Risk Management isn’t Fear. It’s Smart.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, many are pushing to re-open mountain communities and end Stay-At-Home orders. One of the most consistent themes I see from this group is a focus on fear. From their perspective, the nation is gripped by fear of this virus, leading to poor choices and lockdown orders. They challenge us to break free of fear – the true emotion driving our actions.

But fear isn’t what’s driving these policy decisions. Risk management isn’t fear. It’s a rational analysis of the objective risks you may face, followed by action to mitigate that risk as far as possible. In fact, risk management is one of a mountaineer’s most important tools – we actively work to manage risk constantly on the mountains. We research our route conditions and check the weather in advance so we can plan ahead. We take breaks as we go to check on changing conditions. When storm clouds appear on the horizon, we turn back. We bring the ten essentials. Risk management is everywhere in the mountains.

When you think of someone afraid, is this the image that comes to mind? Consider a roped team advancing up the side of a glacier at 3am. They’ve changed plans to start early while the ice is still solid. They took time to practice roping up and self-arresting with their ice axes should something go wrong. No one would ever consider calling these folks fearful – yet that seems to be the implication. If you make sacrifices to manage risk, you’re afraid. I see it different: It just means you’re smart!

Lastly, this situation is unique, because most of us aren’t at risk. The issue is protecting the elderly, sick and immunocompromised. Consider the rope team again – we rope up on glaciers in case we fall into a crevasse hidden beneath the snow. Without teammates well-versed in crevasse rescue, knot-tying, and self arresting, you’ll face near certain death with a head first fall. We rope up because we know if we fall in, someone will be there to help, and vice-versa. Roping up isn’t fearful. It’s managing risk for your partners. If you’d rope up to save a climbing buddy – why wouldn’t you wear a mask? It’s objectively the right course of action.

Staying at home isn’t fun. This is the longest I’ve gone without a 14er ascent in three years. Yet it’s necessary to manage the risk right now in our communities for the sick, elderly and immunocompromised. Staying at home doesn’t mean you’re afraid, just like wearing a helmet. It means you’re smart. Stay safe friends.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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