Outside Opinion: An acceptable risk?

Earlier this month photographer Dan Arkle took a bit of a bashing from the outdoor community and the wider public in general for a stunt branded �stupid and irresponsible�.

In case you�ve been living underground and missed this story first time round, Dan set up a series of photographs of himself walking stark-naked across a snow-covered Crib Goch. If you really want to see them, and they�re actually pretty impressive, Google is your friend.

Now, the criticism revolved around several things �the lack of protective equipment, the conditions on the ridge and the threat of frostbite (particularly nasty given his exposed �extremities�) � but most of them came back to the same thing: the danger posed to any would-be rescuers.

It�s a charge often levelled at risk-takers. Free climber Alex Honnold must surely have had that accusation put to him on a regular basis? And every time the �French Spiderman� Alain Robert scales a new building, you can be sure there are as many onlookers tut-tutting about his sky-scraper clambering as there are those wishing him well.

But maybe, just maybe, we�re all being a little bit hypocritical. Let�s go back to Dan Arkle for a moment. He is an experienced climber and mountain-goer. To shoot his series of naked photos he had climbed onto the ridge wearing the usual winter hill gear before setting up his camera, stripping off, and walking a hundred yards or so back and forth along the ar�te. I can only guess at what was going through his mind at the time, but I�d imagine it wasn�t his imminent demise.

It�s probably fair to say that Dan was taking a calculated risk. Now, to you or me, tight-roping along a frozen Crib Goch wearing nothing but the skin we were born in might be considered far riskier than is sensible � certainly nothing we would do. But that way of thinking is, if you�ll excuse the pun, a slippery slope.

To us, somebody free-climbing a crag with no ropes or assistance might be considered reckless beyond imagination, because it�s not something we would do. But then, to a non-walker who would never set foot in the mountains, walking hours away from civilisation into a harsh and potentially lethal environment might also be seen as an unnecessary risk, and that is something that we most definitely would do.

Surely risk is all about perception, and what may appear to be needlessly courting disaster to one mind is simply a great weekend to another? At when you start to think like that, does the argument of putting others at risk hold water? Yes, Dan Arkle could have fallen or injured himself, and might have required the services of mountain rescue, and maybe those team-members would have been at more risk due to the weather than at other times. But where do we draw the line?

Every hour of every day holds the potential for something to go wrong. Should we blame a cyclist, knocked off his bike and requiring the assistance of an ambulance crew, for not having taken the bus? Should we blame the pedestrian who twists their ankle stepping off a curb for having dared to leave their house in the morning? It could of course be argued that these are daily risks that we have to expose ourselves to in order to simply live, and we reserve the right to judge those who take risks beyond what is absolutely essential, but that�s a big can of worms we�re opening right there. If someone is injured while running for recreation, or falls into the sea while on a weekend sailing lesson, or crashes their car while on the way to see a play at the theatre � should we be angry with them for requiring help?

And so back to us hillwalkers. We are, depending on your point of view, either a bunch of gentle, peace loving people who take to the hills to enjoy the tranquillity of the high ground and the life-affirming scenery, or a collection of death-dicing nutjobs who could potentially require the help of Mountain Rescue every time we set foot in the peaks. To our minds, we carry the right kit, have learned the right skills and are always acting within our abilities. We don�t see the risk. But maybe that�s exactly the same way Dan Arkle, Alex Honnold or Alain Robert feel, it�s just that their abilities and their experience sets different boundaries for them.

So, next time we see something we don�t necessarily think is sensible and are tempted to say something regarding unnecessary risk, just bear in mind that somebody looking at how we choose to spend our free time could be saying exactly the same about us. After all, it might just be a long fall from the high-horse on which we�re sitting.


Do you agree or disagree? Add your comment below.


Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Something you need to get off your chest? A rant you simply can't keep in any more? Send an email ben.weeks@lfto.com and your thoughts could be blogged here.