3,807 forum posts
Video: Steph Davis on fear and being so in control
3,807 forum posts
Free soloing on sand stone, and base jumping. Why stop there? Perhaps add a sniper trying to pluck her off the cliff would be an even bigger rush. This person has some loose screws; this comment coming from an adrenaline junky, who also has some chalk under the finger nails.
She said, “..To be able to free solo something, that is an expression of being so in control, you know you’re going to be able to do it without falling.” Mind over matter is limited to between the ears, eliminating mental errors. She cannot affect the physical realities. Obviously she either hasn’t had a hold pull out in her hand, or she fails to acknowledge her limitations and the inherent risk of these activities. All the mental gymnastics do little to avert objective risks, such as rotten rock, bees, or a mishaps such as slipping, cramping, or coughing in the midst of a clutch move.
She states she does this to “..figure things out a little bit.” That dog don’t hunt. She needs to figure out the real motives for such risk taking, it will do her no good if she kills herself in the process of solving her personal; issues.
While I would not free-solo personally at the level that Steph does, I do know her personally, and would say your characterization is a bit off. She has had holds pull off, including in Castleton Valley area near Moab (the climb is on Priest of the Priest and Nuns formation). The sandstone there actually is pretty solid, at least in dry weather.
There are always objective dangers in anything. Even Yosemite granite has loose rocks. Steph is well aware of her limits and of the risks involved, more so than a lot of lesser climbers. Yes, free soloists sometimes do make mistakes and get seriously injured or die. But so do roped climbing teams, and even hikers, bikers, kayakers, and people just driving down the freeway and on city streets (and all too often here in the Bay Area, just crossing the street - I was up in The City -SF - the other day and was again astounded at how casually people just head across the street, heedless of traffic).
You choose your risks. Ideally, you are aware of the full range of the risks, consequences, and your skills and limitations. But, truly, no one is fully aware. Here in Earthquake Country, I am aware that there is something like a 50% chance of a magnitude 7 or greater shaker sometime in the next 30 years (that's from the USGS, office and labs located about 4 miles from my house up in Menlo Park). Supposedly the new house was built to withstand a magnitude 8, and was signed off by the City Planning Office inspectors. So I should be able to survive just fine sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my cup of tea, when the Big One hits. Do I really believe that? Not really, but it is a chance I have to take (or move back to Mississippi and tornadoes with a mile-wide funnel that is on the ground for something like 150 miles, or some Pacific Island paradise which may have a tsunami without warning that sweeps over the whole island).
200 forum posts
Bill S said:
Supposedly the new house was built to withstand a magnitude 8, and was signed off by the City Planning Office inspectors. So I should be able to survive just fine sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my cup of tea, when the Big One hits. Do I really believe that? Not really, but it is a chance I have to take (or move back to Mississippi and tornadoes with a mile-wide funnel that is on the ground for something like 150 miles, or some Pacific Island paradise which may have a tsunami without warning that sweeps over the whole island).
I think the point is that you will take precautions should you be put in that circumstance. You might stay seated for the little bumps, but when the big one hits you'll be in the safest spot in the house. That doesn't seem to compare with Ms. Davis, who when presented with the ultimate challenges doesn't take those precautions. At least to this layman, ropes, cams, and pitons equate to scrambling for the basement when a tornado hits, regardless of the promises of the structure's builder, be it God or man.
No, my point is that there are risks in everything. If I walk down a trail, there is the possibility that in a moment of inattention, I could trip on something (branch, irregularity in the trail, my own foot, ...), fall, and hit my head on a rock by the trail, fracturing my skull and dying of the concussion (it has happened to people on very benign trails). I could be out bicycling on a very popular bike route, posted with lots of "Share the Road" signs, and get run down by a policeman in his car who was literally asleep at the wheel (really happened here, he had been on duty for something like 12 hours - one cyclist died, two others were seriously injured and in hospital for extended periods). The first one I have some control over. The second is completely out of my control, unless I don't ride my bike.
Recall a thread on Trailspace where the poster was claiming that solo climbing (rope solo in that case, and maybe even toprope solo) is safer than climbing with a partner. He listed a number of ways your partner could screw up and kill you both.On the other hand, the method of self-belay the person described leaves a lot to be desired.
I will give one close call I and my partner had. We had put up a new route on a peak on the Sierra eastside. A number of other people were on the same peak that day. The quick way down was to rappel. I had rappelled the approx 80-90 feet, followed immediately by my partner, and we were traversing across the couloir and around the corner to an easy walk-down. The next person to rappel, a very experienced climber and on the Qualified Leader list that was maintained by the NPS from the 1950s through the 1970s, had descended maybe 10 feet, when he stepped on a block in such a way it came loose. The block was about the size of a VW Beetle. It came rattling down the slope and into the couloir. I was at the corner and stepped around out of the line of fire. My partner looked up, saw this block coming right at him, and stepped back into a narrow chimney. The block bounced off the wall right in front of him. After the rocks stopped falling we were all sure he had been smashed flat. I peered around the corner and Tom, the rappeller, looked down in horror, when my partner emerged from his cubbyhole, clearly shaken, but uninjured. All of us were shaken, but very relieved.
There are climbs that are safe for me, but I would not advise that someone less experienced try them. There are scrambles up peaks that are quite safe for me (and I know when to turn back), but would be risky for others, and conversely, there are climbs that are quite safe for someone like Steph, or a number of others who climb more regularly (and are younger and stronger) that are risky in the extreme for me.
Something that several have alluded to as being delusional that I have actually learned over the years - a lot of what makes a climb, hike, long distance bike ride, possible is what's in your head. It is a question of what your personal level of mental challenge is. And it is a question of "can I do it today". Maybe I did it 10 times before today, but if my mind is not in the right place (maybe thinking about how far behind in my mortgage payments I am (no, I own my house free and clear, no mortgage or loan of any kind), or that disagreeable boss at work (I'm retired, so no worries there), or is Congress going to call me in to testify about those fake derivatives I foisted off on suckers (no, not in that business either), basically, if my mind is occupied elsewhere, the probability is that a disaster is going to happen is much higher (have you read Laura Bush's new book about how she and her friend were distracted talking to each other so she ran a stop sign at a dark, dangerous intersection and collided with another car, killing the driver? Pay attention to the driving, not your cell phone, iPod, or chatty passenger!).
Remember the disclaimer that appears by many car ads - "Professional Driver on closed course - do not try this at home!" Same with climbing, skiing, bicycling, hiking, backpacking. Many of the treks Gary Palmer takes on a regular basis are extremely dangerous for probably the majority of Trailspace readers, and certainly the majority of hikers. But he has the background and experience, and knows what to take with him. I can paddle a kayak pretty well on whitewater (maybe no more than Class 3 these days), but people with experience do 4s, 5s, and even 6s (like Great Falls on the Potomac) these days.
Just because it is beyond one person's skill and experience level does not mean it is dumb, stupid, irresponsible, for those talented and experienced enough to have the ability.
If my comments misrepresent Steph’s attitude about free soloing and BASE jumping, then, as you say, my remarks are only a bit off. But they are probably closer to the mark than her own comments from the video. Anyone who has experienced holds failing on crux moves fully realizes soloing on the level she chooses has more in common with Russian Roulette than belayed climbing. Thus why I take exception with her mind conquers all analogy. If Steph actually owns the idea implicit in her comments, then she is delusional or has a death wish.
I don’t think there is a defensible argument for free soloing above fatal falls (or BASE jumping for that matter), no more than one can defend playing Russian Roulette, or high wire rope walking without a net and balancing pole. In each case it is mostly the cheap thrill of cheating death that defines the game, since there are safer ways to climbing a pitch, skydive, discharge a gun, or walk a length of suspended rope. Nor is this level of soloing comparable to experiences you mention in other postings. While you and I may have climbs that had their moments of dicey odds, Steph’s climbs are composed mostly of dicey moments by their nature. Are there soloists that have retired from this game, having cheated death? Yes, but that misses the point. Most great thinkers about mortality and the purpose of life would argue Steph’s choice to purposefully maximize the inherent risk of her hobby, by foregoing whatever protection a rope (or jumping from a higher altitude with back up chute) affords, is immoral. Everyone who does enough of this stuff at the higher end of difficulty can recount close calls and acquaintances who bought the farm. Two people I once trekked with were both lost to separate wilderness avalanche incidents, both originating on slopes of only 15 degrees. These men were the types that studied the forecasts, chose the safest route, dug pits, turned back when conditions warranted, the whole nine yards. But shit happens. My associates gave their families a modicum of consolation, that they at least attempted to manage the risk. Steph’s survivors won’t have that consolation. And that difference does matter those left behind.
One can readily understand such legacy issues, comparing the feats of John Waterman and John Harlin II. While both are equally dead, there is a big difference how Waterman’s fateful solo trek into mid winter Denali is judged, versus Harlin’s fall from the Eiger. Harlan was seen as meticulous but ultimately unlucky, while Waterman’s fate was seen as the result of a blithe disregard for obvious dangers. When I review Steph’s musings on her web site, about how she confronts danger, I can’t help but feel she over romanticizes this contest, and has more of Waterman’s sense that sheer will grants immortality, than Harlan’s shrewd attempts to mitigate risk.
Lastly you note this is partially about discovering one’s limits - can I do it today - also noting such risk is not unreasonable for those possessing adequate talent. This example is not the case. Can she climb without falling? So far, but that point can be tested without going un-roped. Thus the question she chases isn’t can she do it (climb), the question becomes can she cheat death. IMHO there is something unbalanced about someone who regularly tests this proposition.
Letter to Ed,
One Bad Poem
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
Cradle to Grave
Trauma or Rust
All of our journeys
Our love and our strife
Find the same exit;
we only borrow our life.
You seem like a logical guy. Me too. Let me share my logic with you:
The most unfortunate personal human statistic is that the death rate is 100%. For everyone. No matter how loved, how cherished, how unique, how cautious, how bold, how young, or how old. We begin. We end. All sense of permanence here is an beautiful illusion. THe human condition
is that we begin; we end.
The only gift we have to give, or to take, is what we do,feel,give,share in between those two moments. Looked at another way: Right now, you are spending some of your limited time, alive on this earth, commenting on a blog about how someone else is spending their limited time, alive on
this earth. That is your choice. A positive interpretation of your motivation might be that you are trying to reach others who are thinking about climbing, and trying to offer your own sense of caution that they might not be prematurely injured or killed. Kudos to you from me for your motivation to help others if that is the case.
Steph's motivation may be to reach things within herself that are only accessible through the paths she pursues...but those paths seem to have taught her things about freedom, and fear that she chooses to share with others...maybe to share her own sense of adventure to others that they might not be prematurely trapped in a life without hope, or joy, stifled by fear. My Kudos to her if that is the case.
I don't know Steph's motivation, but, as a long time trad climber, and one-time skydiver, and generally pragmatic person who has chided partners with children against soloing even casual routes, I find her activities, and her explanations of them, to be sublime. I don't know my motivations for finding it sublime, but I do know that my memory seems to value, over time, the moments and people when caution was trumped by mindful boldness.
My metaphor: Joy runs unbounded through a field, casting aside thoughts of stubbing its toes. Toes will stubbed, of course, but to never run; to avoid stubbing one's toe, is to never know Joy. Happiness comes from reflecting on moments of Joy.
If you find your joy and happiness in sewing up a route, kudos to you. If Steph finds her joy and happiness soloing a route, kudos to her.
The point is to find joy and happiness....because they can be a rarified commodity here, between the beginning and the end.
I find her soloing fascinating and sublime, too, kind of in the same category as a monk’s self- emmolation, except her cause lacks weighty social significance. Fascination aside, that doesn’t exclude one from considering soloing as unwise, irresponsible and immoral. I buy the whole pitch embodied in your poem and follow up comments. Don’t get me wrong I am not condemning her actions out of a religious or spiritual conviction, or even the premise that one has no right to take their own life. I feel we have some obligation to each other, like it or not. Part of that obligation is making a reasonable effort to preclude abandoning your dependants, and imposing upon your parents the specter of burying their child. Unaided climbs up cliffs and then jumping off falls way short of this reasonable effort. It is immoral to dump this emotional baggage upon others because you have a Jones for adrenaline, find joy in thrilling yourself, or whatever pretense one uses to justify this extreme activity. If you think her action fulfills this obligation to her people, then we have differing opinions in what suffices as respecting this obligation.
Joy and piece of mind are located in the head, not atop some cliff. I think whatever one discovers through climbing with no safety rope and jumping with no backup chute can be obtained with less peril, and that individuals so inclined would be better advised to seek out these alternatives, than to be encouraged to engage in what some suspect as a veiled craps game of suicide.
Okay Ed , I think I pretty clearly understand your point of view, LOL!
Now, as to the part of my point of view relating to what we do between our
start and our end, I'd like to share this with you:
I find it curious that you chose to mention John Mallon Waterman. There is more than one Jonathan Waterman in mountaineering. The other well-known Jonathan Waterman, who goes by Jon, author of High Alaska and In the Shadow of Denali, is very much alive. John Mallon Waterman was the son of Guy Waterman (who was the son of the first Director of the National Science Foundation), and the brother of William Waterman. William wrote a very strange letter to his parents and headed out on an extended trip, then disappeared. Guy, who wrote books about hiking in the New England Mountains, hiked to the top of Mt. Lafayette in February 2000, and sat down to freeze to death, leaving a letter to his friends telling where to find him. His body was retrieved a few days later. John did a lot of climbing in Alaska, including an epic 145 day solo ascent and traverse of Mt. Hunter. He set out solo to put up a new route on Denali and disappeared. Guy, William, and John, father and 2 of 3 sons, do seem to fit your stereotype of "death wishes" and probably intentional suicide (clear in Guy's case, probable in the two son's cases).
As mentioned several times in Trailspace before, I knew John Harlin the father and know John Harlin the son. I met the elder Harlin during my first summer climbing in Chamonix. You may not be aware that he was a USAF fighter pilot, noted for his daring and risky exploits. At least, I would guess from your not lumping him under your supermacho, death wish, suicidal rubric that you are not aware of his life history. I do agree with you (strangely enough, and perhaps for the first, and probably last, time) that Harlin was meticulous and went to great lengths to control the risks of his endeavours.
A topic that has been discussed a number of times here on Trailspace is risk - objective risk, perceived risk, and how perceived consequences, positive and negative, play into it. People tend to perceive risk as very low when it is something they are familiar with, like driving a car on the streets and highways. Objectively, based on the statistics that insurance companies keep (one of my uncles was head of the actuarial division of one of the largest insurance companies in the US), people in the US have a 50% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident during their lifetimes (serious being major property damage and/or bodily injury). Yet people perceive riding in a commercial plane as more risky, even though statistically it is orders of magnitude safer.
Perception also has been shown to play a self-fulfilling role. I see this all the time in teaching climbing - someone is nervous about a climb or rappel, and sure enough, they have great difficulty, despite having a top-rope belay. The apprehension results in people clenching up, often moving into positions (like hugging the rock instead of standing over their feet) that result in slipping. This is not saying, as you seem to be interpreting Steph's statements, that "mind overcomes all." Steph is not saying that at all. For a lot of people, they may well be able to do 5.10 or even 5.14 as a boulder move a few feet from the ground or on toprope belay. But put them on the sharp end, or up 100 or 1000 ft, and they will fall right off of the exact same set of moves. "It's the exposure!" No, it's the attitude about the exposure. If you fall 100 feet or 1000 feet, it's all the same - you will be seriously injured or dead.
Class 3 climbing is easy, and most people can do it within 10 feet of the ground. But a lot of people cannot do the same maneuver they did 5 or 10 feet up if the exposure is 100, and definitely not at 1000 feet. What's the difference? Well, the big difference is that the negative consequences might not be too bad 5 feet up, but they increase up to 50 or 100 feet, then personally they are the same (they increase for a hundred or so more feet as far as the mess the rescuers have to deal with, but dead is dead.).
Can you climb a 10 foot ladder without a belay? Probably. How about the same ladder at the same angle for 1000 ft? Perceptually, most people probably cannot - but it is the same ladder, same spacing of steps, same steepness!
Ok, Ed, I know. You do not agree. You believe that the 1000 ft ladder is different than the 10 foot ladder, and without a belay, climbing the 1000 foot one is suicidal, death wish, maybe even supermacho. Well, your mind tells you one thing, my mind (and experience) tells me another. So be it.
I'd like to share this with you:
I must really be a brick, that link is an interesting read, yet I can’t relate it to your point of finding happiness wherever you can.
Strange, though, that you introduce organic chemistry to this topic. Perhaps I have a peculiar angle on this topic, relative to the “normal” locus of human experience. I was born with some brain damage, the result of a long labor squeezing the blood from my brain. (Save the wise cracks, peanut gallery!) I endure several permanent effects, including severe, chronic, depression. I have been in a longitudinal study for 30+ years that tracks the trials and tribulation of brain damaged individuals. One interesting finding to come from this study is people engaged in adrenaline junkie pursuits are better able to cope with this form of depression (it has something to do with stimulating other centers in the brain capable of eliciting sensations similar to happiness). I had noticed risky activities made me feel better, but was surprised to find it had an organic basis. In any case I never solo climbed, but I did my share of dumb stuff in my youth, including attempting to climb Mt St. Elias. The primary challenge of St. Elias is weather, so capricious few attempt, regardless it is the third tallest peak in North America. As it was, a storm trapped us a little over half way up for ten days, forcing us to exhaust the food we had on hand at that camp, resulting in several of us getting frostbite. We aborted the trip as soon as the weather permitted our exit. The climb isn’t so technical, but scaling high Alaskan peaks pose their own set of mental and physical challenges. I found real adventure up there but realized if I was climbing to stay alive, then I had better stop pursuing high stakes projects that pose significant mortal risk. As it is my joy of cheap thrills has broken many bones, so I am not faint of heart. If I didn’t lay down some rules (no soloing, no water adventure sports, no motor sports) I am sure my fascination with finding the edge would have resulted in demise. For mother's sake I had to draw a line.
I have done my share of staring down between my feet at ledges 1000 feet below, and are aware how the mind plays games, and can paralyze with fear. I also know the high one experiences when hanging from front points and ice tools at such heights, concentrating your focus such that you swear you can feel your toe nails growing. I am one of those creepy types that hears the mountain talking back to me in a mid-crux move. I fully understand the mind games of high stakes climbing; that is why my comments referenced zen. But age has taught me mortality and skill are no match for the long term odds of such high stakes games. The ladder analogy doesn’t fairly frame my contention, however. I was not addressing can someone muster the mental clarity to climb a tall versus short ladder, I was addressing the consequence of the objective risks – what happens should the ladder break. Thus what our minds tell us has nothing to do with the consequences when a hold crumbles 10 feet high versus 1000 feet high; in either case if the event ejects us off the face we will fall, and have no more control over that event than Harlin when his fixed rope cut. I have experienced enough holds pulling out to know it is an actuarial certainty I’ll encounter them again if I climb on a regular basis or push the envelope. I also learned the dynamics when a hold fails cannot always be managed, with the fall a foregone conclusion in those instances. Yea, nice to have a rope catch ya when a hold bails…
Your comments also focus on perception of risk, versus the actuarial odds of an event. I personally don’t know anybody who died in a jet crash. I agree that danger is mostly imagined. I do know five people that died in automobiles, but then again everyone drives, and those passings occurred over the decades of my life. I know relatively few people that climb and mountaineer, compared to the numbers driving cars, yet four our my climbing/mountaineering associates are dead, one buying it free climbing Royal Arches. I do not know the actuary odds of death by free soloing, but they certainly “seem” much greater than death by jet crash; hence why I see free soloing a 500 foot tall sand stone pinnacle as a supermacho deathwish. Borrowing an earlier analogy you described: my objection isn’t that Steph chooses to cross the street, it is she crosses while blindfolded.
... I do not know the actuary odds of death by free soloing, but they certainly “seem” much greater than death by jet crash; hence why I see free soloing a 500 foot tall sand stone pinnacle as a supermacho deathwish. Borrowing an earlier analogy you described: my objection isn’t that Steph chooses to cross the street, it is she crosses while blindfolded.
Your comment about the odds "seem" much greater is exactly what I was referring to about perceived risk. There are not very good statistics on free-soloing (there are no real data on how many people do it, for one thing), so there is no real way to evaluate it.
But I strongly disagree with your perception that Steph "crosses while blindfolded." She is very well aware of the risks. And she, like most climbers at that level, pays close attention to the situation at the time of the particular climb. She, like most of the climbers I know at that level, can, and does, say "not today" to climbs, including ones she has done before.
There are, however, all too many climbers who just get out there and climb, without paying attention to what their mind and body, as well as the conditions are telling them. Same with so many drivers - "I gotta get to work/home/the movie..." There is a phenomenon among pilots that seems to play an important role in crashes - the drive to get to the destination regardless of weather or little warning signs that the plane might not be in condition.
I completely concur, the odds of un-roped falls have not been extrapolated, thus we all go on perception regarding the actual exposure to this risk. Nevertheless its very nature makes it substantially riskier than climbing under belay, assuming one doesn't become complacent just because they are on belay.
I avoid the specter of falling as if I was un-roped. Considering the half dozen times I found myself suddenly dangling due to unanticipated rock failures, personal experience alludes to me that free soloing is indeed imperiling. Or perhaps I am just lousy at reading rock, or have climbed a lot of crud. I like to think I exercise prudence in deciding whether to climb or not, yet there are times when the unexpected intervenes, things you cannot assess, like bees taking residence, etc. A rope allows down climbing from a route that otherwise is a one way commitment for the free soloist. In any case I did not construe crossing streets blindfolded to mean ignorance of the risk; I meant it to imply she knowingly exposes herself to a mortal risk that is determined as much by nature and fate, as by her skill and judgment, and the combination of human and objective risks justify using a belay rope for its own sake.
80 forum posts
Steph seems very switched on. As we are all born with free will, she's doing all she can to push herself and develop and nurture an inherent drive to overcome her fears and live without these limitations.
I understand why some label this mentality as selfish, but don't agree with it. I would be failing myself if I didn't push the boundaries from time to time. To paraphrase Bill S, what may be dangerous to one is fundamental to another, and that is only for the skilled individual or group in that situation at that time to decide. Where I draw the line is up to me.
Granted I have had some near misses in the mountains, but as I also ride a motorbike around town I have had far more close shaves riding in the city (nearly) always as a result of someone else's actions. Should I stop riding my bike?
When I see my family (I am neither married nor have any dependents) before a big trip the only question they ask is whether my will is in order, just a little running joke we have going. We all know the risks with whatever we choose to undertake. I wouldn't have it any other way, neither would they.
I admire people like Steph that have the courage and rounded perspective to consider all scenarios and find a way to overcome them and make it happen. If no-one had this conviction life would be a tedious pursuit at best.
844 forum posts
When I see my family (I am neither married nor have any dependents) before a big trip the only question they ask is whether my will is in order, just a little running joke we have going. We all know the risks with whatever we choose to undertake.
Not so much of a joke if you do have kids. More than anyone else in your life they are counting on you to be there. I would argue that pursuing high-risk activities becomes selfish when there are kids in the picture. Much as I admire and thrill at the exploits of the likes of Shane McConkey, I think it's pretty sad that he left behind two kids. Yes, non- (or lesser-) risk taking parents can die unexpectedly in all kinds of ways, but why make it happen unnecessarily? That said, I'll admit that I'll ski some steep stuff, but nowhere near "if you fall you die", so I think the risks I take are much less than what we're talking about here.
14 forum posts
Bill S said:
Just because it is beyond one person's skill and experience level does not mean it is dumb, stupid, irresponsible, for those talented and experienced enough to have the ability
I agree with the above statement... Hell I even have it quoted!
I admire the ability some people on this earth still strive for. Yeah its dangerous, but it's also their decision.
You're not a brick....your response to my link indicates that I might be on the right track in reaching you in a way that you will understand, as people arguing and explaining to you does not seem to be communicating anything that resonates with you.
I've got another link for you:
Recall that you implied in your early post that Steph has some kind of malfunction that causes her to do what she does.
Aimee makes one of the important points I keep trying to get across - Your only limits are those you impose on yourself. If you believe what others tell you are your limits, you have made them your own.
Thanks for the link.
Besides our own limits ther are the imutable limits the world imposes. We cannot levitate, nor make others love us. Try as we might, we cannot walk on ice without eventually slipping or climb a rock faces without a hold eventually blowing out, ejecting us from the face in the process. We can climb moutains only at the mountain's indulgence, regardless of our will. There are plenty of limitations we live with, to ignore this reality invites disaster.
I think we let out fascination with stunts like free climbing and BASE jumping cloud our logic. Aimee’s attempts to overcome adversity directly benefit her and those around her. Had she failed, however, she would be none the worse off. Any gain Steph accomplishes through unroped soloing is debatable, while the outcome of a failure would be an irrefutable tragedy. Would we be as charitable judging the motives of someone pursuing a less romanticized objective such as free climb Everest with no rope or crampons? Or how about Timothy Treadwell, the guy who spent his summers in the Katmai National Park shooting a documeantary oghimself interacting with grisslies, eventually getting himeself and girlfriend mauled to death. He thought he could impose his will over mother nature too. Was his fate a testimony to free will and overcoming obsticales, or a foolish and reckess obsession. Or how about Evil Kanevil’s jump over the Snake River? Since that involved about as much skill on his part as BASE jumping, I think it was totally a gimmick. At what point do these actions depart from the realm of self discovery, and becomes more of a publicity stunt or fasination with one’s mortality? I think publicity seeking is one aspect of this criteria. Another litmus test may be managing the objective risks. The fact Steph chooses to publish her antics on the web, and endulges in other adreneline pastimes like BASE jumping hint her motives are as much about playing the part of a showman than any atempt to overcome personal limitations. The fact she makes no effort to mitigate risk by forsaking both rope and backup chute indicates this is about the cheap thrills of blatant risk taking.
It is true we need to find happiness in our lives, and it is admirable to confront one’s weaknesses and imperfections. I pose that there are enough things to do in life that it is hard to believe one can only find satifaction when they are flirting with mortality. When I discovered I was waltzing with death for its own sake, I saw that as a very selfish act, and serious character flaw. I chose to address this shortcomming and take up different, less mortal, challenges to pursue, as an act of love to those around me as much as an act of self preservation. Ed
Treadwell and girlfriend were not mauled to death. They were eaten by the grizzly. In his hubris, Treadwell ignored obvious warning signs. In the film Herzog put together, Treadwell makes a comment about the risk and danger from the particular grizzly that was later proven to have been the one who devoured him and his girlfriend, apparently less than 24 hours after Treadwell videoed himself making those comments. He also said that if he were to be eaten by any grizzly, he would choose that particular one - sounds a bit suicidal/death wish, doesn't it?
I am certainly not advocating going in with your eyes closed (wearing a blindfold while crossing the street, as someone posted). It is vital to be aware of the limitations imposed By Nature's Rules (to quote the title of a film on wilderness safety). And it is vital to be aware of the risks and how to deal with them.
Ed, your response, and looking back through your other posts, leads me to wonder what you would do in various situations. You write quite a bit about responsibility to others - family, friends, the SAR personnel who would put themselves in harm's way for a rescue, and so on. In this thread, I have written comments that would appear in direct contradiction to comments I have made in other threads, such as the SPOT/PLB discussions. In those, I (and others) have commented that one thing in favor of carrying a PLB/SPOT, cell/sat phone, and other means of summoning help and/or sending "OK" messages is one's responsibility to others. I did also make the comment numerous times that sending "I'm tired, I need a helicopter ride home" when the person is fully capable of hiking out on his own is irresponsible. There is a difference between a true emergency and convenience.
But my question is, in essence, under what circumstances are you willing to take a risk, where the odds are extremely high for serious injury or death? For example, your house is burning and your spouse/young child/close friend is unable to get out on their own (there have been several incidents like this in this area over the past couple of months). You are not a fireman and do not have the protective clothing and other gear that professional firemen have. Would you head into the fully-engulfed house to get that person out?
Another scenario is that you see someone being attacked by 3 or 4 other people who are apparently armed with deadly weapons. Would you attempt to intervene, and at what level?
Yet another scenario is that you encounter someone being attacked by a bear/mountain lion or other critter. There is a serious risk of your getting injured or killed as well as the victim. Would you take that risk, or would you flee to save your own life?
In this day of terrorists, would you trade your life to save a loved one? For a stranger? Scenarios here range from being held captive to hijackers on the plane - the Flight 93 scenario.
Another really hard choice is the one in which you are in the wilderness and a situation arises that the choice is staying with your severely injured companion with a high probability that if you do so, you both almost certainly will die, vs abandoning your companion with the 50-50 possibility that you might make it out alive.
Personally, in many of the above, I am willing to take the risk. It does depend on a tradeoff of what I estimate the odds of success vs my odds of becoming an additional victim.
Your recall of Treadwell's fate is accurate, and shows both that he had an understanding about these bears few can imagine, as well as his amazing lapse in judgement, considering his grasp of the circumstrances.
I almost always travel in groups so PLBs would be of dubious utility. In any case we know where the back country ranger camps are located, and can also flag down passing equestrian outfitters if help is really needed. As for our winter trips, I ascribe highly to the self-rescue credo. We do carry radios in Alaska, but primarily for logistical purposes. In the Sierras we prepare, relying on conservative route choices, and preplanned escape routes. I am ambivalent about using PLBs because the first responders have to react like it’s a life or limb situation, when rarely is that ever the case. No use imperiling others’ lives over a broken leg. Perhaps I should carry a PLB when on my solo journeys. No use scouring the country side when my corpse can be zero’d in... My current practice on these jaunts is leaving a detail itinerary at home, staying on the trails, camping in established camps, and leaving my journal on top of my gear, in the tent, whenever I leave camp, noting my destination, if even only to fetch water.
Speaking of PLBs and fetching water: I had described in a prior post, elsewhere, how I once broke my arm, camping at Grinnel Lake, about three days from the Rock Creek trial head. I had slipped on a log while fetching water from the lake. (It seems injuries only happen doing the mundane.) I calmly ambled back into camp, and remarked to one of my companions, “Shit, I broke my arm.” Well he leaped to his feet, starting shouting for our other two companions to come, and the three of them were wide eyed about plans to fetch a ranger or the equestrian groups we saw the other day to evacuate me. They had half stuck camp before I convinced them this wasn’t an emergency, that we need no stinking Calvary coming to the rescue, that I can carry my own pack, that we will hike out per plan, and that I’ll only need help tying my boots and shouldering my pack. Had we access to a PLB I am sure those clowns would have activated it before I could cool their jets. I ended up getting a plate screwed onto the ulna bone.
I think you and I share a similar view on the scenarios listed. Overall risk assessment drives what action is taken. Anyone can be a first responder, but they need to weigh the consequences doing so and avoid becoming one more body to rescue. Do note though, your examples are risks with a benefit to others, mainly saving their lives. I place higher value on others' lives than my own (such is life as a chronically depressed sole) so I am likely to help if I thought I could save someone else.
I might go into a burning building, but would first evaluate my risk and the potential of a successful rescue. Definitely would not enter a building that has flashed over.
I would not attempt a water rescue in storm surf or a surging river, the odds are usually poor surviving that rescue. I remember reading about an incident that occurred in England, in the early 1990s, where a dog got swept into the surf off a quarried block jetty. The pet’s owner summoned two bobbies, who then needed rescue themselves. Other rescue crews arrived; two more went into the water. Only the third rescuer and the dog survived. How tragic and ironic. I respect hydraulics, since even the pros with equipment get in trouble attempting rough water rescues.
I did bust up a gang beating, but no weapons were involved. If it were only knives, I might interrupt, armed with something big enough to command respect.
I would aid someone being attacked by a bear or cat, and guess once you are in that scrap it is fully committed, until the beast takes off. My understanding people usually survive when two or more take on the beast.
I definitely would counterattack a terrorist in the flight 93 scenario, that is what men do for our country. Likewise I would swap places for another captive, valuing others’ life above my own.
I’ll share three real world experiences. I was living on the bluff above the Hermosa Beach Pier, California, about three blocks away. I had invited a lady over for dinner; it was our first date. I had just served dinner, when I see this huge mushroom fireball rise from somewhere near the strand walk way. I didn’t think terrorist – after all it was 1986 – but did think gas explosion or some other emergency. Anyway my eyes bug out, I look at my date, then motion at the window, and bolted out the door shouting “SOMEONE'S IN BIG TROUBLE, I NEED TO HELP!" It ended up being a production crew shooting an action movie! Ten minutes later I came back to my house. My date was still there, patiently waiting. We still know each other; we have been married since 1989.
I was driving my family back to LA from a car camping trip in Zion National Park. About an hour east of Las Vagas a car ahead of us lost control in crowded, 80MPH traffic, swerved into the median strip, then got lost in a cloud of dust and ejecta, doing about five barrel rolls. I was first on scene, expecting to deal with ejected victims, gore and death, but instead everyone was basically ok, some cuts and bruises. The driver had neck and back pain, but considering the car’s condition, collapsed roof and all, all were really lucky. My mind was immediately in rescue mode, and was assessing the situation from the very moment I exited my vehicle. The strong smell of gas and screaming children were the first things that grabbed my attention. There were two girls in the back seat, five and eight years of age, both hysterical. I tried opening the car doors but all were jammed. It took some coaxing to get them to allow me to help them escape via the blown out back window of the sedan. There were two passengers in the front seat, the girls’ aunt and mother. The windshield opening was too collapsed for anyone to crawl through, and both women were too obese to crawl out door windows, or over the front seat to escape via the rear window. The driver could not tell if she was badly hurt elsewhere besides her neck, so I crawled over the seat into the front, headfirst into the foot well to examine that the driver wasn’t severely bleeding down there. They were ok, but I couldn’t get then out. The leaking gas concerned me, but so did the hysterical children standing next to the car. I got back out, and saw at least two dozen other people, all on cell phones. I asked it anyone was calling 911 (only two did that?!) but no one else bothered helping, not even to get the girls away from the car, which was a distinct gasoline fire hazard. I myself was covered in dust and broken glass from crawling around in the car. First responders arrived twenty minutes later, and we got back under way. About twenty minutes later I started feeling this awful dread, similar to when I have seen car fatalities. It was confusing, because I thought I would be rather proud, and happy everything was going to be all right. That sorrowful feeling lasted all the way home and well into the night. Eventually I chalked it up to post traumatic stress syndrome – I mentally prepared to deal with blood and guts, blocking emotional responses to remain focused on task. But once the emergency passed my brain released the emotions, as if I had actually dealt with a deadly tragedy.
The last experience still haunts me. In the early 1980s I was involved in a Tulle fog chain accident. We were collecting our senses, and bracing for the next impact, as cars continued to add to the pile up, when I saw this five year old boy walking between vehicles. I got out to tell him to go back to his car, when another car came up brakes squealing. Common sense says to get back in to your own car, but instead I rushed at the kid, in an attempt to take him off the roadway. There was more metal crunching, and the cars around me lurched forward. I tossed the kid into the air, then I was struck by one of the caroming vehicles. I ended up with a huge bruise along my right side, and a tweaked back that still bothers me to this day. The kid suffered a broken arm, tumbling off the hood of the car I where I tossed him, but I am certain he was better off than if he was hit by the car that struck me. The father of the child caught up to me in the hospital, where I awaited my turn, as the more seriously injured were treated. The father had witnessed my act, and was very grateful. He took out his wallet and was going to pay me cash or something. I waived it off, saying something like he would have done the same thing too. So instead he peels the watch off his wrist, and uttered the most poetic expression of gratitude I have ever heard, including metaphors about time, second oppertunities, his kid’s life, and all that stuff. Unfortunately shock and my general confusion caused me to forget his exact utterance. It felt awkward accepting his watch, it was obvious from his dress they were living hand to mouth. A few weeks later I felt better about the watch, when I spied it for sale in Target for seven dollars. It is one of my most treasured possessions. The reason why this incident haunts me was my action to rescue the boy was reflex-like in that I didn’t consciously think or weigh the options. I feel I was very lucky I wasn’t severely injured or killed, since I could have easily been crushed between vehicles. It disturbs me to realize this could happen in one form or another, again, that I may again react without thought, and may not be so lucky next time. It is haunting.
I should add to the above comments about PLBs. I carry a couple of smoke flares when going solo. It won't call for help, but once help is in the air, the smoke will be an umabligious telltale visiable for quite a distance. Smoke flares are available at marine supply shops.
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