A bit of experience is a dangerous thing


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I saw this article (PDF)on a friend’s FB feed. This is Wilderness magazine, a consistent purveyor of poor advice about Tongariro National Park.
 
The title of the article should be “when a bit of experience is a dangerous thing“. While there is always the opportunity for something to go wrong with the most experience people on the most well-planned activities, a rather common thread is ‘enough experience to be dangerous’ where true experience might dictate suppressing the reflex and letting a ski/pack/whatever slide to either be recovered in a planned methodical process or simply written off.
 
A large proportion of the people ascending Ruapehu in winter probably don’t have enough of the right experience. Remember that the experience counts, not when things are going right, but when they go wrong…
The best analogy for this is that of an airline pilot, paid a lot of money, for painlessly cruising from destination to destination on autopilot. It’s pretty cruisy…right up to the point where you lose both engines on take-off…
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That’s when real experience cuts in…not the experience that allows to walk with crampons to the Crater Rim….the experience that means that everything thing you do is a the result of a considered decision that takes into account all the factors in play in a given situation…that consideration might only take a split second but it still happens…
Experience is not doing a winter guided tour of the Crossing with crampons and ice axes under supervision. That may be the start of your alpine journey but a Hillary you’re not. No, it doesn’t make any difference or make you any more experienced watching Youtube how-to vids on cramponing and ice-axes…at best that is just technique…it ioffers nothing about the environment, reading the ground, reading the sky, being confident to tuyrn back…
…A 200km/h wind will blow anyone off a mountain. A slab avalanche will kill any skier who gets in its way, no matter how much avalanche awareness training they’ve done. A swollen river will consume any tramper who doesn’t respect its power…
No. They won’t…not if you have the knowledge and experience to avoid that environment in the first place. At that applies to rescuers just as much as rescuees: sometimes you just have to sit on your hands until the conditions are suitable for a risk-mitigated approach – not necessarily safe but where risks have been identified, discussed and mitigated before being accepted.
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing…it breeds false confidence and complacency…that awesome feeling of being ten foot tall and bullet proof that every firefighter knows when they finish their recruit course…
But, in the light of cold hard reality, it’s just the start of the journey…

…Approaching Crater Lake, I could feel my skis starting to slide perilously. Conscious of the lake, I stopped to put on ski crampons for extra security. I almost didn’t.Let that sink in: I almost didn’t….

True experience isn’t going with the flow, it isn’t being swayed by peer pressure…it isn’t a careless reflex action…in an unforgiving environment, thought comes before action…that’s experience…

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The corollary to Know Before You Go is If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go. This video is a cautionary tale, not an instructional. Watch it as ask…what am I doing?

Wise words. I take this away with me: Climb hard, be kind and humble, and live fully.

Take this away. Is your experience good enough for what could happen?

That’s the real question…

No apologies if this sounds harsh and unforgiving. Rescues take too great a toll already on our small communities…volunteers pulled away from jobs, families and homes, all too often on rescues that were avoidable if people had only thought…

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Elvis had it right

 

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