Remember the risks we take.

Over the last two weeks in my local climbing area, there have been two serious accidents, resulting in two deaths and a climber left in critical condition. I did not personally know any of the three involved in the recent accidents, but we had mutual friends. Events like this shake the whole community and serves as a grim reminder to us all that the sport we choose to spend so much time doing, carries inherent risks.

The loss of life in this community hits close to home, for all climbers. We’ve all made bad decisions, neglected to do safety checks, assumed everything was all right, and many of us get lucky. These incidents serve as a grim reminder that we are not invincible, that even experienced individuals slip up, and the consequences are very real.

Climbing is about controlling variables, minimizing risk and finding ways to move safely through otherwise dangerous terrain.  Maintaining controlling, creating checks and balances, and working to maintain our own safety and the safety of those around us is paramount. It doesn’t matter how many times you have done something, how hard you can send, what peaks you’ve scaled, maintaining vigilance in our safety systems is so important.

With these accidents making national news, and having had my own recent close call at the forefront of my mind, it’s caused me to do some reflection. Why do I continue to take part in an activity that carries such a high risk?

I climb because it pushes me. I climb because it lets me explore my physical and mental limitations. I climb because it takes me places I would never otherwise see. I climb for the sense of gratifying fatigue, for the sense of accomplishment, for the challenge.

Each climber has their own reasons, and these should inspire us to reach new heights, but let us not forget that our lives are in the hands of ourselves and the partners we choose to share the mountains with. Safety Checks only take a minute. Triple check your anchors and knots. Stay safe in the mountains friends.

For those who knew the two climbers who died in last week’s accident, you have my profound condolences.


Brian McKeever: He’s 300x more badass than you

Qualifying for the Olympics is no small task.  The vast majority of us can only dream of making it to such a high level of competition. One Canadian athlete set to compete at the Vancouver games this year has shown the world to never give up on your dreams.
Brian McKeever, a 30-year-old from Canmore, has competed on the world stage as a para-lympian for years.  The legally blind cross country skier, with his brother Robin acting as guide, has dominated the para-nordic circuit for several years..  This year however, McKeever has done what no Canadian has done before, he’s qualified for both the Para-lympics and the Olympics.
At the age of 19, McKeever was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease — which causes rapid macular degeneration — leaving him legally blind only two years later.  The disease causes a degeneration of central vision, leaving limited peripheral vision, which McKeever describes as “Seeing the donut, but not the Timbit.”
At the time of diagnosis, he was a member of the Junior National Nordic ski team, and his competitive drive survived the loss of his vision. For someone to overcome such an enormous hurdle and continue to compete in the sport that they love is truly incredible.
Brian continued to train with high-level athletes, and with his brother acting as a guide; he cleaned up at the 2002 and 2006 Para-lympic games, winning four gold medals.
This year however, Brian put a hold on most of the Para-lympic world cup races and put his focus instead on gaining a spot on the Olympic team instead.  Securing his position by winning the NO-RAM Cup 50km race in Canmore this past December.
McKeever has come back strong after breaking his shoulder last year, when he missed a corner and went off the trail at the Canadian Championships last year.  While he maintains some peripheral vision, and can see shadows, white out conditions take away what little vision he has left.
During the Paralympics, Brian’s brother —9 time national champion, and member of the 1998 Olympic team — Robin McKeever, acts as a guide for the blind skier, but when he competes in the Vancouver games, he’ll be on his own.
Brian will also be competing in the Para-lympics this year with intentions of skiing in all 3 nordic ski events (5k, 10k and 20k) as well as two biathlon events (7.5k and 12.5k)

Had I managed to get an interview with McKeever before the games started, this would have been published in The Gauntlet.  The Media guy from the Olympic team didn’t get back to me, which is a shame, as McKeever is a personal hero of mine, and I would have loved the chance to do an interview.