It's that time of year again when the mountains are covered in their full winter glory, when they are at their most magnificent and beautiful. Tragically it is also the time of year when we will hear of climbers and walkers being killed in avalanches.
At the time of writing the full facts of what happened are not known yet the reports in all parts of the media seem to be suggesting that those involved were irresponsible in being where they were. It is true that a category 3 avalanche warning covered the area for NE-N-NW facing slopes. It is also true that a majority of those rescued by mountain rescue teams have to bare at least part of the responsibility for what happens to them. The number who are poorly equipped or not capable of taking on what they are doing is extraordinary. I know I once came close to getting badly hurt, or worse, through my own stupidity. Thankfully I was unscathed and learned a valuable lesson.
Equally true though is that we do not know what happened to these people, were they on a south facing slope? Were they roped up? Maybe they did everything right. Similarly a huge number of people are hurt in the mountains through a simple trip or mistake. I once became disorientated in a white out and again came close to a nasty accident (I nearly walked off a cliff) but once again got away with it.
So the first thing I want to say about all this is can we not blame the victims until we have some idea of what actually happened? If they were crossing a north facing convex gully with off white snow that squeaked under foot then they were foolish. But we don't know that so lets lay off of them shall we.
Second lets deal with the old chestnut of how much these rescues cost. Mountain rescue teams are volunteers funded entirely by voluntary donations. They are climbers, walkers and skiers rescuing their own. You don't want to pay, then don't donate. Easy. Similarly RAF/Navy rescue helicopters are really there to rescue downed air crew in war time. Incidents such as this are treated as live training. If they didn't happen they would have to be simulated which would cost even more!
Finally I'd like to comment on why people do this. It's called a sense of adventure.
We are only on this planet a short time. Most of us will get 80 something years here. And this planet is a pretty amazing place. The mountains are, in my opinion, one of its most stunning parts. For others it will be forests, others the ocean, others just gentle rolling planes. Why should we have to sit and admire from a distance? Why shouldn't we go and see them for ourselves and explore and test ourselves? It is human nature to want to do these things. Yes when we do these things we should seek to do so in a responsible manner, but if we are aware of the risks and the consequences and we do not endanger those unwilling to be endangered, why should we not go and climb a mountain? We'd best do it while we are alive as we wont get another chance.
My adventures have been relatively modest but I'm glad I've had them, I feel far more alive than if I had simply played it safe. If we simply sit in our suburban cocoon for those 80 years then we may as well never have lived at all.