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攀登就应该是危险的

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发表于 2022-11-14 12:07 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
born from the simulation
本文转载自 Climbing.com,翻译:Bince,王二,WW

攀登就应该是危险的
一代又一代攀登者意识到直面危险的意义。直面危险,就是攀登的意义。

Francis Sanzaro
2022.10.5

不久前,在优胜美地的蛇堤线路(5.7R)发生了一起事故,一名年轻女子受了重伤。事故发生后,在各种论坛或帖子中,有人提议应该将这条线路加固以使其更安全。蛇堤线路是一条有大量 runout(长距离无保护攀登)的经典线路,由 Jim Bridwell、Eric Beck 和 Chris Fredericks 三人于1965年夏季首攀。一些不和谐的争论随之而来,包括各种叫骂和攻击:某些“大佬”的“自负”是这种危险线路存在的罪魁祸首。争论很快又变成了攀登到底是大众普及运动还是小众精英运动;攀登的冒险精神是否被磨灭之类的话题。

在我看来,这是又一次关于攀登的本质的讨论。

正如历史上无数次关于“攀登的本质”讨论一样,总是伴随着安全与危险的辩论,这并不新鲜。1910年代,奥地利攀登者 Paul Pruess 坚信——尽可能徒手盲攀(onsight free soloing)——是攀登者都应该崇尚的最好的风格。Royal Robbins 嘲笑 Warren Harding 在首攀 Nose 时的笨拙作风。1970年代和80年代,优胜美地徒手攀登家 John Bachar 被称为大师。登山皇帝 Messner 相信他的反围攻战术才是攀登大型山脉的正确姿势。阿式攀登者声称他们的“公平”风格是攀登运动自然进化的结果。

需要明确的是,让攀登更安全并不难。只需要在类似蛇堤这样的线路上的 runout 路段再加一到四个挂片。更换 Royal Robbins 五十年前打下的生锈岩锥。在松碎岩石上安装冗余的保护点。以及炸掉K2上的寡妇冰塔林。是的,确实有人提过这类建议,但是这些想法或是愿望从未真正实施。让攀登更安全的想法一直都有,但是往往不会真的被实施,这就很有意思。

“攀登应该是危险的吗?”当我在蛇堤事件后听到有人问这个问题时,我下意识的反应是:“攀登当然是危险的,因为这是攀登,回答完毕。”但这很敷衍,就好比有人想要进行难度更大的攀登时,你对他说:别掉下来就行了。

当我认真思考这个问题,我意识到这个问题其实是:“为什么这么多攀登者坚持认为攀登必然包含危险?”以及“如果变得更安全,攀登的本质会改变吗?”

这些都是挺有意思的问题。

作为《Rock and Ice》杂志的前主编,我写了多年的事故报告。我失去过伙伴。我采访过悲痛欲绝的父母,分析过惨烈的细节,竭尽所能去还原那些失去生命的人最后时刻的心理活动,企图避免悲剧再次发生。简单地说,我思考过很多关于攀岩安全的问题。

据我观察,有四件事引发了关于攀登“固有风险”的讨论:(一)最近发生的一系列伤亡事件引发了关于历史线路上的老式保护点的争论;(二)数以万计的初学者通过攀岩馆接触了这项运动,而他们可能不知道野外攀登与危险之间深刻的历史渊源;(三)相当数量的顶尖高手的死亡;(四)我们随处可见且完善的安全警示标志,比如警告人们河边的岩石很滑;如果你从悬崖上摔下来,你会死等等。这意味着公众在日常生活中所经历和能承受的风险越来越少,恐怕也确实如此。尽管大家对《The Alpinist》和《Free Solo》这样的冒险激情片很着迷。但事实上,公众眼中的攀登运动是:超人们为了生计而进行的一种直面死亡的前卫冒险活动。

关于危险的争论终于敲响了攀登群体的大门,在我们的岩场、山脉和峭壁上。所以我想谈谈这件事。

但首先,我要坦白一件事。

第一次令我印象深刻的攀岩经历发生在科罗拉多州 Boulder 市郊 Eldo 岩场的6段线路 Ruper(5.8)。我当时14岁,已经爬了大约一年,还从来没有进行过传统攀登。那是一个潮湿炎热的夏天。我忘了带安全带,于是设法用扁带临时做了一条。几个绳段后,我偏离了线路,当我踩在一个四英寸的岩棱上,就再也无法移动了。当我思考着我的死亡、抉择,和这一切的意义时,我的临时安全带滑到了我的脚踝上……

很显然,我从这次经历中幸存了。但正是这种将生命握在手中的体验让我迷上了攀岩。攀登向我展示了生活是可以被抉择的,而这一认知是一种礼物,帮助我度过了一段艰难的青少年时期。

尽管现在我已经攀爬了三十年了——攀冰、mix、运动攀、传统攀、抱石、等等——我觉得类似场景很能说明问题:任何一位足球教练都会立即清除比赛场地上的危险(比如一根伸出地面的小铁棍);而我可以只花15分钟从家来到岩场,从一条被侵蚀的裂缝里拔出一枚生锈的岩锥,它已经钉在一条硬线的难点处长达30年之久,并且不再能承受任何一次冲坠。大家都认为这么做很OK对吧?好吧,特别赞。可许多攀岩者都坚称,那个锈迹斑斑的岩锥仍在原处。我并没有去清除过它。

当然,足球场上的小铁棍和我家附近 M7 WI5 线路上的小铁钉有很大的区别。这种差异与攀登运动之所以存在有密切的关系,它恰恰说明了攀登游戏的意义。准确地说,我们并非不应该讨论如何让攀岩更安全,或者在本地岩场上进行的运动攀必须是危险的。相反,我们应该更深入地理解危险和攀登的因果关系,从而帮助我们创造更好的线路。并成为更好的攀登者。

图片
The author on Banzai Pipeline WI5M5, Crystal River Valley, Co.

自杀爱好者

攀岩是登山运动的产物,现代登山运动于18世纪末在阿尔卑斯山区萌芽。一开始,被“征服”的是欧洲的象征——勃朗峰(Mont Blanc)于1786年被首攀,罗萨峰(Monte Rosa)于1855年被首攀,马特洪峰(Matterhorn)于1865年被首攀……。因为四名登山者在马特洪峰的首登中遇难,攀登山峰被认为过于危险,以至于维多利亚女王(Queen Victoria)考虑禁止这项运动。悲剧发生后,《伦敦时报》将登山者称为“自杀爱好者”,并在一篇社论中深思:“这符合常识吗?这应该被允许吗?”

到了19世纪末,欧洲大部分最高峰都已经被登顶了,登山者们转向技术线路,比如1911年的马特洪峰的弗根脊(Furgen Ridge of the Matterhorn)攀登,现代登山运动终于诞生了。简而言之,随着攀登的目的逐渐专注于攀登本身,线路变得更加专业化。是否增加额外的风险和难度成为攀登体验的可选项。大约在20世纪40~50年代,攀岩运动渐渐形成。其中仅关乎难度的攀登被称为“运动攀岩”,再后来,抱石在20世纪80年代开始兴起,它是自由攀登理念(free climbing,完全依赖自身能力的攀登)的产物。关于自由攀登的行为规范和涉及到的道德伦理,从上个世纪开始层出不穷。

这节历史课重点是什么?正是在攀岩运动的萌芽时期,差不多从1850年到1980年,这项运动呈现出了它的现代形式。也正是在这一时期,早期登山运动不择手段的理念被现代观念取代,攀登者开始在线路、风格和理论上做出主动的选择,逐渐形成了现有规则。由于意识形态的差异,伦理问题也开始在攀登者中不断引发争论。

在某些情况下,这些攀登规则让这项已经很危险的运动变得风险更大。在 Lito Tejada-Flores 1967 年的经典文章《攀登者游戏》中,他将不同的攀登规则称为“障碍系统”,这是一种旨在平衡攀登成就的人为系统。这个系统现在如此深入人心,我们甚至很难注意到它。不同领域的攀登者对“攀登”的定义不同。比如,在 Smith Rock “攀登” Just Do It (5.14c) 比“攀登”珠穆朗玛峰的规则更加严格。“攀登” Just Do It 意味着你必须自由攀登它,不能用梯子,不能拉挂片。但珠穆朗玛峰的攀登定义通常比较宽松;当你说“登珠峰”,意味着你可以选择最简单的线路,吸氧气,拉固定好的路绳,穿能加热的袜子,使用梯子,让其他人为你做饭和搭帐篷,等等。相比之下,如果你在攀登 Just Do It 时即便只在绳子上挂了1 秒钟,你就不算完成了攀登,也确实很少有人完成。简而言之, “攀登”的含义发生了巨大变化。

攀登中“规则限制”的不断增加也意味着,随着技能和技术的提高,人们开始有意识地让更多的风险成为攀登游戏的一部分。正是这些因素使攀登发展到今天的样子。一个典型的例子是 Connor Herson 在 Empath(5.14d) 上特意不用挂片,而用自设器材保护攀登。或者流行的喜马拉雅大岩壁的自由攀登,例如攀登 Trango Towers,曾经可以接受以任何方式达到顶峰,如今则通常以自由攀登 标准进行。有些线路在首攀时无论主观和客观上就是危险的,即便这样,想要改变线路的历史原貌也必须非常谨慎;因为这种危险状态正是这项运动的精髓。作为一个社区,我们倾向用更富有挑战的方式攀登历史线路,反之则会嗤之以鼻。这是基于我们是如何——有意或无意地——看待攀登游戏的本质。

事实上,阿式登山、登山、徒手攀登、超高抱石、R级传统攀登等等,尽管有着不同的规则,但都不约而同地保持了主动寻求更多风险的传统;是因为在更深层次上,所有类型的攀登都与心理压力有着相同的密切关系。

攀登运动的本质是对身心的控制——在你将要失控的情况下做出冷静、沉着、理智的决策。害怕坠落是阻碍人们发挥攀登潜力的最常见因素之一。无论你离地面6英尺还是600英尺的高空,你本能地紧张,拼命抓紧,不想坠落——这是人体的一种本能现象,是一种简单神经反射。这种对失去控制的恐惧不会发生在足球场或棒球场上,虽然也会紧张,但方式不同。当身体紧张时,你必须设法避免失去理智。当然,这种主观感受在某些类型的攀登中更为强烈——因为存在额外的客观风险——但客观风险无处不在。

Tejada-Flores 称之为“什么是攀登?” 并且认为“无法回答”,但我不太认同。对我来说,攀登游戏,无论你是在谈论抱石还是高海拔攀登,都是关于如何在混乱中保持平衡——包括内部混乱(做出高难的动作或保持紧张姿势所需的肌肉和神经)或外部混乱(客观危险例如疏松的岩石、长距离无保护、不良的冰况)。为了更好地攀登,哪怕只随便爬爬,我们都需要平衡多种且经常相互冲突的心态;当面对随时变换的“场景”时,我们需要练习控制身心;实时分析内部和外部条件;知道何时掷骰子,何时不掷骰子;以及领会我们的游戏对象——岩石本身。

人体对危险的自然反应是恐惧。虽然恐惧产生的激素可能有助于抵御某些威胁,但对登山者来说却是可怕的。因为恐惧关闭了我们大脑皮层负责记忆、思想、决策和智力的区域。攀登者头脑中恐惧的存在与我们作为攀登者试图做的事情——面对混乱保持镇定——完全对立。所有顶级攀登者,无论是如何训练的,都掌握了克服恐惧的艺术。这并不是说他们感觉不到恐惧,他们只是不被恐惧控制。

攀登游戏

攀登这项运动不止是关于管理危险,更是关于在危险面前管理我们的意识,这是完全不同的两件事。客观上,危险并不存在。K2的冰塔林只对恰巧在它下方的人有危险,当没有人在那里时,那只是一个令人惊叹的山峰边上的一种令人叹为观止的景色。危险是一种客观事物,但风险是我们用来描述危险心理体验的词。

你不能百分之百地管理危险,因为如果危险得到百分之百的管理,它就不复存在了,例如炸掉K2上的冰塔林将消除它以及它对下面的登山者构成的危险。风险之所以成为风险是因为暴露于危险之中。风险可以被减轻,随着暴露在危险中的时间减少可以减轻风险,但要想成为风险,必须存在一个黑色的抽象的危险核心。在大多数客观条件中,攀登都会冒很多风险,比如损坏的挂片、缺乏保养的装备、长距离无保护、起伏不平的坠落场景、没有保护的接近路段等等,这就是为什么我们说攀登具备“固有风险”

一代一代攀登者都发现了直面危险和追寻风险中的意义。无论是强烈感受到但实际上很小的风险(例如在攀岩馆里),还是存在对生命的真正威胁(例如在“蛇堤”上)。

攀登本质上是一种我们所接受的心理管理练习,它的练习场地恰巧是巨石、峭壁或者险峻的山脉。本质上,没有人喜欢感到恐惧,因此数亿美元被用于咨询和治疗,以帮助普通民众摆脱恐惧。恐惧会限制你,感觉某人对你构成威胁会让人失去力量;更令人恼火的是在不应该害怕的时候害怕。当我们想要自由的时候,恐惧束缚了我们,使我们失去自由。当我们能够在超越糟糕的保护点30英尺的高空冷静地挑选需要的保护器材,不紧张、不害怕、并且不犹豫地完成我们的运动目标,或者能够做出清醒的、瞬间的决定来挽救我们的生命时,攀登往往是最令人满意的训练。

由于我们的身体想要坚持下去,坠落感觉很危险,这是一个基本的身体感官事实,因此攀爬与危险有着独特的关系,无论危险是真正客观的,比如坠落到地面的可能性,还是主观的,比如在挂片上冲坠,或者两者兼而有之。初学者和中级攀岩者比经验丰富的攀岩者感到更恐惧是很常见的。

你越善于攀登,你就越能更好地理解和管理恐惧的各种表现。当恐惧被运动表现所取代时,这是一种多么神奇的感觉啊。我们开始行动自如,没有不必要的焦虑。我们的心跳平静下来。我们开始攀登。

这就是攀登游戏。这就是为什么攀登应该是危险的。这就是为什么有这么多攀登者——我是其中之一——坚持这样。
 楼主| 发表于 2022-11-15 14:55 | 显示全部楼层

Climbing Should be Dangerous

Think Simulation
Opinion: Climbers through the ages have found value intentionally courting risk. There's a reason for that.

FRANCIS SANZARO
OCTOBER 5, 2022


After a recent accident on Yosemite’s Snake Dike (5.7 R), in which a young woman got severely hurt, it was proposed—in various forums and threads—that the route should be retrobolted to make it safer. Snake Dike was first climbed in the summer of 1965 by the trio of Jim Bridwell, Eric Beck and Chris Fredericks. It is a classic, and very runout. After the accident, debate ensued. It wasn’t always pretty. Some yelling, name calling, baiting, etc. “Hard men” and their “egos” were to blame for the existence of dangerous routes. The conversations quickly moved into claims concerning the accessibility for all, elitism of a few, ruining the adventure of climbing, and so on.

The debate, in my opinion, was about the essence of climbing.

Climbing’s fraught relationship to the safety-danger couplet, as framed by historical “essence of climbing” conversations, is by no means a new phenomenon. In the 1910s, Austrian climber Paul Pruess was adamant that his style—largely onsight free soloing—was the best and that all others should adhere to it. Royal Robbins scoffed at Warren Harding for poor style on the FA of the Nose. In the 1970s and 1980s, Yosemite soloist John Bachar was called an elitist. Messner believed his anti-siege tactics were the true method for the Greater Ranges. Fair-means alpinists claim their style is the natural evolution of the sport.

Just to be clear, it’s not hard to make climbing safer. Just sink a bolt, or four, in that run-out section, such as on Snake Dike. Replace the rusty piton that Royal Robbins pounded in five decades ago. Add a two-bolt belay on that chossy ledge. Dynamite the widow-making serac on K2. Yes, someone has actually suggested that, but it’s not as if the idea, or the desire, has no precedent in mountaineering. Decisions to make climbing safer are made all the time in climbing. But they are just as often not made, and that’s interesting.

“Should climbing be dangerous?” When I heard people asking this question after the Snake Dike incident, my knee-jerk reaction was, ‘Of course climbing should be dangerous. It’s climbing. Case closed.’ But that’s lazy thinking, and about as good advice as telling someone that if they want to climb harder, “just hold on longer.”

As I thought about it, I learned the question is also, “Why are so many climbers adamant that climbing remains dangerous?” and “Would the essence of climbing change if it was made safer?”

Those are interesting questions.

As the former Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Ice, I wrote the accident report for years. I lost friends. I interviewed grieving mothers and fathers, analyzed gruesome details, and did my best to inhabit the last psychological moments of those who lost their lives, so as to prevent future accidents. In short, the question of climbing’s safety is something I’ve thought a lot about.

Read this: Cleaning up Climbing History: The Truth Behind 13 Pivotal Events and Ascents
On my accounting, the conversation about climbing’s “inherent risk,” has been brought to the fore by four things: (i) a recent spate of injuries and deaths has led to debate about retro-bolting historic routes; (ii) tens of thousands of new climbers have been introduced to the sport via gyms, and those new climbers might not know the deep, historical relationship between climbing and danger; (iii) the very public deaths of a fair amount of our top alpinists; (iv) our pervasive and well documented culture of safety—signs warning people that river rocks are slippery, that you will die if you fall off a cliff—in spite of the general public’s fascination with the risk-porn of The Alpinist and Free Solo. The fact that the public has latched onto climbing as this avant-garde adventure sport pursued by heroes who confront death for breakfast is testament to the idea that this same public experiences and tolerates less and less risk in their daily lives. Also a studied fact.

The question of danger is finally knocking on our collective doorstep, at our crags, mountains and cliffs. And so I’d like to talk about it.

But first, a confession.

My first impressionable climbing experience occurred on the six-pitch Ruper (5.8) in Eldo, outside of Boulder, Co. I was 14 and had been climbing for about a year, but I hadn’t trad climbed at all. It was summer, real slimy and hot. I had forgotten my harness that day but managed to jerryrig one from webbing. A few pitches up, I got off route, and as I stood on a four-inch ledge, frozen, pondering my mortality, the options, what it all meant, my webbing harness fell to my ankles.

I survived the experience, obviously, but it was this very phenomenon—of literally holding my life in my hands—that got me hooked on climbing. Climbing showed me life was optional, and this realization was a gift, one that helped me through some rough teenage years.

Though I’ve been climbing for three decades—I climb ice, mixed, clip bolts, trad climb, boulder, whatever—I do find it illustrative to think every soccer coach in the country would immediately remove a hazard (say a small metal stake sticking out of the ground) from the playing field, whereas I can go climbing 15 minutes from my house and clip a rusty piton that has squatted in an eroding crack, at the crux of a hard route, for 30 years, a piton that wouldn’t hold a proper fall. And we are all OK with that fact. Well, more than OK. Many climbers are adamant that the rusty piton remains where it is. I sure am.

Of course, there’s a big difference between a metal stake in a soccer field and a metal stake on my local M7 WI5. But that difference is somehow bound up in climbing’s raison d’être. The difference illustrates what the climbing game is about. To be clear, what I’m not saying is that we shouldn’t entertain discussions about making climbs safer, or that sport climbing at your local crag should be dangerous. Rather, we should understand at a deep level the entanglement of danger and climbing, so as to help us create better routes. And become better climbers.


The author on Banzai Pipeline WI5M5, Crystal River Valley, Co.

Dilettantes of Suicide

Rock climbing is an outgrowth of mountaineering, the latter germinating in the Alps in the late 1700s. At first it was the brand name Continental peaks that got “conquered”—Mont Blanc got FA’d in 1786, Monte Rosa in 1855, the Matterhorn in 1865, and so on. At its inception, mountain climbing was considered so dangerous that, after four climbers died during the Matterhorn’s first ascent, Queen Victoria considered outlawing the sport. After the tragedy, the London Times referred to climbers as “dilettantes of suicide,” pondering in an editorial: “Is it common sense? Is it allowable?”

In the late 1800s, by which point most of Europe’s biggest peaks had seen ascents, climbers moved onto technical faces, such as the Furgen Ridge of the Matterhorn, which finally witnessed a topout in 1911. In short, as the sport came into its own, routes got specialized. Layering on additional risk and difficulty became an optional part of the climbing experience. Circa the 1940s and 1950s, bouldering took shape. Climbing for difficulty alone—aka “sport climbing” and later, hard bouldering—only really gathered steam in the 1980s, an outgrowth of the “free climbing” ethic, which had sputtered and taken on various forms in the previous century.

Read this: Mauerhaken Streit: The Great Piton Debate of 1911
What’s the point of this history lesson? It was during this germinal time for rock climbing—say, from 1850 to 1980—that the sport assumed its modern form. It was also during this time the by-any-means-necessary philosophy of early mountaineering was replaced and climbers started to make intentional choices in their chosen routes, style, and ethic. Rules got codified. Ethical debates entered climbing as a result of intentionality.

In some instances, those intentional choices made an already dangerous sport even more dangerous. In his classic 1967 essay, “Games Climbers Play,” Lito Tejada-Flores refers to different climbing rules as a “handicap system,” an artificial system meant to level out achievement. This system is now so prevalent we hardly notice it. “Climbing” Just Do It (5.14c) at Smith Rock, for instance, is harder than “climbing” Mount Everest because the climbers in these disciplines define “climbing” with different rules. “Climbing” Just Do It means you free climbed it, without aid, no pulling on bolts, etc. But the ethics on Everest are generally more lax; to say you “climbed it,” you can pick the easiest route, suck O2, pull on fixed lines, wear heated socks, use ladders, have other people cook and set up your tent, and so on. In contrast, if you so much hang on the rope for 1 second on Just Do It, you didn’t climb it, and few have climbed it. In short, what it means to “climb” something changes dramatically.

The proliferation of “don’ts” in climbing also meant that, as skills and techniques increased, increasing amounts of danger started to become part of the climbing game. These two factors have put us where we are today. Case in point is Connor Herson skipping bolts on Empath (5.14d) and instead fishing in hard gear. Or the in-vogue free ascents of big Himalayan walls, such as the Trango Towers, once topped out by any means possible, but now sent using modern free-climbing standards. Some routes are established to be dangerous, subjectively and objectively, and we need to be very careful in the quest to change a first ascent’s historical conditions; the latter are the bones of our sport. As a community, we tolerate making a historical route more dangerous, but scoff when the opposite measure is taken. This is due to the fact of how we, unconsciously or not, perceive the climbing game.

Though it’s true that participants of disciplines like alpinism, mountaineering, free soloing, highball bouldering, or R-rated trad, have retained the legacy of intentionally courting danger, at a deeper level, all species of climbing share a common relationship to stress.

Read this: Why do Climbers Free Solo?

The essence of our sport is control of the body—calmness, poise, common-sense decision making—amidst situations that make you want to feel the opposite. One of the most common things holding people back from their potential in sport climbing is a fear of falling. When you hold on, you don’t want to fall—this is just a somatic phenomenon of the body. It’s hardwired in our constitution. This goes for being six feet off the ground or 600. The body instinctively grasps; losing grasp is danger. This does not happen on a soccer field or a baseball pitch; fear is there, too, but in different ways. When the body grasps, a climber has to fight that entropy. The presence of subjective danger is, of course, more saturated in some types of climbing—because of the additional objective risk—but it’s always there.

Tejada-Flores called the “what is climbing?” question “unanswerable.” But I’m not so sure. To me the climbing game, whether you are talking about bouldering or alpine climbing, is about poise in the middle of chaos—inner chaos (the muscles and nerves required to stick a hard move or hold a tense position) or outer chaos (objective hazards like loose rock, long runouts, bad ice). To excel at climbing, or even just one climb, we need to deploy multiple, and often conflicting, mentalities; we need to exercise control in the face of a dynamic “field”; real-time analysis of internal and external conditions; knowledge of when to roll the dice and when not to; and a physiological mastery of our medium—stone.

The body’s natural response to danger is fear. While the neurological cocktail that fear creates might be good for fending off some threats, it is horrible for climbers. Because fear shuts down areas of our cerebral cortex—a part of the brain responsible for memory, thought, decision making and intelligence, among other things—the presence of fear in the climber’s mind is incompatible with  what we are trying to do as climbers: poise in the face of chaos. All top climbers, regardless of discipline, have mastered the art of fear. Which isn’t to say they don’t feel it. It just does not consume them.

The Climbing Game

The climbing game is not about managing danger, it is about managing our consciousness in the presence of danger. Those are entirely different things. Danger does not exist out there, objectively. The K2 serac is dangerous only to the person beneath it; when there’s no one there, it’s just a stunning feature on the side of a stunning mountain. Danger is the thing—the K2 serac—but risk is the word we apply to the psychological experience of danger.

Read this: Searching for Superman: the Strange Dissapearance of Fritz Stammberger
You cannot 100% manage danger, because if danger is 100% managed, it ceases to exist. Blowing up the serac on K2 would eliminate it along with the dangers it poses to climbers below. Risk is exposure to danger. Risk can be mitigated, lessened at times, but to be risk it needs to have a black, abstract core of danger. In most of its variations, climbing assumes a lot of risk—bad bolts, sketchy gear, run outs, ledge falls, uneven landing zones, unroped approaches, etc.—and this is why we say it is “inherently risky.”

Climbers through the ages have found value in confronting danger, in intentionally courting risk, whether it is strongly felt but practically minimal (such as in the gym) or existentially threatening, such as on Snake Dike.

Climbing is essentially a mentality management exercise we embrace which just happens to call its field of play a boulder, crag or the mountains. Hundreds of millions of dollars get spent on counseling and therapy to help the general population rid themselves of fear. At base level, no one likes feeling fear. Phobias are limiting. Feeling that someone is a threat to you is disempowering; equally irritating is being fearful when we shouldn’t be. We want to feel free. Fear traps us. Fear is paralyzing. Climbing is often most satisfying when we are able to continue to swing our tools calmly thirty feet above bad pro, send our sport project without nerves, trepidation or hesitation, or are able to make clear-headed, split-second decisions that save our lives.

Because of the fundamental somatic fact that our bodies want to hold on and falling feels dangerous, climbing has a unique relationship with danger, either when that danger is truly objective, such as groundfall potential, or subjective, such as falling on bolts. Or a mix of the two. It is entirely common for beginner and mid-level climbers to feel more fear than their more experienced counterparts.

The better you get at climbing, the better you get at understanding and managing fear’s various manifestations. And what a magical feeling it is when fear is replaced by performance. We start to move with facility, without needless anxiety. Our heartbeat calms. We start to climb.

That’s the climbing game. That’s why climbing is dangerous. That’s why so many climbers—I’m one of them—are adamant it stays that way.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Francis Sanzaro, (Ph.D). is the former editor of Rock and Ice and current strategic Advisor at Gear Lab. He’s the author of multiple books, including The Boulder: A Philosophy for Bouldering, and Society Elsewhere: Why the Gravest Threat to Humanity Will Come From Within.

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