Why Do You Climb in the Face of So Much Danger?
by Dallas Kloke
Yes, there is danger in climbing; the risk is even greater when climbing in the mountains. As someone said, “Safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of Jesus Christ.” During the 46 years of climbing rock, snow and ice, I know the Lord has protected me. I’ve had several “close calls” but have never been seriously injured. I’m sure there has been situations where the Lord has protected me even though I was unaware of it.
I “love” the mountains and crag climbing, but I don’t want to die there. The mountains and crags offer a challenge usually in a spectacular setting. It’s the spirit of adventure and the fellowship of companions that make the challenge rewarding.
In my sixth year of climbing, two members of large expedition to Peru I was on were killed. Because of altitude sickness I was confined to base camp, otherwise, I would have been roped to the fatal party. This accident didn’t deter me from climbing but made me more aware of situations that can go wrong and using good judgment.
I’ve always tried to stay within my abilities and experience climbing mountains or trad. I’ve never really “pushed it”. I’m sure I could have climbed more difficult/dangerous mountains and routes; however, I always wanted a good margin of safety.
I’ve tried Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, three times. All attempts failed with weather being the deciding factor. Mt. Robson, just under 13,000 feet, makes it’s own weather. On one attempt our party consisted of six climbers, three were married with children and the other three single guys. The weather was “iffy” from our location at the hut on the southwest flank of the peak. The three married guys, including myself, discussed the situation and decided not to go for the summit. We told our younger companions that we were going to descend but if they wanted to “go for it”, it was their choice. We all ended up retreating.
My only fall in the mountains occurred in 1977 climbing the Main Peak of Chimney Rock. This fall and injury were due to my lack of good judgment. I was climbing in a wide chimney, which was easy, just below the summit. The rock was covered with ice in some sections. Although roped up, I did not place any pitons for protection or get my ice axe out. I slipped and fell out of the chimney but fortunately landed in a snow gully 30 feet below. I regained my composure, climbed back up this time with ice axe and placing a couple pitons and reached the top. The result of the fall was a badly sprained ankle, which I had to hike 7 miles out on.
When I took the basic mountaineering class in 1962, the instructors emphasized that the “leader doesn’t fall”. Obviously, the leader can or will fall. However, especially climbing mountains and crag climbing on gear, I try not to “push it” and stay within my capabilities. A fall is so much more serious in the mountains. Since the terrain will not be as steep, one is more likely to hit something. Also, rescue will usually be more difficult and take longer to complete.
Concerning the Mt. Hood tragedy, my opinion is that the three should not have tried this route in December. December, particularly 2006, is the worst month to climb mountains in the Pacific Northwest. There are frequent storms and heavy snowfall creating extreme avalanche danger. Normally, mid-January to early March, the weather conditions can be better for this type of climb. They seemed to be “trapped” in the situation where they planned their vacation and spent the money to fly out. They had time and money invested, and regardless of weather, they “went for it”.
We’re humans; we all will make errors in behavior and judgment whether it be driving, life style or climbing. Sometimes people lose! As I look back on my younger years, some of my behaviors and judgment not only in climbing were more risky than now at age 67. Concerning climbing, I don’t have anything to prove or any goal that I need to take unnecessary risks for. I believe God doesn’t want me, as a Christian, to do something fool hardy with the life He gave me. Whether driving (which I feel is more risky than climbing) and before all my climbing outings, I always pray. I ask Jesus to protect my companions and me, and for us to use good judgment. I always make sure to praise Him after the trip.