When I talk to people and they find out I’m a climber, often they ask some form of- “isn’t that dangerous?” I often reply that driving to the base of the mountain is actually much more dangerous than climbing it. Usually, their question is followed by a grisly story of someone they know falling/getting frozen/hit by rockfall/etc., which are valid concerns, and which can also usually be managed with some degree of technical knowledge and practical humility. Don’t stand under a serac, don’t climb the hardest pitch at the end of the day, and don’t assume the weather will be good. Beyond that however, this question always raises an important train of thought for me- why are we willing to accept risk, and how do we manage the fear that risk can introduce into our experience?
All of us take risks every day. All of us take those risks for a reason, however sometimes those reasons may seem superficial. Riding your bike in downtown Portland or downtown Chicago (not the same level of risk, btw) has more risk than driving the same distance but also has some important benefits (parking?). Today, I went rock climbing for the first time since leaving Yosemite Valley in May, and there was risk involved. We managed the risks, and had a beautiful day out. It seems strange that our recreation seems so precarious to people (in fairness, some mountain climbing truly is), but perhaps it is simply that I am well accustomed to managing this flavor of risk.
I mentioned the bike tour I’m planning, and part of that includes considering a variety of risks that I’m not accustomed to managing. Traveling in places I don’t speak the language, getting run-over, theft of my gear/clothes/bike/etc are all likely situations, and stand to significantly impact my experience even though I don’t really have a clue towards how to manage them. I find it easy to get trapped into doing nothing, or perhaps just something easier in an attempt to mitigate some of these potential risks and that frustrates me. So much of our world operates out of fear and it sickens me- limiting my experience out of fear makes me feel pathetic. To be sure, some fears are useful, but most will simply try to leave you being smaller than you truly are. In the end I believe that both the required risks, and the elected risks, enrich our lives and add value to our actions, they strip away baggage, they make our choices more meaningful. How do you manage the risks you take?
“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness, to learn- anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”
— David Whyte (House of Belonging)
Risk is the darkness, embrace it.