Author Topic: Risks v Reward  (Read 495 times)

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Offline johnmac

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Risks v Reward
« on: October 09, 2014, 03:53:02 pm »
A couple of weeks ago while rappelling off the Tower of Babel in Arches National Park my climbing partner had a mishap. He was about 25 meters from the ground at the last set of anchors having just rappelled from the previous belay.

The next minute he wasnít there. He has no recollection of what happened. I was at the higher anchor and had no view of him but he yelled out that he was at the anchor. The only thing I can think of is that he hadnít clipped correctly into the anchor.  He has many years of experience.

Anyhow, he survived the fall, with 8 broken ribs, a couple broken fingers and a collapsed lung. Thankfully, his helmet did its job and he only received minor head injuries.

The level of care provided by the Park staff and EMT's at the base of the tower was fantastic. Prior to them arriving, a member of the public who was watching from the side of the road rushed over and attended to him until they arrived. He was unconscious. I never got to thank him as I was still on the way down. He was flown to Grand Junction's St Mary's hospital via helicopter, where he was released this week after spending 12 days in hospital. 

It will be another 14 days before he is cleared to jump in a plane and fly home. He will fully recover, but right now he is limited to a wheelchair and a walker to get around. Each day sees a little bit of an improvement. He is busy reading my Alpinist Collection.

I've been climbing since I was 14 and I'm now 51. For 20 years I was a full time IFMGA guide working around the world and although I've never lost a client or a friend while climbing or guiding I've seen plenty of friends and peers come and go over the years. Although upsetting at the time, this is really the first accident that has rocked me. Most of the time you can be quite analytical about these things, however, in this case, I've have found the whole experience to be really quite traumatic.

After he was evacuated, I had to go back to our campsite and pack up our gear and then hit the road to Grand Junction. During that period, although I was able to contact the hospital they wouldn't provide any details as to his status. I really thought I would be calling his wife to let her know that he had died. When I got to ER, he was alive but a mess and the extent of his injuries were still being accessed.

So, now I'm really wondering for the first time in my life the risks versus the rewards. Maybe I should have a huge gear sale. My wife, whom Iíve been married for 25 years and has always, been 100 percent supportive wants me to just to have a break and wait until next spring to decide what to do. Itís probably the wise thing to do, but the thought of not having a plan over the winter is not something Iíve ever done before. Typically, I work out my vacation periods, goals, etc., and get everything lined up. Itís almost as though not having something to look forward to (the research and planning, training, gear prep), etc., is what Iím scared of missing out on. Iím not used to this indecision.

I still have one major bucket list goal and that is solo El Cap. I love being up on walls and feel totally at ease soloing. Iíve done plenty over the years from alpine, rock and walls but yet to tick the Caption solo. Going back to school to finish off a degree and working full time has really cut down those road trips.

When I used to helicopter ski 7 months of the year (NZ and Canada), we used to always talk about the perceived margin of safety and just how objective and rational your decision making really was. Did you start every day with a clean slate or was the hazard increasing incrementally as you spent more time in the environment? I retired from guiding after my third helicopter crash. Flying around in bad weather, with limited visibility, from tree to tree, lost its appeal.

So have you ever thought of hanging up your boots? Talking up a new sport or hobby? I also race mountain bikes so itís not like Iím going to run out of things to do and Iíll probably get to improve my places by a couple of positions as Iíd likely have more time now...

Offline cobbledik

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2014, 04:29:54 pm »
Wow. Heartfelt and difficult to address. For me, I've never concerned myself too much with the risk aspect in terms of death but the fear of life changing injuries is often present for me. In the end, I focus on whether I feel a deep "want" to risk for the wall. If I feel that want, I'm not at a place in my life where I can walk away from it lest it smolder and mestasticise as depression.

I realize my arrogance and selfishness mostly when I think about my mother. I'm one of three kids. My sister was killed in an auto accident at 18 and watching the effect upon my mother makes me realize the possible complete destruction that would occur if she lost another child.

But that want speaks continuously whereas my responsible thought comes and goes.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline kristoffer

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2014, 09:26:15 pm »
Take a break bro. You know yourself better than anyone.

Im a strong believer that if you hear those warning bell sounds in your head itís a good signal to stop and reevaluate.

You never know how it will pan out, maybe 6 months from now you will be back up on the Tower of Babel with your old partnerÖ

ďSaying no is a skillĒ.

"I am plagued by a mindless nonchalance and petrified zen"

Offline RP3

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2014, 10:53:35 pm »
I had a close call a few years ago on Keeler Needle. It definitely made me chill out and be more careful. It also made me re-evaluate much of my life trajectory. Hanging out with friends, drinking beer, and making out with pretty girls is way more fun than climbing. I agree with Kristoffer. It is important to listen to those voices.

Offline johnmac

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2014, 10:17:07 am »
Thanks for the replies.

I'm going to take next week off and ride a bunch before winter sets in for good.  We have had quite a bit of snow up here in Summit County and it won't be long before you won't be able to ride.

Maybe I need to buy a fat bike!





Offline *Mucci*

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2014, 11:17:29 am »
I was involved in a pretty heavy rescue situation with a very good wall partner 4yrs back.

I dislodged a giant desk size boulder that crushed him and pinned him down.  We were in a bad spot, new territory in a 2nd class narrow gully.
He had 4+ hours till extraction, and the short haul was 5 min from being called off due to nightfall.

As I watched the litter spin like a propeller, I thought, he is not going to make it.

He did make it, albeit not fully recovered.

6 months later PTSD hit me really hard, I could not climb 5.5.  I was very depressed and thought about giving up climbing.

Well, I just let it ride out, and everything came back to me.  My partner was very supportive as I was to him, and that helped me move through.  Lot of visits and talks.

It is personal, and sometimes you need a break.  Only YOU know what you need to move forward, but rest assured time heals.



Quote
ďSaying no is a skillĒ.
 

Damn right.


Time and a new found respect for nature changed my views.  The risk is still there, and mitigated by my choices made in the thick of the shitshow.

Good Luck, and Hope your partner heals well!

Offline caribouman

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2014, 12:13:51 am »
First off, a +1 to taking a break if you can't focus.  If the fear of risk weighs so heavily that I can't focus, and I take the risk, I'm afraid I'll get hurt worse by eventual injury caused by the inability to avoid it.

Poignant stuff, since I just turned 51.

 An idea for you:   Why not make two plans?  One, "the non-climbing" plan, that you put into action if you continue feeling the way you do now; the other, "the climbing plan" that you put into action if you get your spark back.  You could do the George Plimpton thing, one sport per year, fully committed, and see what clicks. 

Have I ever thought about hanging up the boots?  I did, I hung them up for a long time.  I had dogs for a while, and had to get them out, so I got heavily into trail running, snowshoeing, and especially BC skiing.  I've also played music for a long time, and for a while, semi-professionally.  I worked out like a fiend during that couple years, but I wasn't focused on the fitness for anything beyond it's own sake. Doing other things, in a very involved way, I don't feel I've lost out climbing but gained an appreciation of other aspects of life.  Here's something to consider - a world full of people who are really into, really committed to their job, their hobby, their sport, loving what they were doing.  If you're just not that into it, don't do it.  Maybe it's time to try a few different things, and maybe you'll find something you really want to sink your teeth into. 
when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Offline Rags

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Re: Risks v Reward
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2014, 12:56:41 pm »
An interesting and timely post johnmac. It really resonates with me.
My apologies if this gets a bit long. I read through the posts, and I guess I can only relate my own experience. If you notice I haven't posted on this board in a long while. There are various reasons, but mostly because climbing hasn't been something I've been doing much, if at all.
I have to go back to October 2000. That's when a scaffold I was on at work collapsed. Broke my back and heel bone. About 8 months later I was with partners in Yosemite trying to TR Moby Dick. I felt really weird. Turns out that the fall exacerbated a condition I have, neuro-cardiogenic syncope. Just means that under the right conditions I can pass out. Well,  I did pass out about 2 months later, back in the valley and I was solo Tr'ing Five and Dime. Passed right the fuck out, hanging on my rope at the crux. I got down when I came to, but it started a long period of serious doubt. I tried for a long time to believe I could climb like I did. Physical issues aside, the mental game wasn't there anymore. I even got nervous on ladders. I considered quitting completely a lot of times, even came close to selling all my gear.

Fast-forward: So I had a couple more episodes like that, kept trying to climb and got better. But then again, in 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer. That kicked my ass, but I've been clean for 3 years now, but I haven't been climbing. I mountain bike instead. Anyway, I'm not sure how to say this, but during all these years, I have never really let go of climbing. It was an identity, a way of life, and most significantly, it was the most rewarding thing I have found. Just being on a wall hanging out is like no other experience, the comradery, telling stories around a campfire, going to out of the way places, I love it still. Problem for me is, I never have found anything else that I wanted to "sink my teeth into" as caribouman suggests.

I've had to consider and reconsider a lot of things. I'm here now because yesterday I went to my storage and pulled all my gear out. I've decided I am going to climb again. I still have a tick list that includes soloing WFLT, climbing Zodiac, the Nose, and freeing Astroman. I also turned 56 a week ago. I quit climbing for a while, a long while, but I never stopped feeling the pull of being a climber. I'm giving one last, good go at it. If it isn't there, then I'm probably going to be an occasional part-time sport climber or easy boulderer. I refuse to take up residence on a couch.

So the question of Risk vs Reward for me has come full circle. I couldn't climb because the risks looked huge, and when I was laying bed with those chemo drugs going through me, and seeing people half dead at the clinic, I knew what that end looked like. My brother, my aunt, and my cousin have died from cancer. I can tell you without hesitation that if it's my time to go it's going to be doing something I love. Not stuck in bed with IVs and O2. Fuck that. For me the reward far outweighs the risk anymore. There's a lot of other ways to die, and there's a lot of low risk climbing if that's the choice. I don't have a family to worry about, so in some way it may be easier for me to accept risk. The other part of it is there is no shame in taking time off. You do what needs to be done to regroup. In my early days of climbing I took risks because I kinda thought it's the other climbers that get killed. My scaffold fall destroyed that delusion.

I'm getting back in the harness but with a much greater sense of managing the risks, being calculated, taking my time, and preparing for all the contingencies. In the end all I can say is that I need the rewards that climbing provides, and not doing it? Well, I've tried that, and it makes me miserable, so risks be damned. My only advice is take your time johnmac, each of us is different, consider what's important to you. I get the sense that climbing is a big part of your life. If it is, you just need to figure out what adjustments to make.

Be safe, Live Long, Climb Hard
Be Safe, Live Long, Climb Hard!

Rick