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Decisions – Editor’s Note #265

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Rock and Ice issue 265 (September 2020) – on sale now!

They say that more often than not, the best decision is the hardest one.

That’s a bunch of BS. The best decision is typically the easiest one.

Go to the store and buy veggies and make a salad vs. pop that freezer-burned Hot Pocket in the microwave? Hot Pocket every time.

Pull on that fixed Stopper and get off the route before the storm or spend 15 minutes trying to decode the sequence just to say you did it “clean”? Pull on the damn Stopper.

See what I mean.

And yet, I want you to imagine making the decision to have part of your leg sawed off. Elective amputation.

You’re not being forced to and you don’t necessarily “need” to. You’re a climber, a single mother of three. If things go bad, they could get real bad.

Finally, the thing that pushes you over the edge is one of those classic, meta comments from your kids, the kind of comment that illuminates those vagabond thoughts you’ve been trying to keep in the shadows for all those years. Maia tells us: “The second turning point was when Quillan, my logical little boy, said, ‘Mum, why can’t you take that leg off and get one of those real ones that actually work?’ Then he added, ‘And then you could stop saying no to me when I ask you to play.’”

Her heart sank. Mine did as well when reading it.

Elective amputation was the decision New Zealand climber Rachel Maia eventually made after struggling with a leg injury she got when she was 16. That was not the simplest decision.

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The problem is that decisions are never black and white. The outcome can always go either way, but for Maia, it was about “survival,” not just living and breathing, but thriving mentally and emotionally. She had to take the risk. Maia was a climber, after all. Now, fast forward years after the elective amputation and Maia is chalking up for the finals route at the 2018 Paraclimbing World Championships. I’ll leave it there. Read “Maia’s Choice,” p. 38, for the full story.

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In “Speed Trap,” p. 30, John Long recounts how decisions, and their outcomes, are often a dice roll—one of those is a Nose speed record, the other a catastrophic injury. Long, in a way few could, paints a behind-the-scenes portrait of the characters and impulses fueling Yosemite speed climbing. Fyi, it’s not always pretty.

In “Dream Merchants,” p. 44, Jon Waterman investigates what took the lives of three Japanese mountaineers, including Himalayan veterans with rare winter ascents in the Greater Ranges. A former Denali mountaineering ranger, Waterman digs into the mountain’s topography and investigates what decisions might, or might not have, ended promising careers short.

Personally, some of my worst decisions have been made while drinking Whiskey, and so I had some personal connection to Bryan Miller’s story about trad climbing in the Red River Gorge, post-Whiskey hangover, on sometimes wet, obscure sandstone cracks. “Red Rising,” p. 22, is what a good time looks like.

Last, data journalist Eliot Caroom has done what no human has done before—analyzed, tagged and sifted through 30 years of accident reporting from Accidents in North American Climbing. We are lucky to have this one. Caroom diligently tabulated thousands of words into digestible charts and we have, out of the ANAC pages, a rough picture of the most common type of climbing accidents, and probable causes, in each category. So, I advise you to let the data soak into your brain and let it guide your future decision making.