In defense of our beloved hobby.
I have not read a great deal of mountaineering literature (I am only twenty-five), but I have read a decent amount for my age and experience. Continuously, I find that authors cave to the common stereotype that mountaineering/alpinism is inherently selfish. Many works claim that mountaineering is selfish because it serves to satisfy our egos, or our alpha male (or female) mentality. When a family person takes part in mountaineering he or she doesn’t take into account the feelings of their family and the responsibility of being a mother/father. In my experience, the opposite is true.
The purpose of this article is to argue against this common stereotype. Since I am young and of limited experience, this article is based on my limited experience. For the reader to understand my position the reader must be aware of my background. I am a soldier. No, I am not bragging, and this article will defend pursuit of our beloved hobby regardless of one’s occupation, but one must understand how I came to my position.
I am a student pilot, training to fly Army helicopters. Flying helicopters is insanely risky, it is truly amazing how fast you can kill yourself (and others) in an army helicopters if you do not know what your are doing. One can quite easily kill one’s self and others quite rapidly, long before bullets and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) are flying towards the aircraft if one does not start the aircraft properly. Now what does this have to do with alpinism, and what could this possibly have to do with you the reader, most likely a civilian?
Very simple. Flying helicopters and staying alive requires three things: endurance, situational awareness, and risk management. In short, the same things that keep you alive while climbing the side of a remote peak will keep you alive in a helicopter. “But Matt, I don’t fly helicopters, why don’t you put down your beer and stop writing about silly things!” Guess what ladies and gentleman, endurance, situational awareness, and risk management will keep you alive in real life too!!!
Everyone harps on us climbers for being selfish, not caring about our families, and living in a egotistical dream world. As in most situations when I am accused, I counter-accuse with this statement: “What are you doing to maintain your senses and skills of self preservation?”
Most people will reply with a “huh?” and a brain restart. Smile snugly, because in the world today most people do absolutely nothing to maintain these basic skills that even Cromagnons had during the ancient times. Situational awareness, endurance, and risk management skills are all perishable. The average person does not even realize the dire straits their skills are in until it is to late.
Mountaineering and alpinism, although inherently risky, help to maintain a sharp tip on the edge of each of these skills. Nowhere else will situational awareness be so critical, nowhere else will endurance be so essential, and nowhere else is risk management so crucial. They say we risk our lives needlessly, I say we are training ourselves to reduce risk in everyday situations.
To drive my point home, consider the person who avoids risks at all costs, and find himself/herself in a situation where he/she is out of his element with his/her family (I do not need to be specific here), and realizes he/she has crossed into territory for which he/she is unprepared, and it costs him/her the well being of those he loves. What has he/she achieved by avoiding all risky situations? He/she as achieved the inability to endure, analyze, and manage risky situations. That, my friends, is the result of true selfishness.
The author has such an opinion due to the realization that these skills are going to give him the greatest chance of survival in combat, and in other dangerous situations in life.
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