Sunday, July 15, 2012

N.Y. Times Articles Underline the Fine Line Between Fun And Risky Decision-Making In The Mountains: The Role Global Warming Is Playing

As many of us flock to places like the Cascades, the Alps, The Andes, and Denali in Alaska with sometimes lifelong ambitions at stake, the Alpine environment is becoming riskier and even more unpredictable. It has something to do with the increased numbers of inexperienced people that are venturing into the mountains for adventure and bragging rights, but it goes beyond that.

Extreme shifts in weather and rapidly changing conditions brought on by global warming make decision-making even more complicated, even for mountain guides, rangers, and other experts who have fine-tuned instincts when it comes to retracing the climbing routes they know very well.

The same "odd" weather patterns we all notice in less Alpine-oriented regions take place in the high mountains, rapidly altering route safety, increasing the risk of avlanches, ice falls, and dicey, often lethal conditions on so-called safer climbing paths. As the article pointed out, the nature of the popular West Buttress route on Denali is changing to the extent that it may become impassable for most climbers trying to reach the summit.

Is it a spell of especially tragic bad luck, in combination with the fact that we find out about everything that happens almost instantaneously and that news is front-loaded with the bad outcomes, or has a greater shroud of tragedy settled over the Alps and other places? The press is now reporting that two more people just died on Mt. Blanc, after nine were killed by an avalanche last Thursday. This isn't any reason to stay out of the mountains and other remote beautiful places, but it does underline the importance of remaining conservative and making accurate self assessments during your excursions in the wilderness.

Tom Sims in the NY Times also chimes in on the spate of recent outdoors tragedies, why athletes are motivated to take extreme risks, as well as a New Zealand researcher who studies these issues.

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