August 9, 2007

Without proper equipment and training?

A recent article in Alpinist makes our local climbing fall in Rumney look like small potatoes when they report this to be the deadliest summer season in the Alps in the last 10 years.

I know that there are different ethics in the Alps, especially as it relates to rescue and in particular helicopter assistance, but come on this is getting ridiculous. Especially when the chief of the Zermatt rescue service says many of the climbers entering the mountains this summer did so without proper equipment or training! The article goes on to say that many of the rescues took place because climbers either "couldn't or wouldn't climb further."

I used to make fun of my friend and former colleague Adam for spending so much money on NOLS courses. My argument went that if he spent all that money on his own trips he could stay out twice as long, wouldn't have to deal with being part of a large essentially guided group and would have learned twice as much. I admit that I was probably at least to some degree wrong - and I'm sure he learned a great deal and was able to go to some amazing locations.

My fundamental principle of mountaineering, the reason I love it so much, is that I am self sufficient. If I'm by myself or with a group, I / we have what we need with us both in terms of food and gear but also in terms of mental and emotional reserves.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and then it's amazing to have people willing to help. But when people enter the mountains with the implied understanding that they don't need to be prepared, or responsible for their choices, that's not cool.

I would disagree that lack of equipment and training was to blame in many of the Alps accidents listed above. I would value experience more as a risk management tool than either expensive clothes or courses. As a young outdoors person I can recall many bad calls I made on 3000' peaks or dirty granite quarries that only bruised my ego.

I never would have had the chance to make these mistakes on a course, but they have served me well on later trips where the stakes were higher.


  1. Alastair10:07 AM

    I wonder if folk expect to do too much too soon without serving an apprentiship in the hills & on the rocks, but then I reflect on some of my close calls earlier in life & think maybe that could have been me.

    At least I've maybe learned from it all.

    Also when younger we couldn't get away too far or try bigger things easily with lack of finance & transport.

  2. That's an interesting point, Alastair, about bigger objectives being more available.

    Does climbing media touting the sexy destinations make us less willing to mess about on our local crags?

    I suppose learning from our experiences is all any of us can hope for!