Tunnel Creek

I feel almost cheated that I read this article about a devastating avalanche at a backcountry skiiing area in Washington called Tunnel Creek on my iPhone first because The New York Times‘ presentation of this story is simply amazing.  It’s stunning how they’ve managed to convey this tragic story.

While I was reading the story I couldn’t help but think about how aspects of this sad story relate to our sport of rock climbing.
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 Much like groups of skiiers, groups of climbers are just as susceptible to the trappings of groupthink.  So while we don’t have the level of objective hazard that is present in a sport like backcountry skiing, our sport is not without its danger.
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 Indeed, while climbing has been and will always be a potentially dangerous sport, the reality is that we are exposing ourselves to ever-increasing amounts of subjective hazards with the increased reliance on things like fixed gear.

This isn’t meant to spark a debate over the merits of fixed gear but rather to serve as a reminder that being cognizant and aware of what it is we’re doing out there could not be more important.
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 Nobody wants to be “that guy” and “ruin” the fun for everyone else, but when you listen to the heart-wrenching reactions of the people involved in the Tunnel Creek story as they hear that their friends and loved ones aren’t coming home, one can’t help but think that erring on the side of caution is always worth it.

Posted In: Asides, Off the Board


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5 Responses to Tunnel Creek

  1. Chris December 26, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Fabulous presentation. What modern newspaper articles should be like.

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  2. Joe December 27, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    Reading the reprint getting published in the Seattle TImes. Groupthink at its most tragic. In part three they mention how most of these people would not typically ski the backcountry in such a large group, and this instance represented a departure from the norm (due to the aforementioned group dynamics).

    As rock climbers we are generally confined to the decisions we ourselves and one or sometimes two partners can make, making for a much more straightforward decision process. That’s one thing i really love about climbing – you can either lead the next pitch or you can’t. Mountaineering groups may be the exception here (thinking about rappelling accidents for example). Luckily for us, objective danger is so much more obvious in the non-snowy months.

    In any case, it’s a compelling article and definitely worth the read. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. SmartKid December 27, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Incredible post. Never seen one like that. Would be nice to have online virtual guides like that presentation, with weather forecasts, terrain, 360 views , etc.

    Nicely done.

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  4. Isaac December 27, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I read the NYT article on Xmas. Totally shook me. Some of the best reporting I’ve read of this kind of story. It’s true that climbers can easily fall into similar traps: fixed gear, badly protected landings (my buddy didn’t get hurt so it must be safe enough), loose rock. The nice thing about climbing is that even with a group giving their support/egging on their friend, we make each move and assess each risk individually. Again, a sad story told well that hopefully we can all learn from.

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