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Risk Management & Mountains

Risk Management is a huge part of mountaineering. ¬†Heading out into the wild involves an increase in risk, since outdoor adventures are often far from tools we take for granted: medical facilities, warmth, shelter, a helping hand, etc. ¬†But, that doesn’t mean we have to stop heading into the wild or participating in adventure sports.

The climbers on the USAF 7 Summits Challenge use Air Force Risk Management tools on a daily basis. ¬†However, there are few, if any, more demanding environments in need of Risk Management than on high altitude mountains. ¬†Just like a pilot or war fighter must make split second decisions that carry huge consequences, the mountaineer must do the same. ¬†All our climbs start off with a detailed plan of the trip, what you could call “Deliberate Planning”. ¬†This would include things like: bringing the right medicines and knowing how to use them, plotting on a map where all medical facilities are, studying the historic weather data so we know how cold/hot it can get, reviewing all our gear to ensure we have enough equipment to handle just about every situation, planning out how many calories we’ll need, bringing extra equipment and spare parts in case a crampon, tent or other piece of equipment fails, and figuring out all our on-mountain communications (radio, sat phone, cell phone, etc).

Once on the mountain, with our deliberate plan in effect, we start on the expedition. ¬†Of course, conditions and schedules change, so we then move into “Real-Time” risk¬†management. ¬†This is when good situational¬†awareness¬†is critical- as it impacts all the decisions the team will make. ¬†Real-time decisions might deal with changing a route due to instable snow or ice, delaying the schedule a day due to someone’s health or poor weather, pushing up the schedule to take advantage of good weather, etc. ¬†Paying attention to the changing environment and pausing to¬†reassess¬†the way forward (or back, if a retreat is the best choice) is a cycle we’ll be dealing with daily on Everest.

Want to read more about this sort of thought process? ¬†Check out this great article from the king of mountaineering himself: Ed Viesturs. ¬†It’s a cool article from Slate Magazine in which Ed talks about some of the dumbest mistakes he’s made while climbing high-altitude mountains and how he learns from his mistakes.


“Climb High, Fly Low” ¬†–Rob M


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