Post-Normal Mountain Climbing
The post normal is amping up the risks involved in mountain climbing, as extreme weather changes everything.
Kirk Johnson, For Climbers, Risks Now Shift With Every Step via NYTimes.com
In climbing lore, coming back down the mountain safely is the ultimate measure of a climber’s success, not the number of summits achieved. And around the world this year, it has been a bad season in that respect. A climbing disaster in the French Alps last week, with nine climbers killed by an avalanche, was only the most recent example.
Scientists, mountaineers and parks managers say it is a pincerlike motion of forces: more people seeking adventure even as the risks involved are becoming more variable.
From a freakish storm-driven flood in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee that killed two people this month to an avalanche here on McKinley in June that killed four climbers in a place where avalanches are historically less of a worry, the new norm is increasingly the lack of a norm. Patterns of the past can no longer be relied on for guidance.
Since November, at least 34 people in the United States alone have been killed by avalanches, and three of the four worst years for fatalities since 1950 have occurred since 2007, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“The extremes are becoming more extreme,” said Tucker Chenoweth, a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve. Mr. Chenoweth trains search and rescue teams on McKinley from the ranger station here in Talkeetna, which oversees the mountain and its expeditions about 60 miles from base camp.
In a strange way, Mr. Chenoweth and other experts said, wild places like McKinley are getting wilder, or at least harder to predict.
Sharper seasonal variations of ice and snow and temperature are being repeated all across the world from the Himalayas to the Andes, which scientists say are driven by a higher level of energy in the atmosphere from global warming. As a result, climbers have to think twice about what they might expect one year to the next, or even one day to the next, in places they might have climbed for decades.
VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is reaching into every corner of our new world, undermining the lessons of decades. We simply won’t be able to make predictions of risk and reward, based on hard-won experience.
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