Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Do You Really Believe That?

I want to believe. Fox Mulder, The X Files

Last night, my smart young niece – it makes me feel old to lay claim to a niece starting university today – was telling us a story about a friend of hers who had gone to Cambodia and, apparently, descended on multiple zip lines into a jungle valley, stayed overnight, then climbed out on a 300 metre Via Ferrata, that had the rungs too far apart for her to comfortably reach. An interesting tale, but, a tale none the less.

When I hear these apocryphal stories which, whilst perhaps containing a kernel of truth are clearly exaggerated beyond rational belief, I am astonished that intelligent people actually believe them.

Zip lines are expensive to build and maintain, and, the average tourist might happily descend one, or perhaps even two, but to descend multiple zip-lines over a long distance would not only consume more hours than exist in a day, but would be beyond the physical ability of all but the fittest tourists. Tourists in good enough physical condition for such an activity are not paying a tour guide to take them about but are off on their own adventure.

Climbing 300 metres on a Via Ferrata is similarly beyond the ability of the average tourist, unless the angle was closer to 20 degrees than 90 degrees – in which case one has to wonder why a Via Ferrata would be necessary. Sustained climbing up a Via Ferrata at any angle approaching vertical is actually a strenuous activity requiring far more upper body and core strength than the average person possesses. Even moderately well conditioned climbers used to climbing and stronger than average are routinely crushed when climbing the aid pitch on Smith Rock's Monkey Face.

The only explanation I can find for this incredible show of facile gullibility among erstwhile intelligent people is that they really have no comprehension of what the activity involves and so cannot assess the validity of whatever story is being promulgated. Anyone who has tried rock climbing or even attempted to grind out a few dead-hang pull-ups would be immediately sceptical of such claims. Even if one were to discount the fitness involved, moving even one or two people through challenging terrain such as described in this story would take a long, long time, moving half a dozen people, all of whom are fumbling with unfamiliar harnesses and sundry gear could be measured in geologic time.

From an entertainment perspective, there is nothing enjoying a tall tale, just don't view the story as a documentary.

Monkey Face in Smith Rocks

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