I officially completed the first thing on my "intern duties list" just the other day. I saw the ultra-classic mountaineering film, "Touching The Void." Originally a book by Joe Simpson, the movie details two climbers ascent, and subsequent epic descent, of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. How I hadn't seen this film before is beyond me, but apparently I can now call myself a climber. Besides simply being an entertaining piece of cinematography, I found myself asking questions during and after the film. What should he have done in the situation? What would I have done in the situation? What is the proper way to go about lowering someone like this?
What I realized, after not reaching an answer I felt completely satisfied with, is that in the climbing world it is very hard to define and explain every situation that you will encounter. There are books out there, such as Freedom of the Hills, which attempts to define and diagram every system possible as well as determine when they are appropriate. Regardless of these types of books though, they still can't detail and prepare you for everything you will encounter in the mountains.
This realization reiterated the importance of quality training and experience in my mind. Two years ago I was a client of the American Alpine Institute, and went through the Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership, 3 part course. I remember coming off the course with a breadth of knowledge that I simply didn't know existed before. More important than the hard facts however, was the new analytical and judgment skills I had developed over the course of 36 days. Knowing what is "industry standard" and what the climbing community accepts as safe and responsible is absolutely necessary. There really is no excuse for not following accepted practices in the mountaineering world. But when things go horribly wrong and you are in the middle of a situation that doesn't exist in any textbook or guided course, do you know how to think your way out of it?
Choosing the right technique or system in climbing is all about having the understanding of the hard skill, and knowing when and how it is appropriate to implement it. Gaining this ability for me, meant taking a guided course with AAI. I'm not suggesting this is the only way to learn how to think in the mountains, not at all. I'm simply advocating for beginning, and even advanced climbers to continue to focus on learning "how" to think in the mountains. At some point you have to put down the textbook, and starting gaining real and valuable experience.
To read a review of Touching the Void, written by senior guide, Jason Martin, click here.
--Andrew Yasso, Intern