Saturday, May 21, 2011
Every time I shoulder my rucksack, laden with climbing gear and my survival pack, my body automatically transforms into ‘climbing’ mode. From countless occasions before, it knows what it’s going to be in for, once that heavy rucksack gets on my shoulders. Each time I cling to a rock face from my fingers, once again my mind and body and my limbs know instinctively what could happen. Every time I leave the safety of horizontal ground and slither up into my vertical world, my body again knows what’s going to happen and it is also acutely aware that at some point I may peel off or gravity may take hold of me once again. Flying off faces is not new to me, I have been falling forever. Thousands of ice axe placements later, even today when I plunge my ice tools into a vertical and often fragile frozen face there’s no guarantee that it will hold my weight or that the face would not shatter and break away taking me along to certain death. For me climbing is as instinctive as breathing. Most often I am not even aware of what I am doing during a climb. My body and my limbs just do what they have always been doing in an arena that they are synonymous with. Yet there are risks and unaccounted dangers that I may have never encountered or catered for.
In my world, risk and failure could and often does mean death or severe damage to the body. How do I minimize it, since it is impossible to delete the risk factor completely. I have some compounding risk factors as well, which has come to me over the years and also due to my sustained climbing. I have osteoarthritis in both knees and partial torn ACL in my right. My right shoulder ligaments have a tear too and my body aches even at rest. There are cracks, bruises, cuts and stitches on my back, head, and legs. I can’t climb or suspend at the same level as I could a decade ago. I need to rest more, carry lighter loads and climb at a slower pace now, though I enjoy the activity even more, since at 47 I am more matured to understand and enjoy what I do. I am no more competitive as I was in my twenties; I have nothing to prove to anyone and least to myself. I need not rush headlong into any climbs now; I can often just sit back on a grassy meadow below my beloved glaciers and just look up at the towering peaks and converse with them. They are my friends and family and the ones I am truly attached to, they have been with me all through my life and will always be, even when I am gone. And if destiny so ordains then I would wish to lie down my final breathe amidst them and never return.
Even then, when I strap my crampons and gaze at a wall looming above where I would soon be struggling to stay alive, I know with complete certainty that I do run the obvious risks of injury and death. This is the charm of mountaineering, and at higher altitude it just becomes so much more intense, focussed and downright fun. Ruling out risk completely is not possible, so I do what I or anyone else ever can. I do my homework, train as hard as I can, revise my moves, knots and rope work till I can do them in my sleep, get my physical fitness nearly to the breaking point, study the mountain well and then go. I could also add adequate gear and equipment to the list but then often I try to accomplish my objective with minimalistic attitude. Minimum food and equipment; improvising as I go along. This only adds to the enjoyment and purity of the climb though it does add to the risk.
But what I do most sincerely to minimize risk happens within my mind and my heart, it’s more surreal and supernal. I talk to the mountains, to the elements, befriend them, pay them my respect and then meekly and humbly succumb myself to their whims and will. I am nothing in front of them so I surrender myself unconditionally for them to do with me as they please. The fact that I am still alive proves that this works and they indeed take care of me.
And the final step to minimize risk is of course one that I often forego, and that is to have a climbing partner who is equally good or perhaps better than self. I have had some wonderful climbing partners through the years and it is to them that I owe my life. For not only many of them saved me from certain death or nurtured me when I was ill, but they gave me some of my finest moments of this life, shared my tears and smiles, joys and sorrows and we bonded for life through the mountains. They were and continue to be my risk insurance.
Now to sum up, here are the things I do to minimize risk: -
Train as hard as I can
Make myself as physically and mentally fit I can be
Take adequate equipment, food, and gear necessary
Go with a partner I can trust with my life
Take all precaution
Go slow and steady
Pay respect to the elements and surrender myself to them unconditionally
I do this in my vertical world. Perhaps you can apply the above in your personal and professional life and minimize the risks involved. For risks can only be minimized but not discarded completely.
After all what would life be without inherent risks and challenges!