Should Parents Take Fewer Risks?
A perspective on risk assessment in rock climbing once you've become a parent
“Do you take less risks in climbing now that you’re a mom?”
If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me this since Cragbaby entered on the scene…well, let’s face it, I wouldn’t be rich, but I would definitely be able to buy more $4 Starbucks frappucinnos. The funny thing is, I never feel like I have a good answer for this question. Though the “correct” answer is probably, “Yes, the responsibility of raising a little person has made me a less risky climber,” I don’t really think much has changed with regards to my risk assessment.
No one can argue that rock climbing is a sport without risk. In fact, certain mistakes can be fatal. But with advances in modern equipment, along with proper knowledge of that equipment’s uses and limitations, a lot of those risks can be mitigated to an acceptable level. It’s not something I dwell on, but this concept of acceptable risk has been in the back of my mind ever since I started climbing, not just since I had a baby. When my husband and I first started climbing in 2006, we had many discussions about risk and consequences. We made a pact that if either of us was ever in a situation where we were exposed to more risk than we were comfortable with, we would bail as quickly and as safely as possible, no matter how much gear we had to leave behind, or how close we were to the summit. That hasn’t changed.
But enough with epic scenarios; what about everyday situations? As the spectrum of climbers goes, we were on the conservative side to begin with, so not much has changed there. My pre-Cragbaby risk assessments—as wife, daughter and friend—are still right in line with where they are now as a climbing mommy. I feel like my attitude can be for the most part be boiled down to the following statement, and applied in different ways depending on the particular situation: Be Okay with the Consequences of a Fall
Take the following scenarios, for example:
1. Topropes: If I or someone else that I trust has set up the anchor, I will gladly flail away on a toprope of just about any grade.
2. Sport Routes: If the route is bolted well and the fall zones are safe, I’ll go for it. Yeah, I’ve taken a few nasty falls while lead climbing, including one that landed me in the ER on our first day in Maple Canyon a couple of years ago. But it was a routine fall that I could take a million more times without incident; nothing “went wrong,” my belayer didn’t make a mistake—my knee was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and bashed into a cobblestone that was jutting out from the rock. The consequences weren’t pleasant, but the experiences I had on that trip were well worth the stitches and brief weeks of physical setback. As my friend Brian wrote, “Sometimes we fall.”
3. Trad: I am a self-proclaimed trad pansy. I am willing to lead a full number grade higher (often times even more) on bolted routes than I am on gear routes. In new areas, I tend to stick to easier grades where I can place the gear I need in a relatively relaxed body position. If I want to push myself, it’s going to be on a route I’m familiar with and where I'm comfortable with the gear placements, or a crack where placements are obvious from the ground.
4. Bouldering: It all boils down to the landing—if it's well-protected with pads or spotters who I trust, I’ll go for it. If not, I don’t. It's that simple.
5. Free-soloing: No matter how comfortable I feel at the grade, or how solid the rock is, there are always factors out of my control—holds can break, swarms of bees can attack. Since I’m not OK with the fall consequences, it's not for me—not pre-Cragbaby, and certainly not now.
What a lot of non-climbers don’t think about when they ask me the “risk question” is that this concept of risk and consequences is not only applicable to climbing. I’d be willing to bet that each and every one of us makes risk-based decisions every day, whether consciously or subconsciously. When you’re running late, do you give in to the temptation of driving too fast, risking an accident? How many of us think about the risks of getting on an airplane, swimming in the ocean, or not wearing sunscreen before we do it? Whether we perceive it or not, these everyday actions involve real risk.
So has my attitude about risk changed since Cragbaby entered the scene? Not really. True, he's one of God’s greatest gifts to me, but it's also true that every member of my family is much more important to me than climbing could ever be. His arrival has merely solidified my preexisting attitudes about risk. There are a lot of things about my life that I can't control, but what I can do is evaluate my actions and choices, make sure that I can accept all possible outcomes—both on and off the rock—then wholeheartedly commit to those choices, and climb on!
To read more gear reviews, helpful tips and how-to’s for taking your family into the great outdoors, check out Erica's blog, Cragmama.com, an online resource for adventurous families and families-to-be.