Monday, February 24, 2014


In Alaska, some of the people who were passionately in love with our work safety program used to reference lemons. Each red flag was a lemon, and if you had three lemons, you could make lemonade...which was supposed to be a bad thing..I don't know..I like I'm confused.

At any rate, this weekend I was thinking about risk tolerance, and how it is higher for some people than others, but is also dependent on what adventure you are pursuing. For example, my tolerance for lightning is a lot higher than the Freak of Nature's, but she is more tolerant of scary winter driving. I can feel comfortable in a kayak in an ocean swell, but the volunteers I used to bring along weren't quite as happy about it. And so on.

On Saturday I trudged up Hurricane Creek on my snowshoes, avalanche hunting. Now that conditions have moderated some, it was a good time to see what wild weather events had occurred in my backyard. Sure enough, there's this one:

But to my surprise, this one, in a place where I had imagined was safe to travel.

Doesn't look as impressive as it is. This one made a whole new path through the woods.
At that point I decided to turn around. Two avalanches in less than a mile was enough for me.  As I reached the trailhead, two snowshoers hove into view. They were heading up the trail to ice climb, and the man said, "Oh, I don't think an avalanche would propagate today."

Immediately I felt lame for turning around. Grumpily I hiked back down the snowy road, pausing to help some people get their truck out of the ditch (Note: Who doesn't bring a shovel when attempting to drive a non-plowed road with over a foot of snow on it? Who?!) Why hadn't I kept going? I don't think an avalanche would propagate...Had I been too cautious, lost my outdoor edge?

Later, a friend implied I should not have gone alone. "What about the buddy system?"

So there you have two extremes, a man who thought all was fine and a woman who thought I had been unsafe. In the end, you can always find detractors, those who say you should not have climbed that peak or camped alone or wait, I've done it a million times, why wouldn't you...

We've all turned around because someone in the group wanted to (and you have to, sometimes, if you want to keep outdoors friends going with you) and we've all kept going when that voice has said, You know, you really shouldn't...One of the benefits of solo travel, though, is that you can develop your own inner voice. If you always go with other people, you won't learn what it has to say.

Or not. I don't know. All I know is, now I want some lemonade.

Sacajawea in the distance. For another day.


  1. IMHO, your inner voice is almost always the right choice. That small voice that says, "I don't know about this..." in contrast to the daredevil on the other shoulder who says, "Ah, go for it, it'll probably be okay." Who knows what real mountain experience the "propagate" man really has...maybe he was just being macho and superior. You have so much experience on the water and in the mountains....I would trust your instincts. And it's better to be safe and disgruntled than push on in dicey conditions and not come home to hike another day.

  2. Lemonade sounds nice. I think that since you usually travel alone, you probably should err on the cautious side. Better to be safe than dead.

  3. "I don't think an avalanche would propagate today" just makes me laugh a little bit. "Today" has nothing to do with it; who talks like that about avalanches? Call me sexist if you want, but I almost never listen to dudes about avalanches unless I know a LOT about that particular dude's experience and capabilities. They all want to talk like they know it all and are infallible, but they are still much more likely to be caught than are women. So say the data, and the experts...

  4. Beautiful Mary!
    I have not been up Hurricane Creek in several years but do plan to hike it this summer. I am glad you listened to you're inner voice. I am sure you'll be back again real soon and maybe then there will be no inner voice, just the sound of your snow shoes on the snow!!!

  5. Mary, you have the same thoughts as I do. In the last 14 years I have done over 600 hikes or climbs, one with you. I have often gone solo, not telling anyone where/what/when. John McGilvra


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