Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Risk Assessment

Recently, some friends of mine took a novice climber up an alpine climbing route in the mountains. When I say novice climber, I mean, really novice, as in, were you to talk in metaphors about skills/routes under the belt, the belt would be pretty loose. One glacier course, a short day or two of easy cragging, an easy scramble or two, but no real climbing of significance.

Apparently, everyone made the summit and back and enjoyed a grand day out; albeit taking twice as long as a party would normally take. The novice climber was evidently instructed in the art of rappeling (should someone really learn to rappel in a mountain environment?) and solo climbing (should a novice really be soloing exposed class 4 and class 5 terrain, or even exposed class 3 terrain?). When I questioned the wisdom of allowing a novice climber to solo exposed terrain, I was told that the novice "thought the moves out before making them" which, as any experienced climber knows is completely ludicrous. Learning to read rock and imagine the moves required takes many, many hours, days, weeks even months to master and is certainly not a skill set possessed by a novice climber.

Thinking about this trip I thought about how different the scenario would be had the novice climber been with a professional guide. Undoubtedly, the novice climber would have been short-roped up everything class 3 and up, and would most likely have been lowered rather than rappeling. Certainly, I can't imagine a professional guide allowing a client who does not have a solid grasp of rappeling to rappel in the mountains, there is just too much that could go wrong and the outcome of an error is likely death.

The thing that seems perverse about the whole trip is that a guide with professional skills, built in safety margins, contingency plans, and rescue plans would act far more conservatively than a couple of recreational climbers. Either the guide has it completely wrong, or the recreational climbers do. I know which one my money is on. 

Solo climbing in the Selkirks

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