Alone on the mountain

Mount HoodWe don’t maintain to have perfect insight into the minds of extreme sport enthusiasts. Part of the thought process does seem clear enough, though: Society has become so safe, so boring, so un-challenging, that somewhere there ought to be a place where you can still test yourself against the elements, against the wild.

Mountain climbers have sought such a place on Mount Hood, where the peaks rise higher than 10,000 feet (it rises to 11,237 feet) and the risks can be real. In the last few months, people have died on that trek. But just last week, three climbers were rescued, efficiently, because they carried and activated electronic location devices. The timing was remarkable: Just then, a bill in the Oregon Legislature, proposed by Representative John Lim, to require that climbers moving above 10,000 feet carry such locators, was moving through the legislature.

The mountain-climbing community was outraged. “Self-reliance and knowledge are what’s going to keep you alive on the mountain,” said one at a hearing. Such locators may give climbers a false sense of security give them an easy out instead of exerting themselves to get themselves out of risk. Underlying seemed to be this: You’re civilizing one of the few ways we have to get away from societys safety nets, to be truly self-reliant.

Part of the problem with leaving it at that, though, is that when people on the mountain go missing, searches are ordinarily launched. Such searches can be highly expensive, meaning that – apart from whatever responsibility other people in society feel toward the climbers – these searches can cost a great deal, and can put the searchers themselves at some risk.

So how about this as a compromise . . .

Amend the bill to say that if climbers don’t want to carry locators, they have two other choices. They can agree, in writing, to pay all costs of any search for them, and maybe a liability fee beyond that. Or, they can state in writing that no search for them should be launched, and emergency organizations won’t be required or encouraged to.

That would certainly take care of the societal safety net.

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