Dec 1, 2008 at 5:29 pm #1232328
Two weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to go day hiking in Marseilles in les Calanques (which is French for "the fjords"; trip report to come) with three friends of mine. Two of us had a great deal of experience backpacking and otherwise wrangling with the earth, one of us had some dayhiking experience, and one of us had never seen a mountain, much less gone hiking. We were all in relatively good shape and around 20 years of age with the corresponding levels of pis$ and vinegar.
Of the two with experience, I was the cautious one. I have gotten used to backpacking alone and the appropriate level of care that accompanies it. As such, when a decision involving a dangerous and safe option arose, the more dangerous being the more interesting and the safer being the less interesting choice, I chose the safer path. When the group picked the riskier route, there were no ill consequences, we saw extraordinary things, and the challenges heightened both our skill as hikers and our knowledge of our own capacities.
However, I consider that an extremely lucky outcome, considering the terrain, weather conditions, and level of experience on the trail (I'll save details for the trip report). I can't help but be nagged by the memory of every place where, just as we were very fortunate, we could have been equally unfortunate with disastrous results.
I was wondering what the group leaders, instructors, and anyone who has ever faced a similar situation had to say about these challenges. How does one balance careful risk assesment and caution with the potential benefits of taking chances?
I hope all is well out there! Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
JedDec 1, 2008 at 8:05 pm #1461516
@back2basicsLocale: Southeast USA
Pis$ and vinegar comes with old age. At 20 years old, you're still ten feet tall and bulletproof.
I don't do many group outings. Most of my youth was spent wandering solo around OK, MO, AR, TX. Your experience should guide you and always, always, always trust your instinct. If you feel your actions are unsafe and with no reward, stop. If nobody else is around to save your bacon, you might want to reconsider your actions. A life threatening mistake could mean that this will be your last trip. Make it a point to be safe so you can do the things you enjoy again. As a part of a group, also keep this in mind, but also be cautious of those around you. They may not have your level of experience and they may not be thinking about safety. The same consequences apply.Dec 1, 2008 at 8:50 pm #1461526
@redleaderLocale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
I've led groups since 1987 and once in a while we have a "young buck" who knows "he can do it"… whatever that might be.
In 1995 one such fellow had a brand new BMW 740i, and was understandably proud of it (bit of a BMW snob). Hiking with a group on the PCT, we had to do a detour around the switchbacks on the east side of Elephant Back, due to frozen snow on the trail. This fellow said he wanted to take a short cut – traversing an icy slope above a rocky slope with a landing (if he missed the rocks) in a lake. I insisted that he would have to give me the keys to his new car before starting across. He stood and thought a moment before descending to continue with the group.
I do a fair amount of solo hiking and try to be aware of my options at all times, so as not to "cross the line". When I'm leading a group I'm even more cautious. I've never lost anyone yet. Knock, knock, knock.Dec 1, 2008 at 9:07 pm #1461531
@back2basicsLocale: Southeast USA
"Could you sign the back of the title too? That would sure make my visit to probate court go a lot faster."Dec 1, 2008 at 9:18 pm #1461533
@redleaderLocale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
LOL! Underline, underline.Dec 1, 2008 at 11:20 pm #1461542
Staying at home is the safest.
Everyone has their own levels, but it's great you are challenging yours. Thank your group. Don't be afraid to speak up though! You toss your voice in the ring and average them out, but people need to acknowledge your input.
Risk can be mitigated by an excess of skill and strength, planning and equipment, good communication. Also, knowledge of self. Knowledge of the area. Bailouts or safe spots like a hut or car. Gradual learning, especially unfamiliar environments.
For taking those risks, make sure you get the rewards, or it's not worth it.
Driving will be more dangerous. Can't wait to see yer trip report, now. Safe up!Dec 2, 2008 at 2:43 am #1461548
"Pis$ and vinegar comes with old age. At 20 years old, you're still ten feet tall and bulletproof."
Ya know, I'd say that is a more accurate assessment!Dec 2, 2008 at 8:50 am #1461586
@mikeclellandLocale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Read this article. It talks about safety in a team.
Also, the ages between 17 and 26 are statistically the group that gets in serious accidents. This is across the board (car insurance, ski area, NPS rescues, etc…) so be aware that YOU are statistically on that list. And men (boys?) are off the chart compared to the testosterone challenged segment half of the population. Add a camera, and you might as well expect disaster.
I'm 46, and I'm over it. I ski with people in their 20's, and I now feel like a psychologist observing aberrant brain patterns in my youthful companions.Dec 2, 2008 at 9:26 am #1461590
Everyone has a different level of comfort taking risks based mainly on their experience related to the risk and/or their core personality. For many it is in their nature to take more or less risk than others and that is part of what makes them who they are – usually a yin yang mix of both risk and reward.
I sense that you are self aware and recognize your own level of comfort taking risks-" Of the two with experience, I was the cautious one."- It's good that you are comfortable in your self awareness- That's maturity.
So we can skip the whole part about self image and an unconcious need to take more risk to attain (or maintain) a certain positive self perception or replace a negative one.
In picking partners, assessing compatibility based on experience and core personality is key.
While not always possible in a larger group setting (that's a whole other science!!!) , trying to understand the personality reasons why each person would take a risk can offer insight. You can then place a negative or a positive association on those reasons as it might relate to your safety and decide accordingly-hopefully before ever going anywhere with them.
Of course, going anywhere with knuckle heads is always too big a risk!:-)
Bottom Line: Encourage lots of communication prior to taking a trip or before a risk.Dec 2, 2008 at 9:29 am #1461591
@dsmontgomeryLocale: one snowball away from big trouble
I'll take everyone's use of their science nerd-dom in this forum as my license to introduce a little bit of legal nerd-dom.
I think you can use a modified version of Learned Hand's formula for determining the standard of care for a negligence action in tort to determine acceptable risks in backpacking. His formula was B < PL (appropriate letters :)), where one should take a given precaution when the BURDEN of that precaution is less than the PROBABILITY of harm (without that precaution) multiplied by the magnitude of possible LOSS.
For backpacking, just invert the inequality, so B > PL, where one should take a given risk when the BACKPACKING ENJOYMENT FACTOR is greater than the PROBABILITY of harm (from taking that risk) multiplied by the magnitude of possible LOSS from taking that risk.
So, if it's stretching food for another day for a summer summit of Mt. Washington, take the risk. The L would be small (some additional hunger) and P would be moderate (it's likely you'll be hungry), but the two would be outweighed by the large B of getting to the summit. If it's choosing an inadequate shelter to save weight for a winter summit of Mt. Washington, don't take the risk. The L would be huge (you die), the P would be moderate to high (depending on how much you skimp), and those would outweigh the small B of a few less ounces in the pack.
The problem with determining risk in backpacking, and for the standard of care in negligence, is determining P. It's highly subjective, hard to determine before hand, and frequently the only choice is between two competing risks. I think many backpackers approach the decision focusing on the B they want (summiting a mountain, crossing a wilderness) and then work to minimize P and L through planning, experience, and gear choices. Erin and Hig give some interesting perspective on risk in one of their podcasts: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/podcast_journey_wild_coast_health.htmlDec 2, 2008 at 10:20 am #1461608
Told myself no posting today. Sorry I lied.
Avalanche hazard brings group decision-making into crystal-sharp focus. You all just started pre-dawn, huffed 2 hours uphill, and the snow is amazing. Sketchy even.
Bruce Tremper, Ed and Doris LaChapelle, Lou Dawson are the authors I am most familiar with.
Interesting insights into non-avy decision-making and group dynamics are discussed in the book, Outdoor Leadership by John Graham.
And the video A Dozen More Turns is on the web, just watched it for the first time. Whew.Dec 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm #1461719
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
I'd say choose your partners carefully and if, even then, the group's decision is to do something that causes a little voice to whisper in your ear: "This is a very bad idea", be prepared to endure the group's ridicule, etc, and do it in a way that you're comfortable with.Dec 9, 2008 at 3:33 pm #1463229
The jackass Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild just broke a bone that was sticking out of his shoulder in a fall in Antartica. His antics are the epitome of what not to do in a survival situation, much less when you hike solo. His risk management/assesment is way off kilter.Dec 9, 2008 at 4:42 pm #1463248
I'm not real sure the statement about him being the youngest person to summit Mt. Everest is true? Maybe at the time he did it which is not stated. I do think that has been broken in the last few years.Dec 10, 2008 at 8:06 pm #1463585
"The jackass Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild just broke a bone that was sticking out of his shoulder in a fall in Antartica. His antics are the epitome of what not to do in a survival situation, much less when you hike solo."
I don't know what you're talking about. The man killed a rattlesnake, cut off the head, ate the meat, and used the skin as a canteen for his own urine. If I had a dollar for everytime I've used that technique… well, lets just say one more time and I can get a platypus instead of carrying around this dang snake skin! I hear they carry urine much more effectively.
;)Dec 10, 2008 at 8:52 pm #1463594
To search out some formula for this is just crazy- I can't think of a more subjective outdoor topic.
Check out Dean Potter on the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite.
In case you don't notice, he's got no harness.
Here's a Dan Osman classic speed solo:
Dean is still going.
Dan died in an accident.
I feel I have absolutely no right to judge them- this stuff is between them and their partners, friends, and families. I would never do what they do. And therefor we'll never be partners…No shame in admitting this to yourself.
You pick partners that are on your level. And you should be honest with yourself about what level you're on and how far AND WHY you need to push, if at all. And if something really doesn't feel or look right to you, don't do it. If your partners don't understand, you go get new ones.
I stopped climbing with a friend because I felt he never pushed hard enough.
I stopped climbing with another because he constantly pushed to the point I was getting too scared and dragged into stuff over my head.
I don't think anyone was right or wrong. We've all moved on to find our niche.
This is where it is invaluable to get to know your partners BEFORE you go on and embark on epics.Dec 14, 2008 at 12:26 am #1464229
This isn't always applicable to backpacking but in climbing and other action sports this is true: The difference between a safe confident approach and a haphazard clumsy approach almost always comes down to your commitment level. If you're second guessing you're gonna half ass things and screw up. Most of the time you're better off making a wrong decision and committing fully to it. In MANY MANY situations I've made what I thought to be the safer choice and ended up adding unnecessary complication to the situation. Commitment and risk taking aren't necessarily synonymous but they often look the same in the heat of the moment.
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