Friday, July 15, 2011

Sport Climbing season done, paragliding, MORE is not safer

Buy this book: A great new resource for local sport climbing, thanks to Derek for his work.

Yesterday I got out with my least-repressed friend, Mr. Tim Emmett, along with Mr. Slawinski and Mr. K.H., who does not want his name on the internet. We visited The Notch, another really good craig in Echo Canyon (and covered in Derek's Bow Valley Sport). The Notch looks across the wide canyon to the Lookout, where I've spent at least 10 days this spring. Both craigs are over an over an hour of walking from the car, but totally worth it. Echo Canyon has been my primary hang this spring, as I beat an old ice climber into a half-not-such-a-junk-show-sorta-OK-has-been sport climber again. I went from grovelling on the 5.11s to sending my project, Spicy Elephant, the best 13b I've ever done. It took three months go get back into half-decent (well, not compared to Ondra, we all SUCK, but it's been fun) shape. Tons of days, tons of climbing, tons of loose rock, it's a reminder of just how much pure sport climbing is!

Yesterday was a load of fun; good people, a good environment, and enough routes to stay busy. The Notch isn't as dialed in as the Lookout; broken holds, confused grades (My view is that the 12c with the rope ladder start is 11d with the rope ladder, the left 12a is 11d, the middle 12a is 12b, and the right one is 11c), but all-time fun climbing. The Notch feels sort of alpine; colder, crisper, windier, but it's a fun craig I'll go back to. I broke a hold on the 12d around the corner on the onsight effort, but that's a great route, and Mr. Tim killed it first go, well done! There is truly endless quantities of rock up Echo Canyon, thanks to Greg, Ian, Gerry, and the many, many other people who put the work into the area! These crags were all word of mouth sorta places until Derek's new guide recently came out; more traffic will really help these areas break in. We were all worried Derek was going to downrate everything to 5.9, but he protected our egos and kept consensus grades generally.

Now it's paragliding season, and not a moment too soon. I've been pushing injuries, shirking work, and generally going hard at the rock monkey program for the last three months. Now that will slow down as I hang in the chair in the sky for a month, fired up, stay tuned for some new projects there, as well as the Canadian Paragliding Nationals, starting this Sunday.

Serial Vs. "Open" or "Comp" gliders.
The paragliding world is still in an uproar about the recent banning of some paragliders from some competitions. The FAI (governing body of air sport) tried to make the World Championships safer by creating a certification process for competition gliders, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that this idea really didn't work out. Two deaths, many reserves parachute tosses, etc., all in the first two days... I think a lot of the problems were directly due to the FAI's efforts to make things safer. That story is too long to go into here, but I firmly believe in the law of unintended consequences in complex situations.

Now there's a huge debate about making all competitions "serial," or production gliders only that are certified to a reasonably high passive safety level. This is a bit like putting airbags and ABS brakes on race cars. I have been against this for many years, and broadly still am. I do not in general feel safer on a serial glider than competition gliders of previous years when competing on them. Pushing a serial glider to do a comp glider's job is like pushing a Corolla to do a Porsche's job. But I'm also less current (lousy weather means I only have maybe 10 hours in the air this spring, not the usual 50 or so by this point), and the class of competition gliders flying right now takes very different inputs to fly well. I am concerned that my "driving" patterns will not match those required from the new gliders, and I'm "rusty," so I'm competing on a glider that flies more like what I'm used to, and also has a higher level of passive safety.

Some people see my decision to fly a serial glider as an endorsement of the serial class only position. It's not. But I am making as honest a judgement as I can about my current (not what I have been, where I was, but where I AM) piloting ability with respect to the current comp gliders. If we fly a lot at Canadian Nationals then by the end of it I should be back on top of my game. I'm planning a little XC mission in the mountains of Canada in early August, and I might even fly a comp glider for that... But today I'm a very experienced pilot with rusty skills. That's a fact. I do have a serial glider I really, really like, the Gin GTO, so there's not a lot lost by flying it. In fact, it's going to be a lot of fun, and I will be seriously competing for the serial class national title so don't think I'm relaxing any! One thing I will say is that if the day looks epic I'm going to blow out of the comp and chase some records, grin...

I think that in the coming years all competitions are going to be held on "serial" or certified gliders with good passive safety. This may in fact ultimately be a good thing, I don't know, but I am sure that most of the reasons being put forward for serial gliders have far less to do with the gliders than the people behind the opinions. Ultimately paragliding is a dangerous sport; but if people blame the gliders for the accidents then it's possible to also say, "I don't fly one of those gliders, so I must be "safe." Never mind that the vast majority of accidents every year are on those "safe" gliders... By focusing on the equipment the delusion of safety can be maintained, when in reality not having an accident while paragliding is 99.99 percent about the pilot's decision ability. A comp pilot with a 200+ hour season under his competition wing is far safer in the air than a novice with a career 100 hours on a certified wing...

More Gear does not mean more Safety:

In every sport participants attempt to make the sport "safe" with equipment, and some decry those who participate with less equipment. Never mind that the vast majority of accidents in every sport I'm involved with (possibly with the exception of kayaking) tend to occur to those with MORE, not less, equipment. I think if we all take an honest look at our sports this trend holds true; it's the mind, not the gear or even the training, that effects the safety of the participant. Agree? Got examples of where the gear rules? Share...


Butch said...


The theory of risk homeostasis states, broadly, that people will maintain a constant perceived exposure to risk. The more safety equipment they have, the more risks they take. Gerald Wilder developed and proved this idea; you can read his fascinating book "Target Risk" (various editions.

Some examples:

-- smokers who quit do not live longer than smokers who don't.

-- seatbelts reduce the severity of accidents, and the # of accidents per mile...but peopl ewho have them drive more, and so the per-capita accident rate remains unchanged

-- in the famous "Munich taxicab study," 1/2 of a taxi fleet was equipped with ABS, the other half not. Equipment to measure driving (acceleration, lateral motion, braking, etc) was installed in all vehicles. There was after two years no difference in accident rates in the two groups...the ABS drivers drove and stopped faster.

Anonymous said...

Butch,I think it goes beyond that.The less skilled you are the more you think gear will make the difference.Thats my subtle experience and I think it's valid although I can only speak for the low end of the scale.Us average guys need a voice.

J.C. Brown said...

Bill Booth, arguably the most innovative designer of modern skydiving gear (he invented the 3 ring release, the hand deployed pilot chute, and numerous other game-changing gadgets) states it this way, in what he calls "Booth's Law #2": "The safer skydiving gear becomes, the more chances skydivers will take, in order to keep the fatality rate constant."

warrior dash said...

maybe it's mote not safer but this is one of the challenging sports.

Chris S said...

I will say that with motorcycling, more gear greatly reduces the risk of injury. Leathers keep your skin intact, helmets your head, boots your ankles etc etc.