:
> (In reply to puppythedog) Any other thoughts on the risks we take, how honest we are with ourselves and our loved ones?
>
> I also think the lecture was mostly aimed at those with experience who become complacent in certain situations as well as Newbies.

Well said, I thought the last poster was being a bit patronising, intentional or not.

puppythedog on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Thanks for the comments. Where Alpine and Winter is concerned I will be careful to grow slowly and build experience. There are things without my control in that environment and maybe it's the sense of being less able to manage as many aspects of risk that cause me pause for thought.

I think also about the couple of times things have been a bit closer than I would prefer in my limited climbing experience. The time I wobbled up a route close to my limit and having been concentrating for the hour odd thta it took then having an attack of the Stupids at the top. I managed that by slowing down and being super careful but even still could have quite easily abseiled off the tails.

I'm comfortable with risk management in principle and have to do it in a different context in my work in mental health. Thanks for the comments I was curious about how other people feels about these risks and how they manage. the prevailing wind seems to be that 'yes it is risky, it is not as risky as other stuff and you learn to maaneg the risk.'

Skyfall - on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to Jim C:

I assume you meant me. Not intended to be patronising; those are my honest views on risk in climbing. I used to do a lot of winter/alpine climbing - not so much now - and I think I can look back at how it felt at the time and what it feels now in hindsight with some honesty (I do mostly trad and sports now). Yes, sometimes you ended up in situations you sudddenly felt exposed in and luck and a little bit of skill got me out of them unscathed. If I gave the impression that I climbed hard for 20 years and never took an unjustifiable risk or whatever, that wasn't my intention. On the whole I knowingly got into the situations I did but there were times you did suddenly feel you may have misjudged it but got away with it anyway. If you're going to climb, you will have moments like that almost inevitably, just hopefully not too many. Other sports do have a higher risk of serious injury in general, though clearly what level of risk depends to some extent on what you do in climbing and how hard and fast you push your boundaries. Everyone has to make their own assessment of risk and what they are prepared to accept. As to what you tell your family, that's entirely up to you and your knowledge of your family - but as I said people aren't stupid. What's the point in lying them and telling them there's no risk but equally what's the point in telling them sbout every time you run it out or magnify those feelings for them and worry them probably unnecessarily?

At least I took the time to set some thoughts out. What are your thoughts on risk in climbing then?
jkarran - on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

I'm not sure we're as good as we like to think we are at assessing risk, I honestly couldn't tell you what the 'riskiest' thing I do is.

jk
Al Evans on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Wasn't Will Gadd known as Gary Glitter in a different life?
puppythedog on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to Al Evans: The one that I saw was definitely not that fella :-)
Len - on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: I ride horses and climb. I have been riding since a small child but have only been climbing 4 years. Climbing feels more dangerous but that is because I am not so use to it and as I have been riding since a child the danger has always just been accepted, but I do often wonder which is actually more dangerous.
puppythedog on 20 Nov 2012
In reply to Len: I'm as interested in the idea that you do not consider the danger each time you ride your horse in a specific way. You have routines (I assume) designed to minimise possible danger and you are able to react to stuff. Do you think about the risk much?
Len - on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: When riding I do not consciously think about the risk at all, but as you said I was taught from a young age to do things in a certain way and when I first started climbing I was surprised that the same sort of rules ( for want of a better word) did not apply. An example might be always wearing hard hat and the correct foot wear when riding, never approaching a horse from behind. But the difference is probably that having always been around horses all my life and with friends who also all ride the risk is considered part of every day life rather than an additional risk. My experience is that falling off horses is something everyone does, you may be fine, you may break a bone and if very unlucky you may die. I think maybe i consider risk more climbing as I do not have enough experience to feel I can handle the unexpected
Al Randall on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Hi James. I've had this conversation on here before. The number of people who I know who have died climbing runs into double figures but I don't know anyone who has been killed in a road accident so I'm not sure what value the statistics are. I know far more none climbers than climbers so in my book that skues the figures even more. I have also experienced a few serious incidents both directly and indirectly so I would be lying if I said I didn't think climbing was dangerous. Having said all that it is less dangerous than it was and can be dependent on your ambitions. There is a scale of danger that goes like this. Indoor climbing, sport climbing, trad climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, winter alpine climbing, climbing in the greater ranges. This of course assumes a certain level of competence in the relevant disciplines and there are of course exceptions to this very generalised rule.

Al
Al Evans on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to Al Randall: I actually knew two climbers, who both soloed and were considered somewhat risky climbers, Al Harris and Dave Banks, who were killed in road accidents, I am sure there are many more, I just off the top can think of a couple more still with us but seriously injured in road accidents, Hugh Banner, not still with us but he lost his leg in a road accident, there are others.
Yes I know more who died climbing, but climbing is a sport with obvious risks, so is driving and crossing the road, but climbing is that much safer because people who undertake it know the risks and accept them and seek to negate them. Somebody crossing the road who gets knocked down and killed often either hasn't considered the risk or is just very unlucky, as are a lot of climbers involved in accidents.
Al Randall on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to Al Evans: Let's be honest, there was a certain inevitability with Al Harris don't you think? His driving was interesting to say the least. I agree to a point. You feel safe in a car because you are cocooned and strapped in, climbing is far more overtly dangerous so you tend to be more cautious. I suppose the unforseen is exactly that and that is why accidents are called accidents.

Al
puppythedog on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Thanks for the responses.
Al - I think it is that order that got me spooked now that I'm moving on to ICe, Winter then Alp :-)

You pays your money you takes your chances :-)
andyb211 - on 21 Nov 2012
Somebody crossing the road who gets knocked down and killed often either hasn't considered the risk or is just very unlucky

And more than likely not looked both ways!

Misha - on 21 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:
Wouldn't be as fun without the risks!
cousin nick - on 22 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

I go hillwalking/mountaineering/climbing plus MTBing, seakayaking and diving. Each of these activities goes in and out of phase depending on season and/or inclination. They all carry a level of risk.
I recently turned 50 (celebrating with a week in the Jebel Sirwa region of Morocco) but to get back to the point....

My analysis of 'risk' has definitely changed with age. Back in my 20's I was invincible! Young, very fit and a body that could take a pounding yet still recover, led me to think I could attempt anything and get away with it.
Time, experience and the loss/injury of dear friends who were as 'invincible' as I, changes that. So too does the incidental involvement in other people's accidents: The guy that broke his ankle in front of us descending from Harrison Stickle, or the one who's shoulder was smashed by a falling ice block on Great End,, the woman that went overboard from her yacht that I failed to resucitate.
These and other events all impinge on the way I look at what I do, with the result that I probably don't push things, or take the type of risks that were acceptable to me in my 20's.

I don't solo climb anymore, though I'm perfectly happy, and look forward to, long days on my own in remote hills. I'm very happy to dive solo (kit config has total redundancy) and most of my paddling has always been alone, all with continuous assessment of risk before and during the activities.
I suppose all this is summarised by one word - experience. Its the long term experience of conducting a particular acivity, and immersion in it, that exposes you to (the very real) risks, which you then incorporate into how you do things.
Hope that makes sense.

N
Erstwhile on 22 Nov 2012
In reply to Al Evans:
> I actually knew two climbers, who both soloed and were considered somewhat risky climbers, ... who were killed in road accidents, I am sure there are many more,

Add Robero Bassi (a bonkers driver and Sarca Valley climbing guru of the 1980s) and as you say, loads more.

However, it seems to me that a whole dimension of risk taking is missing from this discussion. When I was a young lad I was attracted to dangerous routes like a moth to a candle. I had pretty well accepted that I wouldn't get old.
I then had a daughter (fortunately nature sometimes steps in) and my perception of risk inverted completely. I didn't want to leave my child without a father, and I saw some sort of reason for living.
Now my daughter has grown up and I spent last summer with my father who was dying of lung cancer. Suddenly dying in an avalanche didn't seem so bad again (I lost a friend in the Mont Maudit accident the same year, so it came to mind).
In simple words, some people perceive "normal life" as a crappy pathetic tedious farce (ending in death, which is always rather squalid). Climbing, on the other hand, is really exciting.
In this mind-frame, the only sad thing about dying when climbing is not being able to go climbing any more.
Now before anyone gets hot under the collar, I am not ADVOCATING the above, just reporting one case which I believe was very common for my generation and I suspect always.
The same logic I guess applies to most (seriously) dangerous sports, and indeed to the widespread sport of drinking yourself to death (and how many climbers end up doing that ....? I know plenty).
Gambling everything for nothing surely implies that everything is perceived as worth nothing.

boje on 23 Nov 2012
In reply to Al Randall:
To both Als - this reminds me of a story. In the early eighties we used to ski weekends at Mt Baker in Washington State and of course the road up the mountain was busy on Saturday morning. You could make it a hair-raising journey by being pushy and maybe overtaking six cars on the twenty mile trip - or you could relax, put on a tape and be content with your place in the line. The latter was always my choice.
One day I was with Geoff Upton, one of Al Harris's best mates and a notoriously impatient driver himself. He continuously urged me to overtake and stop being a wimp, but I ignored him and just turned up the volume on Meat Loaf.
Eventually Geoff leans over and says " Harris didn't get where he is today by driving like you !"
paul mitchell - on 25 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog: Risk is greater when not seen as such,being blase.
Many more mistakes are made when we are tired or distracted,such as not tying our harness knot when our partners are chatting with us;so always check your partner's belay and their harness knot.Stepping off the top of an abseil without connecting the abbing device.Being too competitive can rapidly put one at huge risk.

Most climbers I knew who died young were killed by avalanches or being stormed in.Others insisted on a high proportion of soloing and known loose routes.Hermann Buhl walked off a ridge in fog.
Remember to put runners in easy routes to keep you off the deck.Holds do break on easy routes.
At least dying young prevents the indignities of dementia.

Pay attention out there....

Mitch
ice.solo - on 25 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

i lump risk into 2 sorts:

things extrapolated from factors i can manipulate (where i go and what i do there; buying supplies in the supermarket to dangling from ropes in horrendous places)

things unforseeable (reactors exploding, meteorite strike etc)

both are the stuff of life. the first is a pleasure to negotiate, the latter are a constant source of wonder.
both demand an attention to life that make it infinitely more interesting that coasting along avoiding risks.
to develop a positive attitude towards risk is to take life by the horns.
John Roberts (JR) - on 25 Nov 2012
In reply to puppythedog:

I was there also. It's interesting to see it from a proper time served climber - it clearly takes a lot of time and experience to get to that place.

I categorise it into pretty much two spaces. Things you can control, things you can't.

Youthful exuberance (and ego) can certainly exceed technical talent and it can go wrong on the things you can control, but as time goes by I think such issues tend to reduce, as long as you last. I feel pretty lucky to have lasted, but now things have changed for me.

Then there's also the things you can't control. The serac collapse, the rockfall, the broken hold, the gear failure. For me, spending more time in the mountains has reduced the number of errors I can control, but increased my exposure to those I can't. I've come very close a number of times to those, mostly in the high mountains. You learn to manage the risks and accept them and you find where you're acceptable limit is, the "frame rate" if you want to describe it like that.

FWIW The only death I've actually first hand witnessed climbing was due to incompetence and nothing else.

I blogged a bit about this a while ago http://jr-climbing.blogspot.com/2011/05/british-climbing-bold-way-or-old-way.html and also touched on Will's lecture in the latest post.

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