Every spring I involuntarily think of the springs of 2005 and 2006; during those two springs seven friends died in clusters only a few months apart. None of them died of old age. The older I get the less sure I am of the glib responses and justifications I've always used for living a risky life. I still believe that for me it's the only path I can ride, but the odds become more and more obvious as I age. I recently wrote about the odds of dying while climbing in Explore magazine (can't find a direct link to that story on-line, will look later). My conclusion was that climbing and most mountain sports are a lot riskier than we like to think they are. Sport climbing on good rock is probably the only form of climbing one can expect to do for a lifetime and actually die from something other than climbing in the end. And even in the controlled "sport" environment almost every long-term sport climber I know has hit the ground at least once, always in a "fluke" accident. As I read the on-line forums about accidents and death I keep hearing the words "Fluke" and "Tragedy." Both these words are nonsense when applied to accidents in mountain sports.
For me I'm never going to use the word "tragedy" in reference to a climbing or mountain sports accident again. A tragedy is when a whole family gets killed by a drunk driver. A tragedy is when a little kid gets abused. A tragedy is when a 30-year old mother of two young kids gets cancer and dies. Dying while climbing, kayaking, paragliding, BASE jumping or any other form of outdoor recreation isn't a fucking tragedy, it's a clearly predictable result of doing the activity. If I or anyone goes out while doing our sports with a clear understanding of the game we're playing then let's have a drink, cheer for the life lived, and move on as best we can. I know it's not that simple as death leaves huge craters in life, but I think that's the only sane response I can give to the continued and voluntary mountain carnage I keep seeing year in and year out. To celebrate the rewards without clearly understanding the risks is not only bad math but blatant self-deception.
So here's to all my friends who went out with their boots on. And to my two friends currently in the hospital, you're goddamn lucky, and I'm glad you were.