What is acceptable risk?
If you’ve ever bought a piece of rock climbing gear, there is usually a really long description, that basically tells you that “rock climbing is inherently risky” and that failure to use gear in a safe manor can lead to injury or death. If you watch any of the great mountaineering movies, inevitably, it seems someone dies or is climbing knowing friends that have died from falls, avalanches, or weather related incidences.
To some people who do not climb mountains or rocks, it might seem like a unacceptable risk without payoff. We are not forced to climb, there is no key to save the world at the top, it won’t stop hunger, wars, or any other world problems. And yet, people spend years training, climbing, exploring, pushing limits, challenging themselves, and with that, comes the risk of injury or death.
This week I felt a deep sadness hearing that a man in his mid-30’s fell on icy conditions on the way to summit Mt. Hood and died. I realize that people die every minute, from all sorts of things, violent acts or accidents driving, or disease. But, this seemed very real and close to me, since I hope to one day be up on Hood on the way to my own ascent of the mountain.
There are people who have climbed it hundreds of times, there are those who get hurt because they are not prepared or experiences, but others, like this man, just slip and sometimes, that’s all it takes to vanish off the side of a sleep mountain.
Just thinking of the steep grade to the top, fills me with fear in the pit of my stomach. I am afraid of so much that it sometimes makes me angry. I’m afraid of falling on lead, afraid of steep ledges, afraid of not keeping up with the team I’m climbing with, I’m afraid of not being good enough. And I am so afraid of falling down a sleep snow field and being too paralyzed with fear to self-arrest.
Summiting mountains seems to go against evolution. We spent hundreds of years making a world that is safer, where we can treat diseases, stay warm, and have safe nutritious food.
Once we reach the basic hierarchy of needs (according to Maslow), we then move on to greater needs of self actualization.
And I think summit pursuits, adventure, challenge, discovery, is a part of that.
I have stood on hard-earned summits of mountain peaks. And it has made me feel more alive than anything else I’ve done. It’s like graduations and first kisses and the future and the past and fear, love, and faceless beauty all rolled into a moment.
But… the questions sometimes still lingers, is it worth it? Is love on solid ground enough? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep trying to figure it out. I love this quote by Rene Daumal:
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
― René Daumal