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Risk and thanks

Ever since I wrote on Touching the Void a couple of days ago, I have been thinking a bit about risk. Climbing undoubtedly is risky, by its nature, even when climbers do everything right and within the margins of safety and their own abilities. But too many times, I have seen people do stupid, dangerous things on the rock, adding flagrant irresponsibility to something that’s already risky, sometimes resulting in serious injury and often putting bystanders in danger.1

After participating in a long rescue one afternoon—in which it took four hours to stabilize and move a patient down a steep trail that can be hiked from a major highway in twenty minutes—- Heather and I reassessed our reasons for taking part in this risky activity. Was it worth it? we wondered. Mountaineer Jim Wickwire, who has seen the top of the world but also lost friends and climbing partners in the mountiains, writes:

It could simply be seeing a beautiful sunrise while buvouacked high on K2. It may be something more: an affirmation of life—a searching for what is precious in life. When we find what it is we seek, we are able to return home to our loved ones, to those we cherish. Maybe in the end climbing is about love.

Maybe in the end climbing is about love—the love of getting up high, of moving strongly over rock, of being challenged, all of which are, I think, the right sorts of reasons to love it. But I’m not sure it’s quite right to frame one’s reasons for doing something risky as a way to show one’s love for something else. Putting myself in danger seems like an awfully selfish way to affirm that I love my family.

So today is Thanksgiving. It’s certainly true that this very holiday was born from adversity, and that a background of war and winter puts our safety and warmth in sharp relief. I suppose I don’t disagree with what Drek wrote this morning, that lack and struggle are important counterparts to wealth and ease. But what I think I’ve come to understand is that once we do find the people we cherish, leaving them in order to find them again makes little sense.

I’m glad that this year we are (mostly) healthy, inside on a cold morning, a little closer to finishing graduate school. Our families are far away, for which we’re sometimes thankful, but more importantly they are safe and healthy. I’m happy to have friends—near or far away—and a partner who knows me so well and still likes me.

1 Never take your hand away from the belay; never tie in to the belt loop on your jeans; never run a loaded rope across webbing.