In which I take a photo every day that I'm 50, and post it here on this blog, with a bit of related blurb.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Day 142 - Dangermouse?

nope...vole, not all that dangerous

This is going to be a tale of two parts.  In a few sentences from now, I'm going to wade into the soggy swamp that is the ethics of soloing, which is to say, climbing without the safety of ropes for protection.

The first part of the tale will be short, and appropriately, will be about a vole with a short tail.

Here (see photo, taken in a field) is a vole with a short tail - it's a Short Tailed Field Vole!  

Apparently they like to hide in the same place as grass snakes (many of the reptile mats we looked under over this weekend had evidence of vole, and occasionally shrew, activity), which seems an adventurous choice to me...go voles!  

Given that there are field voles by the million around here (I may not even be exaggerating, depending on your definition of "around here"), it seems that this risk is worth taking...the reward of the warm shelter in which to live and raise young outweighs the small chance of getting eaten by a passing snake.

Which leads me neatly on to tonight's main themes - danger, and risk.

My 50@50 Challenge has raised a few questions in the related areas of safety and responsibility that are worthy of a response.

There are obvious questions like "Isn't it dangerous?", or "Why would/do you do it?"

There are slightly more obscure questions such as "Isn't it irresponsible?", although this is more often framed as an accusation; "You are/it is irresponsible." 

Then there are those questions that are all about the subtext, as demonstrated by my mum's "Where is your hat?"

These are weighty questions, and the answers are even weightier.

Soloing is a dangerous activity, yes.  It's possible to kill yourself doing it.  The same can be said for driving a car, of course.  Or crossing the road.  

It's also perfectly possible to climb safely without killing oneself.   A simple priority of not doing anything foolish stops me from falling off a climb in the same way that it stops me from forgetting to brake and so running into the car in front, or walking out into traffic without looking.

This in itself could answer many of the concerns - if I'm not going to fall off, then the remaining questions become irrelevant, don't they? 

And this is a key point - I am not going to fall off.   I don't get on the rock thinking "I hope I don't fall off", or "It would be best if I didn't fall off".  

I get on the rock with a single thought foremost in my mind - I will not fall off

This ensures that I climb with the necessary calm, controlled care, I make no foolish moves, and thus, I don't fall off. 

There was the suggestion of using a bouldering mat (essentially a crash pad) under each climb, to give me some sort of soft landing.   And of course, my mum thought I would wear a helmet.  However, in both these cases, in my mind they introduce an element of doubt. 

"I will not fall off" becomes "I will not fall off...but just in case I do...".   

Suddenly, I'm in a different mindset, where falling off is a possibility...and maybe this takes the edge off my focus, lowers my level of alertness, and leads to me climbing in a less controlled (and thus more dangerous) manner.

To me, both Trad Climbing and Soloing are all about rational risk awareness.  It's a matter of analysing the actual risk, being aware of the debilitating effect of perceived risk, and making calm, calculated decisions. 

During my 50@50, I retreated from one route because it seemed too hard and I didn't feel totally solid on it, and bypassed one or two others because my instinctive response was "don't like the look of this one..."

For the 50 routes I climbed, I looked at them, decided "yep, I can climb this safely and successfully", and did...

Let me be clear - I'm not an adrenaline junky...I'm not even sure at what point my adrenaline might kick in, it happens so infrequently.   

Last Friday, I wasn't afraid at all - I experienced no release of adrenaline at any time.  You can see from the video interview that I was calm and relaxed, and so were those with me.

Nobody present was overly concerned that I was going to hurt myself. 

The outstanding question is the charge of irresponsibility.   This is an odd one, and raises many more questions...what is it that I'm responsible for?  To whom do I owe this responsibility?  By what authority does this responsibility lie with me?  

But the primary response, the one that instantly springs to my mind when such ideas are mooted is of course;

With all due respect, what has it got to do with you?

I must confess, I'm not very good with being told what to do...but I'm much worse at being told what I should or shouldn't do!  Does anyone have the right to tell me what I should or shouldn't do?  (I'm talking moral rights, of course, not legal rights). 

But even leaving that to one side, I think we can all agree that I'm going to die one day.  I'm reasonably certain of this.  So why does it matter how or when that is?   Would it be irresponsible for me to take an unnecessary car journey, knowing I could be killed even if I'm a perfectly safe driver?   Are some ways of dying more acceptable than others?   Is living longer more important than living well?

As you can see, I'm asking a lot of questions, but not offering many answers to them.  I could write for a week on these issues...but I've been reading about the importance of brevity in blog posts!

I'll try to round this up briefly...

So is there a point to soloing, or to this challenge, or to climbing in general?

Well, what is the purpose of life, if not to experience oneself?  Climbing (and soloing moreso), offers a rich depth of experience of myself.  I challenge myself in order to test compare myself with my preconceived notions of Who I Am, by exposing myself to challenging situations.

It certainly makes me feel healthier on several levels, and I think it makes me a more useful person, better able to deal with the rest of life with strong, calm energy. 

So, where are we after all of that wayward rambling?  

I don't think I've done the subject justice...but I hope I've offered some food for thought, and at least demonstrated that like most things in life, it's not black and white, but varying shades of grey. 

I can offer a real world example with the help of my trusty companion, the Right Honourable Jazzy B.  He's a black labrador, and nobody would dispute that he's black...except...

...check out this photo from this morning.   It's difficult to pick out any parts of him that are truly black...much of him is a shade of grey, almost white in parts (as he is almost black in others).

So yeah, it's all grey.

If anyone wants to take me to task on any of that, have at it, you know where I am!


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