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This is a dangerous time of year when it comes to hiking, climbing, or just plain walking. It's always more or less dangerous in the mountains, of course, and you hear about accidents, sometimes because people weren't careful or climbed beyond their limits or climbed alone.
Most of us either know someone who has been in a fall or have been in one ourselves. When I was young and foolish I climbed the North Face of Longs alone and on the way down I fell down most of the big snow field above Boulder Field. Several hours later my father picked me up on the highway and I had no recollection of how I got there. Still don't. I remember the fall, but none of the rest of it.
I read an article the other day about mountain safety and how we ought to be doing more to protect climbers and how we ought to educate climbers on the hazards and prevent unqualified people from attempting hazardous climbs.
This sounds like a good idea but it's really just another illustration of the great mountain paradox: we want to "rough it" and take risks, but we don't want to suffer. The reason people make these climbs and take these chances is that they want that sense of risk they can't get in ordinary life. The last person to die on Longs was a young physician who was looking for a different kind of risk than he found in treating patients. He made a mistake, fell and died. But that's what he wanted to do. That's why he made the climb.
The Park certainly plays an important role in all this with its "return to the wilderness" policy. They have removed the cables from the North Face but at the same time we want to make climbing safer. They no longer maintain the old CCC trails but they worry about people turning their ankles in remote places. Certainly they worry about being sued.
It's all just part of the old kerosene/electricity argument; we want the old time charm but we don't want the place to burn down. At its worst, I suppose we might hold people responsible if they use kerosene and the place does burn down.
Since 1910 people have been coming here because they wanted to escape the city life and "get back to nature." If that involved some inconvenience and some risks, that was okay. Sure, the dirt roads were narrow and dangerous. That was part of the deal. Today we're planning on taking out the last two kinks in the road between Allenspark and Wind River Ranch so folks won't have to turn the car and so the ground around St. Malo and the Aspen Lodge won't be littered with aluminum and orange and red plastic.
There are just loads of places you can go if you want to take most of the risks out of living. But there are still some folks who like to take risks and are willing to accept the consequences if something goes wrong, as well as the pleasure when things go right. A number of those people live here, and they get restless when other people tell them just how much risk they should take.
It's a paradox, all right. For every person who will tell you that we ought to protect ourselves from ourselves, you can find another who will tell you that straightening the road will only cause people to drive faster and have more accidents and that you can't keep the young and foolish from risking life and limb on a sheer face.
Who's right? Maybe they both are. That's the paradox, and one of the things that makes life interesting in Allenspark.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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