Mountain adventures

Accidents happen! But why?

It seems recently that not a day goes by with out there being a report of some form of injury accident or even worse a fatality in our mountain ranges, it is with out doubt there are many attributable factors for these incidents and indeed the variable weather and the speed at which it can change and develop must be a considered as a major player towards them.
In this article I hope to highlight some factors that possibly as instructors, leaders or just outdoor enthusiasts we take for granted, but rarely consider whilst we go through our planning stages prior to going out on the hill.

In Sept 2002 Ian McCammon presented a paper at the international snow science workshop showing evidence of heuristic traps (evidence based) in recreational avalanche accidents. Although the study was initially related solely to avalanche accidents we can easily cross reference his findings to the decisions we make in our mountains today.

Heuristic Traps

There are many Heuristic traps that we as human can fall into; I have chosen 5 which in my opinion are more applicable to a mountainous situation.

• Familiarity
• Commitment
• Scarcity
• Social proof
• Expert/instructor halo

Let us look at each of these factors individually and hopefully provoke some thought?

Familiarity – This heuristic is the tendency as humans to believe that our behaviour is correct to the extent that we have either done the activity before or we have been to the area many times before therefore our our decision making is appropriate for any given situation. The familiarity heuristic is possibly the most powerful because it is simple and frees our mind of complex time consuming decision making processes again and again. Leaving us to arrive at usually the same conclusion without much thought!

Commitment – The commitment heuristic is slightly more complex and could be considered as time bound, our decision making process can become flawed due to the constraints that we as mountaineers may have placed upon ourselves. As an example you may be chasing those last last few winter quality mountain days and have booked time of work early in the winter season, you have made that long journey north and have committed your time and energy and irrespective of any other over riding factors you still commit to the hill to attain those last few days that you require.

Scarcity – The scarcity heuristic in skiing terms is sometimes known as “no friends on powder day” but is applicable to the decisions we make on our UK mountains; I feel the scarcity heuristic goes hand in hand with the commitment heuristic. Whether a classic rock climbing route or a very rare in condition winter climb our decision making process becomes flawed because our pure want to bag the route takes over the very real and complex safety issues that may endanger the end result.

Social Proof – This heuristic is our tendency to believe that our our decisions are correct because there is evidence that other people are engaged in the same activity possibly on the same area or route that we are intending to undertake. A powerful heuristic that provokes our sense of competition and pride and the notion that if somebody else is there it must be safe for our party? Obviously what we can only surmise is the technical competence, experience and capability of the others compared to our own groups attributes.

Expert/Instructor Halo – You may feel that this heuristic only applies to the instructors/leaders amongst us? But even as recreational mountaineers we all either look to our own experience or to others around us to confirm the decisions we are making. It is this expert halo that may lead to flaws in our decisions “I have carried out this task many times before therefore it will be fine this time” we sub consciously believe that the actions we undertake must be correct because they have never failed us in the past.

So What

Through psychology and behavioural science, it is evident that humans tend to use mental short cuts (heuristics) in our every day decisions. Most of the time these short cuts work really well but in mountainous terrain when the conditions may not be quite right they can lead to potentially fatal errors in our decision making process. As instructors, Leaders or recreational mountaineers we should aim to plan for any eventuality and also look inwardly to the decisions we make whether venturing into the mountains on our own or with groups.

Posted in Mountain adventures

Medics In The Gorge!

Medics in the gorge, but for all the right reasons!  Yesterday found us guiding a group of Army medics up the Afon Ddu.

A nice early start found us first in the river, beating the hoards of school kids.  Good move, when we finished the car park was absolutely chock a block.

Anyway!  Safety brief done, I quizzed the group on aspirations and fears for the day and off we went.  A little time was spent looking at the Afon Ddu information board.  This is a great feature and gives a good focal point to educate folk on flora and fauna, geology and wildlife.  We continued these subjects throughout our session.

Stepping into the water we looked at movement up the river, how to gain foot purchase, spotting each other and the passage of information.  Into our first team task (not giving these away)!  The team coped reasonably well for the first task of the day.  Next up total immersion, the aim here was to show no emotion to the cold water upon rising to the surface!  They sort of managed it!!  Roped up the first waterfall and we are off again.  The tasks rattled by with the team coping and becoming more efficient with every challenge.

The temperature in the gorge was really warm, as we began the final climb to the top plunge pool I personally was looking forward to another immersion.  The entire group found the courage to do the jumps.  The end of day review indicated that this was the highlight for most.  All were buzzing.  The steep walk down really highlighted how much unknowing ascent we had achieved.  Well done to everyone.

Posted in Mountain adventures

Coasteering Session

Had good weather and near perfect tide conditions today at Porth Dafarch.  19 Army Recruiting Team made a booking with the intention of promoting teamwork and personal development.  Judging by their comments at the end of session review the aim was fully achieved.

We arrived on Holy Island at 10 o’clock just after high tide to sunshine and about 2ft of swell.  The group got suited and booted and looked out to sea wide eyed.  We discussed what to expect from the day and I coaxed out the group’s expectations, fears and what they perceived to look forward to.  With all the safety briefs out of the way we headed North up the coastline to our entry point.  On the way the group was educated to local history, flora, fauna and a guide to the mountain panorama of Snowdonia to the South.

Enough of talking, time to get wet!  The session began with backdrops the aim of this was two-fold – an icebreaker and to get the wetsuits submersed and working effectively.  There were a few squeals upon gaining the first total immersion of the day.  Moving round 100m we visited body positions for deep water entries then straight into 1, 2, and 3m jumps.  The group also received coaching on dealing with the swell and techniques to gain the rocks from the water.

Onwards.  Doggy paddling through the boulder fields.  Confidence now sky high we pushed on to the 4m jumps, 2 jumps each across the zawn and before we know it we’re on the final jumps buttress.  3 jumps were presented to the group, the highest being approx 12m today because of the high tide.  The guys and girls did brilliantly, all went to the biggest jump and most managed to commit to airborne status!

On the way back to the beach we continued the backdrop theme eventually all emerging on the beach at Porth Dafarch as one group.  The entire group were buzzing and can’t wait for a return visit to Snowdonia.  Perhaps a gorge session guys?  Well done all.

Posted in Mountain adventures

Multi Activity Week, Day 5

Day 5, last session of the week for the group.  We headed up to Castle Inn Quarry and were rewarded with good weather after yesterday’s soaking.  Earlier in the week we had success and a full day of training at the Indy wall so today was just a case of putting it all into practice.

I placed top ropes in the second bay right of the main buttress.  These routes are relatively new and appear in the second edition A55 guidebook.  The boys easily attacked two F4’s and two F5’s.  All seemed pleased with their mornings work and indeed the achievements of the entire week.  Every individual had tried at least one new activity.  Mission accomplished!

Posted in Mountain adventures

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