October 19, 2010

The Continued Glorification of Danger in the Adventure Industry.

Update! Five years after writing my first take on this, and getting attacked by much of my local climbing community and my own colleagues and friends, this issue has just made the front page of the NY Times. Grateful this important question is finally up for real open thoughtful public discussion. Appreciated Honnold’s comments:



Update! Great news: Clif Bar drops Potter and Honnold for free soloing? [Rock & Ice](rockandice.com)

Note: We, like Rock & Ice, do not get why Cedar or Timmy were dropped, unless in Cedar’s case it’s Cedar’s intimate support with and involvement with Honnold’s climbs. 

Rock and Ice. It’s “…notable that Cedar Wright is in climbing circles not known so much for soloing as he is for freeing El Cap in a day, big-wall speed climbs and for hard roped, traditional lines. Similarly, O’Neill is best recognized as a colorful commentator, speed climber and executive director of Paradox Sports, the non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of the physically disabled. O’Neill has climbed El Cap with his brother, a T-12 paraplegic.”


Sponsors pay adventurers to risk life and limb. Athletes get fame through filming themselves risking life and limb (with sponsor equipment, logos, and money), show said danger at film festivals. When they get injured or die, the community mourns their loss over beers but changes nothing. Risk is inherent to adventure. But risk that continually pushes the envelope ends in one way. With loss. Not just loss of life, but loss to loved ones and community.

Living in a climbing town, seeing friends risk themselves more and more each year, seeing the films and festivals extoll the coolness of danger to fans (including children), and having lost friends over the years, it’s welcome to see a sponsor (Clif Bar, see below) getting responsible about the glorification of willful repeated danger in films such as Reel Rock’s latest (and many more by Reel Rock, and by many others).

Again, obviously, a degree of danger is always present. But what Alex Honnold, Sketchy Andy, Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Nic Wallenda and others are doing is one or two steps removed from Hunger Games/Running Man–where dear souls risk their lives for fame, income, and our entertainment. We, and sponsors, and films are responsible—not just the athletes.

It’s the same in the NFL, where continual concussions affect life expectancy and mental future is severely affected by the sport.

Relevant reads: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/01/business/nik-wallendas-risk-for-discovery-channel-points-to-tvs-audience-troubles.html




Beyond the Edge.

{A Deadly Fascination}

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain

Fuck that. ~ me.

Should sponsors support “heroes” (in quotes because we’re not fighting wars or curing cancer or teaching children, here) who sacrifice their safety and, too often, lives, for the momentary bliss of adrenalin and extreme risk and, in so doing, inspire the next generation to do the same?

Living in Boulder, I read about a death a month either in these here parts or elsewhere. What goes up doesn’t necessarily have to come down—if we employ commonsense safety.

But the adventure community, while safe-as-can-be as a whole, is beset by a tendency to glorify danger. Ironically, it’s the elders like Yvon Chouinard who question that needless danger—his famous quote about there being nothing brave, only stupid about going over one’s edge, pushing one’s envelope comes to mind.

Doing risk sports had taught me [an] important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. ~ Yvon Chouinard, pioneering climber & founder of Patagonia.

Tell your brave friends you’re concerned. Don’t become used to a culture that romanticizes or glorifies “bad-ass” danger and “No Fear!” risk. We don’t have to live on the edge in order to truly live—we can live in the moment. You can find the glory and freedom and in-the-moment-ness you find when you challenge your edge through meditation, though it’s a little more boring and results in less impressive muscles. From a Buddhist pov, the reason to live is to be of benefit. Please grow to be old women and men, bear children, become bodhisattvas working for the benefit of our world and society that’s in dire need of hard-working fun-loving heroes. Let’s not mourn any more “expected tragedies.” Let’s not mourn any more good souls. ~ me.

So why do North Face, Discovery, Reel Rock and many other companies that I appreciate in other ways continue to raise up sponsor athletes who regularly cross that line? How many good souls will fall, broken or lifeless, before we grow up and redefine our love for adventure?

Take car racing, for example. It’s inherently dangerous—just like adventure. That’s fine. We all know there’s a certain amount of “managed risk.” And yet…the racing industry has done everything they can to minimize mortal danger. And if engines were blowing up, consistently, they’d fix them. It wouldn’t take more than one or two deaths before the industry as a whole rebooted. And yet…in adventure, we glorify those free soloists, kayakers, tightrope walkers and base jumpers (etc.) who put their precious, wonderful lives in extreme danger regularly.

I’ve lost too many friends. I call for sponsors and filmmakers and all other leaders to stop glorifying danger. For  the next seven generations’ sake.

“Youth didn’t bother its head about the sharp tongues of the wordy warfare that flared up after the first tragedy on the Eiger’s face. It only heard in the mountain’s threats a siren call, a challenge to its own courage. It even invented the pious untruth that it was its own duty to fulfill the bequest of the men who had died. Perhaps it even believed it. But the real spur was that inexplicable longing for the eternal adventure.” ~ Heinrich Harrer, “The White Spider,” 1959.

So many have died on the face, you don’t know how to begin to count. ~ re: the Eiger.

How to Survive a Free Solo from Pete Baertsch on Vimeo.

Bonus: A fun, hip video to help beginners try bouldering in a safe way: 

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