Essays Overview

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

~~Albert Einstein

The PeakMind blog is essentially a series of essays about managing risk atop the high peaks.  These essays are based on my experiences and are generally true in that small universe.  I only offer my opinions as a starting point for you to consider your own opinion on how to find safe success atop the High Peaks.  I only ask that, in exchange, you share whatever truths you find in your own explorations.

Below is a list of links to the essays, and further below are short summaries of each topic:

  1. Cliff’s Notes:  Rules, Laws, Etc.
  2. Yield and Overcome (a mindset for safe success)
  3. Preparing for Success (available shortly)
  4. Staying Found (available shortly)
  5. An Optimal Hiking Pace
  6. Water:  The Lifeblood
  7. Fellowship of the High Peaks
  8. On Lightning Alert
  9. Dealing with Setbacks
  10. Learning from Mistakes
  11. Learn to “Feel it”


Below are summaries of each essay:

Essay 1 – Yield and Overcome


“What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy…We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”

~~ Sir George Leigh Mallory, 1922

The personal rewards of adventuring atop the high peaks are potentially massive, and depend only on our ability to manage risk. And we must manage risk, not embrace or avoid it. We manage risk by balancing risk with reward to achieve frequent success against difficult goals while avoiding dangerous mistakes and traps that encourage irresponsible behavior. To manage risk well means to: (1) understand which risks threaten us during our high peaks adventures and (2) manage those risks in a way that suits us. No one can tell us how to be safe atop the high peaks without first asking us what we enjoy and what makes the experience meaningful. It is this personal nature of managing risk atop the high peaks that forces us to examine the topic for ourselves.

Essay 2 – Preparing for Success (available shortly)

Essay 3 – Staying Found


“Not all who wander are lost.”


Navigation means simply to “find one’s way.” Unfortunately, finding our way in the mountains is not simple. We need more than our wits when trees and geography conspire to block our perspective of the precise course required to overcome the terrain safely and efficiently. Fortunately, human ingenuity over the ages has provided a full set of navigational tools to help us overcome geographical constraints while remaining safe and energy efficient. But, just as there is no single best way to enjoy the high peaks, there is no best way to deal with the challenges of navigation. For some, navigational challenges are an annoying obstacle to eliminate; for others, navigation is the puzzle that gives meaning to our efforts. Our choice of tools is based on our tolerance for risk and our perspective on the challenge of finding our way.

Essay 4 – An Optimal Hiking Pace


“To suffer the penalty of too much haste, which is too little speed.”

~~Plato, 360 BC

Hiking is a mechanism used by human beings to convert food, water, and oxygen into distance and elevation gains (plus a bit of heat and CO2). Our goals atop the high peaks always require some amount of hiking. Safe and successful hiking atop the high peaks requires us to set a pace of exertion that we can sustain and requires us to predict how much time is needed to safely complete the hike. Failing to set a sustainable pace means the chance of exhaustion or other problems that prematurely end our adventure. And failing to provide enough time means increasing weather risks that can tempt us to abandon our principles of safety. We manage the risk of hiking too slow or too fast by learning to accurately estimate our speed and by utilizing sound hiking mechanics.

Essay 5 – Water: The Lifeblood


“Water is a very good servant, but it is a cruel master.”

~~C.G.D. Roberts, 1891

To adventure atop the high peaks – miles of hiking and multiple skyscrapers of elevation gain, in the cold and the heat, in the wind and rain – can require great physical and mental endurance. And there is a price to pay for this freedom. Our flexible, adaptable physiology requires lots and lots of water when we exercise strenuously in the thin, dry mountain air; and not having enough means more than mere suffering. We manage the risk of dehydration by controlling our water needs and stacking the odds of having enough.

Essay 6 – Fellowship of the High Peaks

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

~~Ralph Waldo Emersonjoeandpetemontblanc

It is simply more fun to adventure with people we like and trust. And as an added bonus, teaming with friends can minimize the risks inherent to playing in a dangerous environment. But a team is not a group of random individuals. In the high peaks, members of a “team” demonstrate cooperative and supportive behavior in a common effort to accomplish hard goals. Team members are equals and friends who value a relationship built over time and expressed in mutual understanding, honesty, sympathy, empathy, and loyalty. The knowledge of one-another within a team allows complementary abilities and coordinated efforts to generate synergy, which enables a “team” to be greater than the sum of the individuals. But building a team takes time and effort, and trusting people we don’t know well can add risk.

Essay 7 – On Lightning Alert


“It is vain to look for a defense against lightning.”

~~ Publilius Syrus, Maxims, 1st century B.C.

Lightning is one of the oldest observed natural phenomena on earth. Once generally feared as a weapon of the gods or God, scientists now tell us lightning is just a gigantic spark of static electricity that will kill or maim us just the same. People once avoided lightning above all threats to life due to the heavenly implications of being a target. When we play in high, exposes places where lightning lives most often, we should still trespass with trepidation and calculated respect. We manage the risk of lightning death or injury by exercising restraint to control exposure and using safety practices to minimize vulnerability when exposed.

Essay 8 – Dealing with setbacks

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

~~ Yogi Berra

5fourteeners3“The Plan” is just a plan. We still have to climb the mountain or hike the pass or whatever we do and see how it goes. And just like any other complex, uncertain event, a mountain adventure is filled with stuff going wrong despite sincere efforts to ensure it goes right. A key step in the risk management process is dealing with new information (called a “setback”) that requires changes to “The Plan.” Making decisions on the trail is the most difficult step in the risk management process, as we are: (1) under constant time pressure, (2) dealing with many variables and significant uncertainty, and (3) susceptible to many decision-making traps, biases & fallacies. But we must deal with setback when they occur so that we can recalibrate our focus on safe success. We use a structured approach to help us to assess the impact of new information and make changes to the plan quickly and safely.

Essay 9 – Learning from Mistakes

“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience,

and that is not learning from experience.”

~~Laurence J. Peter

The last step in the Risk Management Process is learning from mistakes, and we learn best from stories that are told and retold. Post adventure trip reports are the key to recognizing and understanding mistakes and to learning not to live by luck. The key to a useful trip report is honest introspection and knowledge of good risk management practices. An effective trip report should review the sequence of events and highlight discrepancies between planned and actual outcomes. The report should examine the bad decisions and drill down to understand the nature of the mistake, whether caused by bad or missing information or poor judgment. And the focus is on fixing planning and decision-making problems, not affixing blame. All team members become equally responsible for any mistake made when they do not catch it.

We are all tempted to provide entertainment and merely gloss over mistakes when the trip turned out well, but then we’ll learn nothing. A few completed examples are my own trip reports where I have peeled back the layers to find the mistakes that led to near disaster.

Essay 10 – Learn to “Feel” it

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

~~Sir Edmund Hillary

“You have to ‘Feel’ it” is an old saying of mine that means knowing how to do an important, complex skill in the mountains is not enough; the skill has to be an extension of our self-image. We have to “Feel” the capability provided by the skill as we do an arm or leg. And we have to be able to use the skill without thinking, just like we can walk or run without thinking about what we are doing with our hands and feet. When we have to concentrate on the details of performing a skill, our attention is unavailable to other important considerations, such as where we are going and avoiding hazards along the way. To find safe success, managing risk must be an extension of our self-image.

Click to see summary of tables and lists by category


4 Responses to “Essays Overview”

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