That the world of old-fashioned adventuring is getting smaller is undeniable. An adventure, for me, is defined by an undertaking where the outcome is uncertain. In mountain sports the overall adventure of going “out there” is getting smaller and smaller in pace while the means of communication and ways of getting rescued are becoming more advanced.
In an article for the New York Times last year, named “Exploits, Now Not So Daring”, David Roberts states:
“In the last 10 or 15 years, all of that has changed — for the worse, in my view. Thanks to satellite phones, radios, helicopters, GPS’s and other technology, extreme adventurers not only can often be rescued from otherwise fatal situations, but they sometimes count on such a rescue as an emergency escape option.”
Our means of aid have definitely developed with time, but the high-end athletes have developed in the same way, especially in climbing, steep skiing and mountaineering.
For the average outdoor mountain person that are enjoying the mountains with the rest of the hordes in the main tourist locations like the Alps, Denali, Aconcagua, the Tetons and in some more popular spots in the Himalayas it has definitely become safer because of everything stated above.
But Roberts argues that it´s harder, nowadays, to be “…out there, near the limits of what is humanly possible, out there where nobody can save you.”
I can definitely see where he is coming from. Anyone enjoying the mountains in Chamonix these days can get picked up, in good weather, within fifteen minutes of when they start to suffer from a blister.
I have seen many highly questionable rescues of people who definitely should not have been where they were, and who obviously counted in the possibility of rescue into their mission plan. Being in the mountains in general can be arguably safer in one way because, in many places, getting rescued is easier than before.
But in another way this fact is more dangerous when many are counting on the possibility of being rescued and try to do things that are more difficult than they would have done without this fact at hand.
I can see, that the “controlled and safe” areas of the world are expanding into our dear mountains and what used to be the mythic, legendary and wild high places are suddenly seeming, at first glance, less wild and safer than fifty years ago.
Even if that’s so – and I don´t even want to go into the point that mountains are of course still dangerous places that can kill you – there are still more than enough places on this earth where we can go “out there”, into the unknown to find out what we are made of.
Both climbing and skiing have evolved with time and with the awesome technical and physical abilities of the new generation, the possibilities of unclimbed and unskied mountain faces are still huge.
And when the best are out on their missions in the alpine, just like Bonatti was on his legendary epic on Les Dru in Chamonix in the sixties, there are, with very few exceptions, no one there to help them if things turn bad.
Do you really think Novak, Dempster and Kennedy were not “out there” on their new route on K7 the other month? Or what about doing new climbing or skiing routes in Antarctica, Greenland, Patagonia or the Andes in South America. If you screw up, you will definitely be on your own.
The same goes in any mountain chain in the world when the weather turns bad and you are doing something hard. The rescuers will simply not be able to reach you before your time has run out.
The rules of the “being out there” game have definitely changed. But for anyone with ambitions to push the limits of mountain sports, being “out there” is going to be your new home ground.
In the history of modern alpinism on the highest level, the big majority of ventures gone wrong have not had the chance to get outside help, nor have they counted on it.
The people push our sports the same way Bonatti did fifty years ago don’t have to fight to be “out there”. Feeling alone on steep and cold mountain faces in obscure parts of the world or sometimes in their home mountains is all part of the game. The margins are most often so small at this level that even if there is a mountain rescue at hand, they usually end up saving corpses.
My point is that, the next generation does not have to worry; real high-level exploits now, and in the future, will still be pretty daring…
Read the article by NY Times here.
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