Taking part in a great social media chat regarding adventure travel today gave rise to a number of issues:
To some this type of travel seems to be synonymous with high risk and adrenalin sports. The truth is it is a phrase coined to group a number of activities into one particular label.
Whilst there can be no argument that spending a couple of evenings in ‘hanging’ bivouacs’ on the side of El Cap or a Dolomites big wall or kayaking down a grade six white water is serious adventure, it is however also relative. Children have adventures almost every day, without leaving their own neighbourhoods and often without any risk whatsoever.
Any new experience is an adventure, the excitement of a journey, arriving at a new destination, becoming immersed in an alien culture. There are of course factors that can add to the ‘sense’ of adventure; remoteness of the location, ability to communicate, supply line for resources and of course the element of risk involved.
A Risky Business
The perception that adventure requires risk has the result that many people are now attempting things way beyond their limits. There are also some companies willing to take advantage of this and make a profit from this new found quest for adventure.
An adventurous spirit: An Attitude of Adventure
Pushing the envelope is acceptable, provided those participating have some ‘miles’ in their tank, gaining the necessary skills that only come with experience. Taking unnecessary risks is reckless!
Many of the so called adrenaline sports, high altitude mountaineering, back country ski touring, climbing or white water kayaking are actually relatively safe. The proviso here is that the participants are experienced, sufficiently skilled, well conditioned and equipped for the pursuit they undertake.
Even truly high risk activities like *BASE jumping, cave diving or solo climbing are practiced by participants with many years of experience, working through the various progressions of their sport to reach this the epitome of their expression. Most solo climbers incidentally usually climb well below their ‘actual’ climbing grade, and are often very familiar with the route; the result of a mistake is nearly always fatal.
Most accidents/injuries occur due to an error in judgement, whether is attempting something beyond the capabilities of the individual/group or due to poor equipment, not being suitable for the environment or conditions.
There is a great deal of commercialism now involved in adventure travel. There are almost unlimited companies offering the opportunity to fulfil lifelong ambitions. There is obviously a degree of responsibility on their behalf to ensure that their clients are suitably experienced, skilled and equipped to complete the venture.
Qualification courses for guides include being able to assess the client, not merely asking them what they have done, but being able to read those that are displaying excessive bravado or modesty. Sometimes it may entail doing another route first to assess this.
The sphere of high altitude mountaineering was once the province of a highly skilled and experienced group of ‘celebrity’ climbers. It is now possible for almost anybody with sufficient funds to be ‘led’ to the top of Everest, the highest peak in the World. People as young as thirteen and as old as seventy six have successfully reached the highest point on Earth and a sixteen year old has reached the summit of highest peaks on all seven continents.
These accomplishments should not be belittled, they are amazing feats even in the modern era, and probably successful because the guiding agencies involved are reputable. Skilled guides do not risk the well being of their clients, it is not success at any cost, but careful planning, a wealth of experience and a little luck which brings success. Any climber that reaches the summit but does not return to Base Camp and ultimately home safely has not been successful.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp: Everest Base Camp Trek; A Survival Guide
There have been a number of tragedies in recent years in the Greater Ranges, not all have been the fault of an ill prepared individual. Some have involved experienced guides, breaking the rules of sensible alpinism to get their ‘charges’ to a particular summit.
Is this responsible? Apart from the risk to the individual there is the additional risk to the other clients and members of the climbing fraternity that maybe required to launch a rescue attempt because somebody attempted to overreach. Mountain rescue teams are often called out in horrendous conditions and to extremely remote areas because the foolhardy attempted something beyond their abilities.
There is also the ever growing cost of such rescues to be considered. Travel insurance will cover medical fees or evacuation by helicopter where necessary when participating in the usual vacation activities in most destinations. Expensive specialist high risk activity insurance is normally required for certain activities and to remote areas.
The climbing fraternity has lost a number of its own as have most other high risk activities. There is of course some inherent risk in these pursuits, seracs or ice bridges over crevasses collapse; that is pure misfortune and cannot always be completely accounted for. However there still remains a degree of calculated risk taken by experienced mountaineers.
A risk to self-esteem?
Additionally there is the question of integrity with some of these particular forms of adventure travel; the ambition of fulfilling a lifelong dream can occasionally cloud this issue as well as judgement. Many will have heard of the groups of ‘climbers’ passing dying British climber David Sharp because it interfered with these ambitions; approximately 40 people simply ignored him!
This was not a case of exhausted climbers forced to make a decision about leaving a fellow human being to die for the sake of their own survival. It was a decision made purely on ambition and the ethics of it has been widely debated by people far wiser than I. It is hard to imagine men of the calibre of Bonnington or Messner in the golden age of mountaineering making such a decision. It is a sad indictment of our society that raw ambition can now overwhelm the basic humanity most of us possess. Perhaps even more disturbing is that there were guides present, in their case commercialism was the overriding priority.
There is not any suggestion that limits should be placed on where anybody is entitled to travel to, or the activities they participate in. It is the individual responsibility of those participating that should ensure that they are truly capable of operating with relative ‘ease’ in the environment and are equipped correctly. Choosing a reputable and responsible activity provider whether it be for bungee jumping or Patagonian glacier crossing is equally important.
Adventure travel, choosing carefully: Snap – Don’t ‘star’ in the next adventure travel video
Just visiting Everest base camp is a difficult trek and would be an amazing experience for most, an attempt on the summit should only be reserved for those with the necessary capabilities.
Any views on this subject, it is a contentious one so it should spark some good debate, do you believe we have a right to travel anywhere, do anything we wish without actually having the necessary skills? Or is this reckless abandon and putting other people unnecessarily at risk?