Its something we all do, get “complacent through familiarity” .
Be it walking across a road, driving a known street or as in this case, think we are safe on a well know mountain “because we have been here before”.
I’m glad to say climbing in a team of regular buddies as I tend to do I’m fortunate to have people around me (some with military backgrounds) who tend not to fall into this trap and really do think Safety first, safety second.
Of course as mountaineers we inherently take risks but mitigating them is the key.
This weekends exemplar?
After summiting from a relatively easy winter climbing route up the very well known mountain in Scotland’s “Arrochar Alps” – the Cobbler (Ben Arthur) – we arrived mist locked onto what seemed like a fairly narrow and hard to see plateau ridge near (as we had navigated) the south Summit
Question ? How to get off safely and efficiently?
No real obvious land marks but we know pretty much where we were and there didn’t seem too many objective dangers and the terrain is flat so we could get up and walk on a decided upon bearing right?
Wrong.. we can’t see if the ground is solid or cornice, we don’t know 100% where we are as the route we chose deviated and the mist means we cant trust our instinct as to our position.
We checked map/compass and even GPS so knew “where” we were , but that still doesn’t tell you “what” is beneath your feet.
Dig deep and set an anchor (axe in this case), set up a seated belay, as always create a straight line between the anchor, you and the leader (avoids rotation in the event of a fall) and then your partner can walk on a rope even if its just 30m in front of you. Not just stand and “hold the rope”… anchors are everything..without them a fall for 1 can easily become a fall for 2.
He was safe , so we were safe – we found out exactly where we were by reaching a reference point (the needle peak on the south summit) and we were able to de-rope, set a compass course and walk off with confidence.
A fall un-roped and un-anchored I would add would have been “catastrophic” and certainty life changing. Wind, cold and tiredness can all make you think the effort is too much , that you just want to get down… that’s where the discipline has to come in as a climber.
Don’t let familiarity breed complacency, even seemingly benign ,”known” terrain has risks.
Safety First, Safety Second
For more information on taking a compass bearing check out this great link on Walk-Highlands .