computers, classroom, climbing, etc.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Should risk-takers receive help?

When I started this blog, it was going to be about belay stations. The internet (oddly enough) has changed the way I think about them, and my teaching hasn't caught up to my thinking yet. Since then, the topic that has taken the most space is the use of computers in the classroom. I'm not finished with that and will return very shortly, but first a quick swing by the topic of extreme sports.

Climber Jarle Traa summitted Chomolongma (Everest) two Fridays ago but seems to have gotten lost on the way down. Assumed dead, he was found by pure chance at 8300 m 3 days later by two Sherpas. He is now in hospital in Kathmandu. Sergei Samiolov in the meantime is presumed dead.

No long post here about the meaninglessness of Everest climbing, the bizarre Himalayan expedition industry and so on. There is a lot written about this stuff and I just don't care. Himalayan climbing has never really interested me. What has caught my attention is the outpouring of angry voices insisting that climbers and other extreme sports enthusiasts should not be rescued or at least have to pay for their rescue.

Nepal has no rescue service, so climbers on Chomolongma rescue each other. Western countries tend to have organised rescue services staffed by climbers, so again climbers rescue each other. Why is this system offensive? I listened to lots of angry callers to a radio talk show last week and many of them mentioned the risks rescuers take and the expense to society.

I’ve had some involvement in mountain Search and Rescue and there is such a strong culture of risk management in rescue services that I have trouble relating such opinions to reality. There is of course the use of public money for rescue in many places, but again I have trouble relating these angry opinions to the facts as I see them. In Norway, where I live, there are few rescues of climbers. Hikers are far more often choppered out than climbers. The real expense, in lives, risk-taking and money, is in connection with small boat accidents. Yet no-one clamours against geezers out in small boats. It seems natural that people go out in small boats and a matter of course that massive resources are mobilised to save them when things go wrong.

The boater may be taking a risk, but what they do is so ‘normal’ that this is not seen as risk-taking activity. The climber may be taking less of a risk, but what they do is seen as strange and dangerous. It’s alien and incomprehensible and therefore easy to complain about. If we started to look at the numbers, we’d have to start looking at boaters and accept that everyday activities involve risk that may endanger others. We might have to start to look at driving, heaven forbid.

Photo credits: féileacán, Åmot C. Nilssen (practice, me in white)

1 comment:

  1. There are far more hikers than climbers out there - maybe that's why threre are more hiking accidents?