Date: 26th March 2012
If it’s not obvious to go up or down on a climb or in any outdoor situation then it’s probably time to call the day/go down/leave. I learned this idea years ago in kayaking; if I had to spend more than a few minutes seeing the line in a drop then I almost always shouldn’t have run it. I had two situations this winter where we stood around debating the merits of continuing for at least 15 minutes; if you have to think about it that much then it’s likely too complicated to make a good decision on, and the decision should make itself. Leave.
This doesn’t mean you should just charge all the time, but when you have to stand around thinking, “Is it OK?” for very long then it probably isn’t actually very good, and it’s time to leave. “Good” is usually pretty clear: It’s good, you go. When the warning signs start flashing it’s no longer “Good,” and it’s time to throttle it back some. If throttling it back results in standing around for a long time then it’s clearly NOT good just ’cause you’re standing there… Every day is a good day to live.
Go HARD when it’s good, go softly when it’s not. It’s the marginal situations that bite people, and if you have to analyze a situation endlessly then it’s probably already marginal, time to leave. If the avalanche danger forecast is “Extreme” then people aren’t going to get killed. Same with “low.” But its’ that “considerable” zone that’s less obviously dangerous, and leads to standing around at the top of a slope debating the number of shovel hits it took to shear or what the other aspects or doing or how old the tracks are, and then trying to synthesize all this information into something that makes sense… Better just go ski the trees if we want to keep having at it long-term.
Many good guides have figured this one out; “industrial” safety levels are higher than recreational safety levels not only because guides are highly skilled, but because they also throttle things back quickly when the situation starts to devolve… We often want things to be OK, the trick is to recognize that they no longer are… This is part of the “Survival Strategies” thinking I’m working with, lots of cool stuff to work through.
Note–Wordpress has decided not to display any of the pictures I uploaded with this post, out of time to deal with it now, will try later. Maybe the internet here in a cafe or something…
Posted in: Blog
A couple of seasons ago my partner and I went up into the CATS to do a little ice climbing. It was early season but we thought we’d go have a look. We got an early start because we knew it was going to be marginal with the temps. But even so, by the time we got up to the ice it was dripping bad and unattached to the rock. We took one look at and said no. But other people came up behind us and immediately started to lead up. The only thing we could figure is that they had learned to lead in the gym and had no idea how to evaluate conditions. All this is to say that with all the gym and sport climbers coming into a situation where falling is not an options – this survival stuff is really key. Thanks.
[…] Read more about making the right decisions at Will Gadd’s website. […]
[…] Mt Whitney towers above the Sierra (14,500 ft.) as the lower 48 States tallest peak. I usually guide the “Mountaineers Route” in the early spring where there is much snow and with the altitude becomes a full on alpine climb. When someone signs up for a trip, they will have put a lot of time and money and focus into it. When I tell them we have to turn back, they are defeated and rightfully so. I always have feelings of abhorrence when making the decision to turn folks around. It is never an easy decision, I think a fellow guide and friend of mine explains it well here: Will Gadd Blog […]
Good post Kim. I see this a lot, too.
I’m an experienced backcountry skier, (30 years) but not a guide. I recently found myself in the position of the ‘old guy’ on a week long hut trip with 7 guys in their 20’s. Of course they looked to me to evaluate the snowpack and the terrain. It snowed 30cm the day we went in so everyone was pumped, but this was after a 2-week high pressure producing sun and wind crust and surface hoar. Needless to say all the fresh snow was welcome but also highly problematic. We were there for a week so we all had to come to terms with conditions and group goals.
My rule of thumb is ‘no expectations, no disappointments’ so we dug a lot of pits, did a lot of poking around, watched a lot of avalanches rip out all around us and generally tried to evaluate the various aspects and slope angles. I think everyone learned a lot about snow pits and terrain selection, and hopefully we learned something about group dynamics and decision-making. We started out hoping to ski some big lines but ended up being very happy to ski lower angle tree lines the entire week.
Statistics and a couple of recent studies seem to show that what you are supposing is not the case – rather, they point to a trend where gym-introduced and trained climbers tend to have an increased perception of risk in outdoor situations. They feel uncertain, and make the decision to go home sooner than the stubbly ‘mountain savvy’ types, in potentially unsafe situations
Hi David, Can you point me to those studies, please? Thanks, Kim
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