/ How irresponsible is winter climbing?

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Kemics 04 Dec 2019

Specifically scottish winter climbing and children... not taking the child on the route in a back pack.

How irresponsible is it to go winter climbing if you have a young child? I feel like scottish winter climbing involves a sketch/death risk far higher than trad or summer alpinism. 

On the one hand i feel like climbing is important but on the other it feels kind of selfish because if i die im leaving the good lady on her own with an infant. Am i over estimating the risks or is it reasonable to hang up the axes?

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Rog Wilko 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

You might have to talk to the missus about this.

Just for the record, when we had kids Debbie could not get back into any sort climbing at all. She admitted that this was all based on gut feeling and not logic or any rational risk analysis. During what could have been my climbing prime (which would never have been much to write home about anyway) she did no climbing and I did almost no climbing, but instead we spent all our leisure time in orienteering, which suited the whole family. I know I'll get some flack for saying this, but I don't think the foot of a crag is a good place for young kids unless their parents are giving them full attention. I realise this is an extension of your initial question, but similar. 

Not long after climbing began again for us we were at Ravensdale in the Peak and a couple who we knew (same club) were climbing and their primary school age daughter was playing at the foot of the crag. When her mother dislodged a microwave size block Debbie was watching and threw herself at the child, knocking her down the hillside while the block landed where the child had been standing. It has coloured my opinion on this issue ever since. 

And yes, winter climbing has a lot more objective dangers than this, which of course you knew. Interesting that you lump summer alpinism with trad. I know at least one guide who is beginning to take the view that the risks of summer alpinism are becoming unacceptable owing to climate change.

Sorry if you think I've hijacked your thread.....

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J Whittaker 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Going climbing if you love it isnt selfish regardless of having a child/partner etc.

Juat don't take additional unnecessary risks.

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subtle 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

> How irresponsible is it to go winter climbing if you have a young child? I feel like scottish winter climbing involves a sketch/death risk far higher than trad or summer alpinism. 

> On the one hand i feel like climbing is important but on the other it feels kind of selfish because if i die im leaving the good lady on her own with an infant. Am i over estimating the risks or is it reasonable to hang up the axes?

Oh, it's very irresponsible- please hang up your axes, and encourage all others in a similar state as you to also hang up the axes.

Winter climbing - for the young and carefree or old and experienced only!

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Andy Hardy 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

How much winter climbing do you do now? How much would you miss it?

I think if you're already thinking it might be selfish, if you do go you might not enjoy it.

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Michael Gordon 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Measuring the risk in any meaningful way may be nigh on impossible, but I think we all know it's a riskier endeavour than trad. There's always winter walking...

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Kemics 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Andy Hardy:

Realistically only 1 or 2 trips per year so far from prolific, they just tend to be the most memorable! 

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Kemics 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Thanks, that's a great perspective

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McHeath 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Loads of very well written food for thought on the subject here:

https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/rock_talk/reeling_in_the_years-694502?v=1#x8873099

I gave up the riskier forms of climbing in 1997 when my son was two, and I've never regretted it.

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J Whittaker 04 Dec 2019
In reply to J Whittaker:

Whats with the dislikes? Who knew so many people thought climbing when you have children was a selfish activity. Christ, do you all just stop being your own person and turn in to a child rearing personality void?

Obviously thats an inflammatory comment but using over the top commentary to make a point. Do people just stop doing stuff they enjoy that may be a little riskier than the usual stuff when they have children?

Climbing, riding a motorbike, scuba diving etc etc?

It seems a shame to have to give up something previously a big part of your life. Then again its going to be a personal decision for everyone. 

I take issue with the inference that the collective 'we' as people who go winter climbing are irresponsible.

Post edited at 20:48
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pass and peak 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

I think Andy nailed it, if you wouldn't miss it and can find something else enjoyable then why not give it a break. However if it's your passion and all you think about, then being a miserable grumpy git for lack of your endulgence isn't good for relationships and home life either! 

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colinakmc 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

There’s probably a sensible middle way involving backing off a grade or two and being more paranoid about avalanche forecasts rather than taking up stamp collecting. After all life involves risk even without so called ‘risk activities” and looking after your fitness, both physical and mental, is important.

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bouldery bits 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Golf is nice. Apparently.

:P

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colinakmc 04 Dec 2019
In reply to bouldery bits:

> Golf is nice. Apparently.

> :P

I’m in my late 60’s. I’m much too young for golf.

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Misha 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Not sure anyone can answer this for you except to say that if you feel like you’re sketching around and close to the line in winter, you should drop the grade and/or do more seconding to get experience at the grade, whether or not you have children. There is always going to be an element of risk but it’s all about managing it and that starts with choosing appropriate venues, routes and conditions (avalanche and climbing). 

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French Erick 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

It’s not changed my perspective, only my fitness level... those pesky kids have a habit of wasting your freetime away! 

Ultimately it’s about compromises. I cannot live without it. I become an insufferable bastard. So my better half let’s me out and play. The rationale being that a happy-ish pair is happier than one grumpy, making the other one grumpy too, and separation looms.

Do what feels right for you and your own. Don’t let anyone but your family unit do the decision making on that one. You should only take into account your partner/wife views in this!

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Myr 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

There's winter and winter. If you purely stick to well-protected mixed routes, only climb in good conditions, and minimise avalanche risk then it's not that different to well-protected mountain trad. Running out an iced up slab 30m above an imaginary belay is a different matter, though.

Like Misha says, if you're sketching around then you're probably near your limit - trad or winter. Maybe the question is really, "How irresponsible is climbing at my limit on traditionally-protected routes?"

I think the objective dangers of trad and winter are much more easily minimised than those of summer alpine.

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The New NickB 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

It is difficult to quantify the relative risk, but whilst Scottish winter climbing does feel more dangerous than trad, I wouldn’t think the same was true for summer alpinism. The  weather might not be as bad, but you can add in crevasses and stonefall.

I’ve enjoyed all three. All in the mid grades and my assessment of risk around Scottish winter climbing often focussed on avoiding driving in poor conditions whilst tired.

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buxtoncoffeelover 05 Dec 2019
In reply to J Whittaker:

Kids are a big part of your life, & having created them you accept/embrace the responsibility for bringing them up. That means being there for them for at least 18 years. This reduces the risk-taking freedom/impulse somewhat - you have to (try hard) to stay alive/healthy. Fortunately they grow up (& terrify you with the risks they take!!) & you can resume your risk-taking. But now you're old, & comfortable.......

Risky/dangerous winter climbing, stupidly fast motorbikes, week-long drug binges, spur of the moment disappearances, chucking in your job........ These & many other pleasant pastimes stop once you have a little darling (!?) in your life.

But you know all that......or perhaps will one day 

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henwardian 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

My 2 cents: The answers to all your questions really depend very heavily on how you personally perceive risk and all the different factors in your own climbing (frequency, sketchyness, experience, partners, etc etc).

As with many things in life, you can choose to do what you think is right or what you want to do. All you have to do is decide which path you follow. The Jedi or the Sith as it were 😄

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robertmichaellovell Global Crag Moderator05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Hi Kemics,

I’ve enjoyed reading this post, and I’m pretty happy that I’m going to be saying something that is basically repeating others as it’s helped validate my position.

I’m inclined to say that irresponsibility is related to the choice of routes and the decisions you make on the hill, rather than the act of going out. Fundamentally I still don’t want to have an accident so nothing much has changed for me; the main thing that has changed is the frequency in which I’m out, so not always feeling ready for trickier stuff. 

Regards selfishness, if going out into the hills is part of who you are then you should keep on going. I know that not being true to that would make me less happy. Obviously there is a balance to be struck! I go out far less than I used to, but that’s fine. I feel very lucky to have the support and understanding at home that I do.

Rob

Post edited at 06:53
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abcdef 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

I see the issue less about the risk (statistically it is a safe sport?) and more about the time aspect with a young family. Unfortunately the working week is long and the weekend short, so it just wouldn't fly if I hoped to get a full day to indulge my desire to go climbing. Also, climbing partners seem to be in a similar position so trying to get everything to align is impossible. I have just accepted I am on hiatus for quite a few years

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galpinos 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

It’s tricky.

Climbing, for better or worse, is quite tied up in my identity, in who I think I am and as such knocking it all on the head when the girls came along was not going to happen if I was going to be a good father and husband. Regret is a corrosive emotion.

As you probably well know, free time becomes precious and your time not at work needs to be well spent. That needs to be split between family time and time to pursue your interests, whilst also allowing for time for your partner to pursue theirs.

My climbing focus has changed, I boulder more (a half day’s bouldering has less impact on the weekend whilst allowing you to fit a lot of climbing in), winter climb less, I’m a lot less spontaneous as full days or weekends away have to be planned well in advance but I still get out. Sometimes the balance falls to far the wrong way but as long as everyone is mostly happy, we all get by.

My girls are 6 and 3 and the eldest is now pestering me to take her climbing more. She enjoys coming to the wall and we did some top roping this summer, as well as a few peaks in the Lakes as a family. I’m so excited to share my love of the outdoors with her and don’t think me stopping being me, i.e. quitting climbing, would have helped, as it is, she sees it as something she really wants to do, it is exciting and fun and I relish the days when I’m her belay bunny and she’s dragging me up a VIII horror show in Scotland.

Re. Scottish Winter, if it was only one or two trips a year anyway, you probably weren’t climbing that hard. I’d say, if you want to do it, stick with it. You will find your risk perception might change (helmets, buddy checks, knotting abseil ropes, staying clipped in when wandering around at the top of crags etc have moved up my priority list) but just stick to what you are happy with. If you feel the risk is too great, don’t do it.

My other tip would be to find other parents to climb with. They are more forgiving of an inflexible schedule and hanging round the youth and their masses of expendable free time and lack of commitments can be quite grating.

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ChrisBrooke 05 Dec 2019
In reply to abcdef:

This.

That's why I moved to Sheffield and took up bouldering. I can get out for an hour or two here and there during the week, and very rarely do anything non-family related at the weekends. Trad and sport are pretty much not on the menu. Turns out I really enjoy it though. Funny how life works out. Wouldn't dream of going winter climbing these days.

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Flinticus 05 Dec 2019
In reply to galpinos:

> My other tip would be to find other parents to climb with. They are more forgiving of an inflexible schedule and hanging round the youth and their masses of expendable free time and lack of commitments can be quite grating.

Not a parent but this struck a cord with me! My partners at the wall and bouldering centre tend to be 15-20 years younger than me and well, yeah, I might, at times, envy their ability to chuck everything last minute into a van and head off to Aviemore for a few days suffering or even just a last minute trip to a crag on a working day evening...I could join them but not keep my relationship as well! You can't just f*** off unexpectedly and leave your wife kicking tins around the flat. I've asked them to give me notice of a few weeks for their next trip - let's see how that goes. I'm not particularly hopeful

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In reply to Kemics:

I don't have kids but i expect that may change before long. I often wonder how my kids would view what their dad did with his life... i would like to think i could inspire them to live a full life without fear of risks or failure. to try hard on the things they love to do despite life's compromises.

i also worry about growing old having not achieved my potential even if that is only E3 or scottish V. I know a few older couples who have had kids and are on the path to retirement and they've lived the most boring unimaginative lives in generic uk commuter towns. They've lived life by the book and haven't done anything to test their mental or physical limits in at least the last 30 years. and theirs no goals to hit other than a comfortable retirement and general faffing. waking up one day living that lifestyle genuinely scares me!

but then again they seem happy.

that's my 2p. ultimately this is all 100% personal opinion and everyone has a different take on life. part of the diverse world we live in

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Zebdi 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

I hung up the axes.

See, I know someone who lost both of their parents at very young age. One death was avoidable (climbing accident), the other wasn't (illness). I wouldn't want my children to experience that. So I hung up the axes.

I'm not saying my decision is the right one, but it surely wasn't a hard one.

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Muttly 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Hi Kemics, groovy james/puppythedog here long time no see hope you are groovy. Gosh you have a little one? Super. 

I remember seeing Will Gadd Talk at Kendal a few years ago about the nature of Risk and the mountains. The central premise of the talk was that we need to stop pretending that something that is dangerous is safe. He gave the example of 4 friends of his dying in the previous so many years; of those one died of Cancer and the others all died in the mountains.

Winter climbing is one of the more risky parts of what we do, the environment plays a bigger part and people do die. It is possible to mitigate some of the risk with experience, knowledge and caution but no matter what it will remain more risky. 

As for is it selfish to take the risk? that really is for you and MrsKemics to think through. Mrsthedog and I had some really open conversations about it and agreed that I would not be the Dad I am if I stopped it all and I have been twice since the kids were born to Scotland in the winter. When I am there I am not very bold and if I have any worry about avalanche risk I tend to steer clear. BUT I hardly do any climbing at all at the moment because I find it hard to choose to be away from the family not because of risk but because that's how we choose to share parenting. 

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More-On 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Lots of good responses above and as some have said, ultimately, only you can make the call.

I would add that I was always one for keeping up with existing hobbies and interests once my two were born. However, the looks on their faces and their lingering nightmares, and those of my wife, when I was released from hospital following a facial rebuild, which was the result of a winter 'mishap', changed my mind. Now I managed to hurt myself on the way down, not mid route, but it was still enough to back off all climbing for a while, with a gradual return to scrambling, trad and winter hill walking. I never climbed at all hard so bumbling around mountain VDs with cracking views or some quiet bouldering does me just fine at the moment. Proper winter climbing still feels a step too far, but it may come as the kinds are now in their teens. That's not to say you shouldn't, just be sure you're OK with the consequences if it goes wrong - I'm currently not, but your circumstances etc will be different.

Having said all of that the upside to my accident was a renewed focus on backpacking and running, two things I now share with the whole family more than I did before the accident. Much as I'd like to be back climbing VS and beyond (and will probably want to push past grade II when the kids are older) I'm very happy with the current arrangement as I've realised that the thing I want most now is time with the kids before they disappear off to live their own lives.

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Euge 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

I know it's a bit silly, but do you stop driving, do you stop crossing the road!!!

I have two kids and I remember the first time climbing after the birth of my first, I wondered if I would still have the hunger and passion, and how my perceived level of risk management would be. I was glad when it didn't effect me that much, although my risk appetite had reduced.

You have to be true to yourself, climbing is not a hobby, it is a way of life. Giving it up would make me very unhappy and that would not be fair to my family and yes that is selfish.

I haven't pushed my kids into climbing but recently my son (13) has started. We have shared some wonderfully special times in the mountains and I can't wait to introduce him to winter climbing.

Hope this helps

Euge

Post edited at 15:14
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Pay Attention 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Not going winter climbing to reduce the risk of leaving a widow and orphan is not enough.  You have to eliminate the risk of dying before your child reaches maturity.

As a wise man (#buxtoncoffeelover) once said: give up "stupidly fast motorbikes, week-long drug binges, spur of the moment disappearances

Also give up smoking, drinking, driving, anything that affects health ...

Live like Howard Hughes in a glass cage.  Enjoy life! 

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Qwerty2019 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

If you are so torn between your winter climbing and your responsibilities as a father why not insure yourself to the hilt.  That way if something, god forbid, did happen at least you leave them in a situation where they won’t have to worry about finances.

sounds callous reading that back but you sound like you want to continue so is this not the next best thing.....god forbid

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beardy mike 05 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

Personally I would rather my child grows up understanding the difference between hazards and risk as they are not the same thing. Yes winter climbing is more dangerous, but we do all sorts of things everyday with an extremely high level of hazard AND risk thinking absolutely nothing of it. Popping to the shops in the car for example. I personally feel if you wrap them up in cotton wool and try to protect them from anything they will grow into a risk fearing adult, either that or they will crave it so much that they will go the other way. Risk is a part of life and should not be avoided at all costs.

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In reply to Kemics:

How irresponsible is cycling to work when you have a small child?

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PaulScramble 07 Dec 2019
In reply to Kemics:

The vast majority of mountain deaths occur in Winter. In my view it is a fool's game, and you should walk/climb in winter well below your grade. 

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WillHempstead 15:51 Sat
In reply to PaulScramble:

> "you should walk/climb in winter well below your grade."

I could be wrong, but I've heard quite a few deaths in winter occur on low grade routes. This will obviously have something to do with less experianced climbers climbing lower grades (broad generalisation I know), but I feel safer on a mixed V than a unprotectable II. You might have to solo around some grade I to get to your V but all in all I think you can climb harder routes at your grade perfectly safely provided you have the experiance. 

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Pero 16:05 Sat
In reply to PaulScramble:

> The vast majority of mountain deaths occur in Winter. In my view it is a fool's game, and you should walk/climb in winter well below your grade. 


And who are you to tell us all what to do with our lives? 

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mick taylor 16:17 Sat
In reply to PaulScramble:

What an odd thing to say!  In my view, all climbing involves risk.  Don’t climb much these days, but when I do I only winter climb, love it to bits, well worth the risk.

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mick taylor 16:19 Sat
In reply to WillHempstead:

Agree.  Been saying it for years, but the sooner novice climbers get onto grade three upwards the better, and folk with rock climbing skills should very quickly progress to this grade, or higher.

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planetmarshall 16:38 Sat
In reply to beardy mike:

> Personally I would rather my child grows up understanding the difference between hazards and risk as they are not the same thing. Yes winter climbing is more dangerous, but we do all sorts of things everyday with an extremely high level of hazard AND risk thinking absolutely nothing of it. Popping to the shops in the car for example.

You often hear these comparisons being made, but driving is not comparable in terms of risk to winter climbing. It's not even close. Every year since I started climbing, I know at least one person who has been killed in the mountains in Scotland. I'm sure many can say the same. In that time I don't know a single person who has been killed in a car accident, despite time spent in cars being exponentially longer than time spent climbing.

Yes, nothing is risk free, but we can't pretend that all activities entail the same amount of risk.

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TobyA 18:44 Sat
In reply to planetmarshall:

> Every year since I started climbing, I know at least one person who has been killed in the mountains in Scotland. I'm sure many can say the same.

Do you mean you know someone who has been killed every winter? As in a friend or acquaintance has died every year? If so that's awful and I'm very sorry, but I think it also must be very rare. In nearly 30 years of climbing, one person who I had climbed with, and called a friend, has been killed climbing. I knew one other chap, who I used to regularly see at crags and would always chap with but I had never actually tied on with, who was killed. Both in the Alps.

Most of my Finnish climbing friends ice climb, and most of my British climbing friends winter climb, so I don't think its that I just don't mix with winter climbers.

I wouldn't ever claim its safe, but winter climbing has always struck me as being less dangerous than it feels. Serious accidents and deaths in roped falls in particular seem, thankfully, very very rare.

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C Witter 00:48 Sun
In reply to Kemics:

No, it isn't selfish to pursue a passion. Yes, you are probably over-estimating the risks. And a lot of risks can be mitigated.

Just - climb well. I mean: check things twice, avoid putting yourself in stupid situations to impress your mates, wait for good conditions rather than going out when there's avalanche risk, etc. 

I mean, surely most of us don't want to die, anyway, regardless of the kid situation! I think I would give up climbing if I thought I was actually going to accidentally kill myself. I keep at it because I feel the risks are reasonable and manageable.

Meanwhile, an underfunded NHS, too much work, too much stress, too much booze, commuting on busy roads full of maniacs... all those things are the actually scary shit!
 

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David Rose 17:39 Sun
In reply to Kemics:

I went winter climbing when my kids were young, both in Scotland and the Alps. I never got hurt, and neither did the other fathers I climbed with. We were careful about routes and conditions, and after a while, living as I was in London, I realised that we were more likely to find safer and better conditions around Chamonix than in Scotland, for about the same travelling time. So latterly, most of winter climbing was there. And it was bloody brilliant, too. 

My closest shaves in the mountains all came in summer, and were caused by rockfall - once on Skye, when someone knocked a  boulder off above me in the Sron na Ciche descent gully, and twice in the Alps. 

I do think going to the mountains when you have small children requires careful negotiation with a partner. It's also best to climb with other dads, who above all, understand you can't be limitlessly flexible as to timing. 

Now my four kids are in their twenties, except the youngest, who is 16. They all love outdoors adventures, including climbing, trekking, skiing and caving, and as they and I got older, I discovered that the biggest buzz of all was doing these things with them. My older son (20) is an Alpinist. The younger has done some meaty French caving trips. So keep going - carefully - and then involve your family when they're ready. Well, that's my penn'orth.  

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beardy mike 21:17 Sun
In reply to TobyA:

Likewise, touch wood, I also don’t know anyone who has died winter climbing in 25 years of doing it. Bloody close calls yes. By comparison the first close friend who died fell off a canal lock, knocked himself out and drowned, something you most likely wouldn’t think twice about. My mum has been involved in two RTAs which resulted in long comas both times, close to death. I’m not saying that winter climbing is not hazardous - it clearly is. I’m saying that we all run serious risk of injury everyday which could leave your child parentless, and that you should not necessarily curtail an activity based on a perceived risk. By all means stop if you think the risk will reduce your enjoyment - I stopped soloing immediately, and don’t push as hard on run out routes as I used to. I try to manage and reduce risk where I can, but I have to accept risk into my life. Personally if my death were to be a “pointless” death I would rather it were doing something which ultimately brings joy to my life.

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Jim Fraser 13:23 Mon
In reply to Kemics:

Irresponsible? 

What, you mean there are risks? 

Oh I suppose there are in some cases. Let's see now. Risks.

1. Cycling to work in Glasgow in light snowfall, day-dreaming about the condition of routes in Glencoe. Risk Likelihood=High. Risk Impact=High.

2. Driving down the A1(M) in a daze at 0200h on Monday morning after two days on the BenN. Risk Likelihood=High. Risk Impact=High.

3. Knocking hell out of lumps of ice and frozen turf, at 1050m on a cliff in the Cairngorms. Mitigations: a) tied to a piece of Cairngorm granite, b) tied to a moderately competent partner, c) told somebody where you were going, d) wearing PPE, e) sugar level and adrenalin level UP = brain engaged, f) taking positive attitude, lessons in planning and determination, and big big bundles of pure joy, back to share with your friends and family. Risk Likelihood=Low. Risk Impact=High/Moderate.

Post edited at 13:24
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n-stacey 15:19 Mon
In reply to Kemics:

I spy with my little eye something beginning with "T".... TROLL!!

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ColdWill 17:19 Mon
In reply to Kemics:

Has anyone said this yet? It's very irresponsible because it's a massive waste of money.

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walts4 19:50 Mon
In reply to Kemics:

Wondering why nobody's stated the obvious?

Buy a suitably heavily loaded life insurance policy to cover your absence & get on with it. -))

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freeflyer 10:44 Tue
In reply to Kemics:

Children look up to their father. I don't have children and was always gobsmacked that parents would be going out taking risks that were unnecessary for fun, until I spoke to one who pointed out that if he didn't do this stuff, he wouldn't be the dad that he wanted his children to have.

This sounded a bit selfish but made me think hard and changed my view, especially when I realised how I looked up to my dad for all the daft things he got up to, and how he influenced me more than I would probably care to admit.

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n-stacey 11:52 Tue
In reply to Kemics:

Why are people taking the bait? Its a troll and he is laughing at you!!!

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