Getting over a fear of the wild
We’ve heard from relatives and friends who don’t live in the mountains how incredibly dangerous they must be. It’s not an uncommon sentiment, a fear of the wild. If you’ve lived here for a while you know our biggest danger is not in the mountains but driving on Highway 82. The decision to go into the mountains is comparable to dating in Aspen. What looks beautiful at first glance can be misleading. Is that going to keep you from venturing in? Hopefully not, because the mountains are beautiful, alluring and just damn entertaining places to be.When teaching classes for the National Outdoor Leadership School on hazard evaluation and decision-making in the mountains, I like to give students simple tools to increase their awareness. I start off by asking, in our present location what hazards exist, and what would have to change for this to be a hazardous location? I’m just trying to get participants to increase their awareness of their surroundings. Next I ask the students to name all the hazards that they can think of in the mountains. While they are naming these hazards, I’m putting them into two columns, natural hazards and human hazards. The list of natural hazards is considerably shorter then most people would imagine and, conversely the list of human hazards is endless. For example, a list of natural hazards includes moving snow, moving water, moving earth, moving trees, moving animals with moving teeth, moving electrical currents, moving weather systems, moving fire, moving rocks and, finally, steep terrain that causes bodies to move uncontrollably. The only other hazards that should be on the list are poisonous plants and altitude. All other hazards in the mountains have a vector force involved and a cause for movement – excessive, dangerous movement that can take lives away. Now for the list of human hazards. They include fatigue, hunger, peer pressure, ego, illness, poor judgment, carelessness, complacency, denial, overconfidence, poor communication, poor leadership, distractions, tunnel vision, any emotional factors and on and on. As you can see, this list can go on forever. The real problems begin when you combine the human factors, like, say, fatigue, and the natural hazard of steep terrain. Or peer pressure and steep avalanche terrain. Any combination of the two is a recipe for disaster.The ability to have good judgment in mountainous terrain even when tired, hungry and ill is a constant battle. Good judgment is driven by learning from experience. It’s about being able to reflect on the previous outings you’ve had in the mountains to help make sound predictions. Some people do not learn from their experiences. They keep dating in Aspen and having the same outcomes. They seem to have an inability to change the patterns they have developed. It may prove useful to keep in mind the rules of three when thinking about hazards and your chances of surviving some misfortune. You can survive three minutes without oxygen, three hours without proper clothing or shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. In most survival situations in our local mountains the last two generally don’t apply. The first two are where most of the serious problems occur, not counting falls. You cannot hold your breath very long under snow or water, and exposure to the elements without proper clothing or shelter does kill people. As you’re moving through the mountains, keep asking yourself what dangers exist right now and what would have to change for dangers to be present? Constant awareness of your surroundings will help minimize the dangers. My upcoming columns will be going over what to take and what not to take into the mountains, and what medical training one should have. We will also go over where to go, when to go and when not to go. Ron Rash is a senior instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. His new column “Keys to the Kingdom” will appear in The Aspen Times’ sports section on Saturdays. Ron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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