When things go wrong.

Robert C Grunau December 13 at 6:19pm
call mom she heard three people were missing on mount hood.

The above is an email I got from my Dad today.  It’s late on the east coast so I haven’t called my Mom yet,  but I understand her worry.  She knows that I sometimes climb alone, and that I love alpine climbing.  However, she would prefer that I don’t tell her when I’m heading out.  As my sister posted on my facebook page: “Ok so Bob you are fucking crazy… if mom sees those pictures she will freak out!  Rock climbing is one thing but the ice thing is a bit too much”  She was referring to pictures from my first ice climbing trip.   For my folks and family the ice and snow is too much for them.  I don’t ask them to understand it, just accept it.  As you can tell by the email from my dad, anytime something goes wrong on “The Mountain” minor panic ensues back in Cleveland.

Then there are the questions from people who know that you climb.  “Did you hear about the guy’s missing on Hood?”  I got this when I first moved to Portland three years ago when several perished in a snow cave.  These questions are always going to come up.  People who don’t climb (especially in the mountains) will never understand.  To them, you will always be a nut job with a death wish.

Now (a full day after I started this post) there is a poll on a couple of the local “news” websites asking if climbers should be REQUIRED to carry personal locator units.  We are obviously biased, but to require climbers to carry a device that would useless if you and your friends where lost and weren’t being followed by SAR.  This is absurd, when a huge majority of people who get “lost” in the wilderness are hikers who must then be plucked from woods by SAR.  I don’t have the numbers handy, but in the weekly updates on AAI’s blog constantly reports on hikers being lost and found (sometimes dead).  It should also be pointed out that mountain rescue opposes this move

I discussed this with Signe last night.  I pointed out that with out rescue services following you around to jump the minute you hit that button, assuming you can hit the button.  I went on to say that they are pretty much useless if you and your friends get buried, or if you climb solo, like I have a tendency to do.   Signe pointed out that it isn’t always about “you” but about the families and the need to recover a body.  I understand where she’s coming from and my initial argument of cost was outed as bunk, as it should have been.   Because I wouldn’t trust my life to a ten dollar cam.

But it goes beyond cost.  What I look for in the mountains is freedom.  Freedom from the city life, freedom from my self, as well as the ability to be self reliant.  A freedom I lack in my everyday life.

This incident is already being painted as a tragedy.  I will quoteWill Gadd:

For me I’m never going to use the word “tragedy” in reference to a climbing or mountain sports accident again. A tragedy is when a whole family gets killed by a drunk driver. A tragedy is when a little kid gets abused. A tragedy is when a 30-year old mother of two young kids gets cancer and dies. Dying while climbing, kayaking, paragliding, BASE jumping or any other form of outdoor recreation isn’t a fucking tragedy, it’s a clearly predictable result of doing the activity. If I or anyone goes out while doing our sports with a clear understanding of the game we’re playing then let’s have a drink, cheer for the life lived, and move on as best we can. I know it’s not that simple as death leaves huge craters in life, but I think that’s the only sane response I can give to the continued and voluntary mountain carnage I keep seeing year in and year out. To celebrate the rewards without clearly understanding the risks is not only bad math but blatant self-deception.

Climbing is a selfish pursuit and I won’t try to dress it up as anything else, it is up to those who love and care for us to accept that putting ourselves in a place where we could potentially get hurt or not return at all is part of who we are.  To give that up, would be giving up part of who we are.

One thought on “When things go wrong.

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  1. “As you can tell by the email from my dad, anytime something goes wrong on “The Mountain” minor panic ensues back in Cleveland.”

    I had my own minor panic attack on 39th & Powell Monday morning when I say the cover of the Oregonian…lasted almost 30 seconds until I read the climbers names. If the names hadn’t been visible from the newspaper box window I may have freaked out.

    I can’t fully understand why people want to do these kinds of things – maybe a little, but not fully – but knowing you helps me understand more and I know that you are thoughtful and you don’t just rush into it and that it isn’t just “fun” for you. I can see that it has brought you purpose and passion and even salvation at times. You are honest about it and I totally respect that. As much as it may scare me that you could get hurt, I totally support you in this thing that you love so much.

    Love you Bob.

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