You’ve got kids. How do you handle taking mountain risks?

April 01, 2014
Will Gadd

OutsideA while back I said I would answer reader questions as posts. Here’s a good one I received today, and and an answer. Thanks Bruno.

On 2014-04-01, at 12:48 AM, Bruno wrote:
Hi Will,

We have communicated a few times and met once in Kandersteg.

If I remember correctly, you recently wrote about blogging more in response to readers questions. So here goes.


But I really want to ask you the big question.  As a father, how do you justify/rationalize/explain the risks you take to yourself?  Don’t get me wrong–I’m not trying to condemn or criticize you.  I have a found year old daughter, and I climb all through the year.  I try to climb as safely as possible (that’s why I once contacted you about ice climbing training).  I try to think carefully about risk and danger.  I practice climbing and safety skills all the time.  I do my best to stay within my comfort zone.   But sometimes the possibility of me dying in the mountains and leaving my daughter alone just overwhelms me, and I want to crawl into a hole and close my eyes, or quit climbing and sell all my gear and change my life.  I go back and forth, and the indecision and doubt must influence my activities in the mountains, which is something I try to remain aware of.  Anyway, I could go on and on, but I imagine you know just what I am talking about.

One last thing: in answer to this question, you often hear the whole thing about “It’s better to set an example doing the things you love, even if they are dangerous, and inspire your children, instead of leading a less risky life.”  Basically, I think that’s bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but I think my daughter would do much better in life with a father who did easy mountain biking in the forest, cross country skiing, lake kayaking, and so on, as opposed to having no father at all.



Hi Bruno, good questions. The short answer is that these sports are vital to me as a human. If I don’t do them, or something similar, I become a SOB to myself and those around me.  Or I turn toward less healthy alternatives… So I’m conscious of my kids, and I actively let their presence influence what I do, from no more really long trips to lowering the bar on some sports (no more BASE, less soloing, no more high-level paragliding competitions, etc). If I don’t feel something is truly deeply worthwhile that’s also very risky then I don’t do it. When I was younger and pre-kids I was definitely willing to hang it out there more often; maybe not farther, but a lot more often. And occasionally farther, who am I kidding. I never felt those risks were too high, but sometimes I do now given what I’m gambling with. So recognizing the enormity of what you have on the line and letting that pull the line inside your comfort zone is probably a really good thing! Knowing what I have on the line changes how far I have to push; if things get a little weird in the mountains I’m a lot faster to call it, and feel the weight of the situation a lot more.  I used to hang it out a lot farther a lot more often, and I could get empirical with that risk level probably. But it’s more of a feeling and a practice of the idea I start every mountain sports day with, a sort of mantra: “One day I will die, but today I’m going to do everything that I can to make it to the end of the day. It’s a good day to do things right.” It helps me focus my mind on what’s really important in the day.

I agree that ours kids will absolutely do better to have us around, totally. But I also know that if I don’t do these sports I’m not very good with my kids. I also don’t do these sports to inspire my kids, but I do live this life and hope my kids do see at some point that living the life you truly WANT is worthwhile. I personally hope they get into piano with the same obsession as I have mountain sports, or maybe into  soccer or something, but I hope they find a passion. Maybe that’s what you mean by inspiration, but I think it’s broader than that…. It’s about living a meaningful life, and for me that includes mountain sports. Today I got to sky with older kid, and it was awesome to share the sport together. That’s also in the equation for me.
Good question, I do think I’ll put it up as a blog with a bit more thought, cheers!