Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning: C.Y.A.

In an effort to get out and try some new snow sports I decided to catch a class Last Month on Winter Backcountry Travel at our local REI in Mountain View. We had no idea we were in for a 3 hour lecture which strictly focused on the ways in which we would die if we headed more than 10 feet away from our car. Beylah emerged from the class feeling like snow equals death. Even I felt my enthusiasm to try new things waining.

climbing the chute mt whitney
A climber, not having any fun on Mt. Whitney.

It's funny that our instructor who had many years of accumulated knowledge from SAR (Search and Rescue) Teams to a winter trans-sierra expedition would be so negative about the wild. He greeted us and seemed friendly upon arrival and seemed like a positive person, yet his lecture was amazingly negative.

The meat of our course was avalanche awareness (which needs to be learned in the field anyway, not a classroom) and became what essentially I could have gotten out of reading “Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills” for 3 or 4 hours on the couch, only I wouldn't need to be wearing pants (I did wear pants to the class, I'm not happy about it either).

climbing mt whitney There was no enthusiasm at all. Maybe it’s because with SAR he’s rescued too many stupid people, I don’t know. But for a man who clearly loved the outdoors all he shared with us were stories of frozen bodies he’d found and we got the distinct impression that winter in the mountains is neither beautiful nor pleasant, but cold, unforgiving, and a maelstrom of danger.

CYA, or “cover your ass”, was the mind-set our instructor had. It's a disease many suffer from. It's understanable, nobody wants to be on the hook for the demise of anoher human being but if the result is all the fun and excitement being sucked out of a topic it hardly seems worth it.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think we should ignore the potential perils of avalanches, white-outs, and winter storms. Instead think of those as challenges or obstacles on the road to the exploration of the wild. Mention those challenges in equal parts the reward of being the only group for a hundred miles, or going days without hearing another voice, car engine, or sign of civilization.

There is much to share, and much to love about the wild. Snow does not equal death, and if all we try to do is cover our asses when describing what we do, we fail. Miserably.

1 comment:

  1. Good post.

    I've noticed that same CYA/negative mindset during my efforts to learn about and practice safe winter backcountry travel. I suspect that most in the SAR community have seen too many stupid situations and close calls and their view of the typical winter backcountry visitor has been colored by those negative experiences. I guess I can understand that.