/ Getting 'too' comfortable

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
sharpendclimbing 26 Aug 2019

Not sure where to put this one (mod).

I've recently noted how comfortable I am in steep scrambling terrain, compared to some (or most) of my peers who seem overly cautious. I'm not sure what to make of this, whether I am a danger to myself or simply developing a level of self-assuredness in my own ability.

Do you believe there is a risk that as climbers we become too comfortable with 'lesser' risks (i.e. non-death falls, steep but non-vertical rock, etc) in scrambling terrain and paradoxically take even more risks? Is it something one must be conscious of and act upon as they become more experienced?

I've no doubt this change accompanies my experiences in trad; as I slowly move up the grades, once intimidating grades begin to seem subjectivity more friendly. However scrambling perhaps has more grey areas?

Post edited at 00:56
pancakeandchips 26 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

It's definitely something to be wary of, considering how many top tier climbers have died falling from terrain that was very easy for them whilst the were soloing or running it out. The guy in Squamish recently comes to mind, as does the pair on elcap last year or the year before, also Ueli Steck and Jimmy Jewell. Complacency kills.

summo 26 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

Perhaps it's a percentage game. As experienced climbers we spend a large amount of time stood unroped on ground that isn't steep, but you could still be only one trip or stumble away from a very long drop. Think of the decent routes that are really low grade scrambles. As the old saying goes about thinking well to each step, the bottom really is the end of the route, not the summit. 

elsewhere 26 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

Gravity is the same on easy ground and even the grassy bits.

it624 26 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

Possibly it's an example of 'risk compensation' - an individual has their own acceptable level of risk, and if a factor is changed that alters the base level of risk (e.g. you are more experienced and capable on scrambling terrain), they tend to change their behaviour until they reach that level of risk again. 

The classic example is with bike helmets - some evidence suggests cyclists wearing helmets will take more risks than those without, as will the which drivers around them, which cancels out some of the safety benefit. I'll stick to wearing mine though, partially because most of my crashes are me failing to unclip from my pedals while stationary!

ElArt 27 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

Great question this. My climbing partner is similar to this at height and is just recovering from double ankle surgery after bouncing off a route.  He is really careful in how he speaks, acts, a more careful driver than me etc so it’s difficult to relate to other parts of your life. He does have a wild streak though. 

Suppose you could ask yourself if you’re safe when you’re in a position where you’d be willing to push the boundaries for something you really want?

you could also ask yourself why you’re so relaxed then consider the Meta-Mirror question (why did I answer that way) to try and understand why you do what you do? 

Its all too easy to flick around on YouTube and watch the peeps doing very dangerous top end climbs and think this is standard. They don’t show the days of cleaning, bolting, familiarisation (casting holds for walls etc) they just show the spicy stuff. If you read Dave Macleod blog you get a good idea of how extra safe he is, how much preparation goes in and how risk averse he really is.

Is your original question to us your community or to yourself? I’m glad you asked though!

You can stay safe and push 👍👍👍

sharpendclimbing 27 Aug 2019
In reply to ElArt:

It's both; I've been asking myself whether I am getting complacent. It's useful to hear other opinions. Unlike Ueli Steck, I've not been chasing big mountain objectives, but then how can one even achieve much more modest goals like a traverse of the Cuillin, if you simul climb/pitch the whole ridge? I suppose it's a balance.

ElArt 27 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

I’d find someone else who is as comfortable as you at height and push on. You can still climb with your old partners but find the right new partner and you could achieve the goals you want to.

All the good climbers I know have been comfortable at height but safe too. 

As long as you’re always in a safe system (and I am no rope tech) you’re safe (arguable but you know what I mean). 

kedvenc72 27 Aug 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

I had to have a strong word with myself when out soloing easy routes for a fun relaxed evening. A v.diff I'd solo'd maybe 20 times before. 

Due to a lack of attention/complacency I almost missed a hand jam and just about caught myself.  Every time I solo (or lead) now I remind myself of that first (and some other incidents). I've had a friend die and a number of friends in bad accidents due to complacency (not just soloing etc) and on terrain that was very easy for their level.

meggies 04 Sep 2019
malk 04 Sep 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

got me thinking if i'm being complacent not bothering with insurance on a 2 week solo walking trip in the alps. am i being foolish?

teh_mark 04 Sep 2019
In reply to malk:

I think you could be unpleasantly surprised if you find yourself in hospital. In Chamonix (just because I have personal experience of being broken there), even if you're picked up by the PGHM, gratis, there's a good chance you'll end up in the hospital in Sallanches - which is a private hospital. If you've done something silly like break your ankle you could easily find yourself with some massive medical bills, which the EHIC will cover little of.

PaulScramble 04 Sep 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

I take pride in my caution, but I started as a survivalist. I also read a lot of grim mountain rescue autobiographies. If you are complacent then find another hobby is my advice.

pasbury 04 Sep 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

Not to be too morbid but I often imagine myself falling from wherever I am. I don’t climb much with ropes any more but when I did, and was doing something below VS, i’d check out what I’d hit on the way down before the rope caught me.

Scrambling has always struck me as an activity where the risks are somewhat hidden; because it’s counter intuitive that a body will fall so unpredictably and so far on such easy terrain, but it will.

Post edited at 22:11
timparkin 05 Sep 2019
In reply to meggies:

> Heuristic traps may be of interest:

Understanding these and related self analysis is the biggest and most useful learning  we can  have. Know  yourself intimately, don't make assumptions.

tlouth7 05 Sep 2019
In reply to meggies:

> Heuristic traps may be of interest:

Has anyone seen any advice on how to identify these? It seems possible to avoid falling into ones you have thought of (e.g. by forward planning, pre-defined time to turn round on a mountain etc) but hard to properly evaluate your own decision making in order to spot them in the first place.

I had a salutary lesson the other weekend when climbing at the Roaches; I had three pieces of gear in a row fall out while I was still climbing above them. I think the problem is that I have become very comfortable when out trad climbing and forget that I am betting my life on the rope. Because I am not consciously considering the risk I don't place much importance on each piece of gear, such that I am content with sub-par placements. Hopefully pushing the grade beyond my comfort zone and taking more lead falls will remind me of what the rope is for, as will the mantra that each piece could save my life (said while placing it).

I am particularly interested in finding answers to this because I am moving to Scotland soon and the mountains obviously have greater objective dangers. I will arm myself with knowledge and training about those dangers, but would also like to set myself up to make the best possible decisions when cold and tired.

DancingOnRock 05 Sep 2019
In reply to it624:

I think you’re right there. Attitude to risk is mainly about experience and competence. 

That made me me laugh about clips. All my friend cyclists who are always telling me I should wear a helmet have had serious crashes and injuries. All of them at speeds I wouldn’t even consider safe with or without a helmet and the majority of them have fallen off and banged their helmeted head - having forgotten to unclip. So experiences definitely colour your judgment and lead you to the ‘wrong’ conclusion.

loose overhang 25 Sep 2019
In reply to sharpendclimbing:

The ideas and replies in this post could well be combined with another post here on UKC under "Scariest Scrambles"  I think I can write to both posted questions and in doing so reply and reinforce several other posted replies.  I have climbed for several decades and in the last number of years I do a lot more moderate peak-bagging which often involves some scrambling.  I live in British Columbia and 'am active most weekends here and in Washington State.

My partner and I mostly hike, usually for 8 to 12 hours round-trip per day and commonly find the last few hundred feet to a summit is occasionally bare rock with class 3 scrambling and very rarely low class 5 (Yosemite grade) parts.  Early season there is usually snow.  We go well equipped, carrying proper clothing, plenty of food and appropriate gear, even for an (uncomfortable) night out.  We tend to travel light, so we rarely carry a short rope, but when needed we take along instep crampons and ice axes.

There have been several instances when watching her scramble to be the most distressing experience for me.  I have told my partner, who is not a rock climber, that I think that un-roped scrambling is far, far more dangerous than most trad climbing.  My years of descending loose gullies, traversing "moderate" slopes and "easy" snow have shown me the most hazardous parts are often not exposed and are not that steep.  But there are passages of loose rock, damp muddy rock, or ice hidden under snow, which could easily become fatal slips.  A fifty foot fall is usually fatal.

So what to do?  To me, keep on going out --- it is marvelous being out in the world of nature, weather and non-trivial decisions. But, I hope to be always aware of the dangers and always question my experience.  I think Whymper wrote in "Scrambles Amongst the Alps"of being cautious of a simple slip which could lead to disaster.

Get out there!


This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.