Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

"Safety Soapbox" Archive - May 1999


Attitudes and Confidence

Rather than comment on any specific skills I thought I would discuss attitudes towards safety, and confidence in safety skills in general.

I have found myself thinking a great deal about this both before and after the (first) Fairy Meadows trip this winter. Not having been to the area before I was not certain what to expect nor what to suggest to participants for safety in the terrain there. After being there I have a better idea, and I also have some reservations about how safe I would have felt if the weather had permitted longer tours on the heavily crevassed glaciers.

This was a trip which was organized but not guided so it was up to participants to decide what type of gear to bring and to decide what skills they should have with respect to what they wanted to do.

The single most important factors, I think, are how important the issue of safety is to a person and how honest they are with themselves about their skills. The first is important because people who are safety conscious tend to avoid trouble. Often they are overly conservative, especially if their safety awareness is ahead of their first hand experience. The second is important because I think many people fail to appreciate the level of skill they have and/or what might be required.

A study by Dale Atkins this past winter looked at avalanche accidents in the US which involved full burials. Beacons were carried in each case. Among recreational parties 32% of the buried people survived. I suspect that close to 100% of the people carrying beacons were confident that they were fully prepared to effect a self-rescue. (Professional parties did almost twice as well, with a 59% success rate, but still have plenty room for improvement.) I suspect that the same thing would be found if serious crevasse falls were examined. I keep getting the impression that people think knowing a Z pulley will solve anything they run into. It is one of many tools, but it isn't a cure-all.

The worst type of person to be with is somebody whose recreational skills (skiing, climbing, whatever) and enthusiasm significantly exceed their safety skills and awareness. This often shows up in profiles of avalanche victims, and I suspect it also applies in other kinds of accidents. In many cases these are people who either do not appreciate the consequences of certain events or have false confidence in their ability to handle wilderness emergencies.

Think about where you fit into this picture. What are your expectations for the people you ski and climb with? Can you really find somebody in an avalanche or extract somebody wedged in a crevasse, or do you need to practice and/or acquire some skills?


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