The Right To Risk

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for"  - William Shedd

I've kept the quote a little shorter, and a little lyrics and no obscure analogies. The reason for this is two-fold: I lost my earphones for my ipod... and it would seem that figurative analogies of monkies and alter-ego's may have been a little lofty an ambition.

A little while back some bloke flew a sky-diving rig off of the cliffs to the left of Platteklip gorge on Table Mountain. A flight/jump/stunt (I'm not sure what it's called) he'd apparently done a few times before. For semantics sake, it's important to note that he was not BASE jumping but rather "speed-jumping": as I understand it, the pilot is effectively in a controlled "run" downhill. I have jealously watched a "speed-jumper" in action taking a very direct (and vertical) route between ski runs at a resort called Grand Montets in Chamonix. I say 'jealous' because it certainly looked like immense FUN – this ability to cross all, and ANY terrain...vertical drops included!

On this particular occasion, on Table Mountain, a semi-inflated canopy caused him to drop a little faster than intended, depositing him in a heap on a ledge some 30 metres down. Fortunately there was someone filming the 'flight' (so that it might win a prize) who was thus able to alert rescue services, who eventually carried the injured man out, under some trying conditions, as the weather continued deteriorating.
Now I've chosen this incident purely because it highlights a few important themes very well. Namely: Action, Conse-quence, Motivation and Reward.
It is fair to assume that the majority of you reading this, climb to some degree and as such share a passion for the vertical and all that goes with it – challenge, camaraderie, exclusivity...and the ever-present knowledge that danger lurks. For some, danger is the lure, for others it is a by-product of the undertaking... but for ALL of us we must always remember that for every action (in our field of play) there is an associated potential risk, a potential reward, a consequence and for all of these there needs to be motivation.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties - Erich Fromm

Added into the mix, and again diluting the cocktail that is 'extreme' sports [into which many include climbing] are subtle nuances of style, variables specific to the undertaking and variables specific to the individual. Obviously free-soloing carries more risk than sport-climbing, and likewise climbing 'choss' is more risky than solid granite. However the greatest variable in the entire equation remains the individual:

  • how they assess the variables relating to style, route, conditions, etc
  • how they handle unexpected change, pressure and consequence
  • are they capable of even visualizing the variables, and particularly are they competent at seeing ALL of the potential eventualities
  • are they capable of objectively matching personal competence with the objective of the day, under the conditions of the day.

Remember that what is risky for some, may not be risky to others. In fact, it is often quite the opposite – Dean Potter linking The Nose (El Cap), with the North-West Face (Half Dome), alone and in less than 24hrs is, arguably, LESS risky than a pair of wanna-be sport climbers at a sport crag without any instruction or previous experience.

This is simply because experience is a factor as imperative as desire, and affords the individual – bear in mind that of all the variables, the human variable is the most adaptable...and more often than not the area that offers the most user-input to change – the ability to adapt, to lessen the risk. To succeed.

But how does one acquire the necessary experience without first being ignorant and naive?

If we accept that all of our [climbing] exploits carry some form of risk, and ergo consequence and we can safely assume, also, that the reward is directly linked to the challenge of the route, and to a varying degree the associated risk then all that remains is motivation. Right? And as long as the motivation is pure, then the risk is justified.


Following on from that, and when judgment is passed, whether we succeed or fail should be immaterial. Likewise the relationship between the nature of the undertaking (and its associated level of risk), and the individual's capability should be equally irrelevant because if the undertaking is bigger than the experience, then it will be educational, alternatively if the two are well matched then the experience will be a dual of tradecraft, an expression in creativity. Both have their place, as they are symbiotic, and both should be encouraged – one cannot exist without the other. You cannot walk before you can crawl.

So why then, in the case of the pilot, was criticism so harshly passed?

Surely we should all be afforded the benefit of being judged according to our intent...and not on the results!!

Risk is all around. Occasionally we go looking for it (sometimes unwittingly). Next time, before you pass judgment on others using your own degree of acceptable risk, remember that what they are doing is an if you will, and it is intrinsically part of who we are, and what we do. In fact individual expression should be encouraged. We have a right to risk - provided that the motivation for the undertaking is pure.

What is 'Pure' motivation to you? Are you always true to it?

If you wait until you're sure it's right, you'll probably never do much of anything Win Borden



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