Is It Selfish to Pursue Risky Sports Like Extreme Mountain Climbing?

Is It Selfish to Pursue Risky Sports Like Extreme Mountain Climbing?

Some sports, like extreme mountain climbing, are dangerous. Since there are varying degrees of risk in most, if not all, sports (such as the possibility of concussions, broken bones and even death), how does one decide where the line might be drawn between what is reasonable and what is not? Are some sports simply too dangerous to be called a sport?

In the Opinion essay “Are Mountain Climbers Selfish?” Francis Sanzaro writes:

This month, Jess Roskelley, Hansjörg Auer and David Lama died in an avalanche while alpine climbing on the east face of the 10,810-foot Howse Peak, north of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. They were, respectively, 36, 35 and 28. In the aftermath, our community of climbers has once again laid down on the couch and resumed our conversation about mountaineering’s biggest complex: death and tragedy.

All three were at the top of their game. To climbers, the news of their deaths was the equivalent of waking up and learning that Tom Brady, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown had been killed on the gridiron. The difference is that football players don’t routinely die during a difficult game. The same can’t be said of alpinists. The graveyard in mountaineering’s most fabled playground, Chamonix, France, is filled with young men who died climbing in the massif of Mont Blanc.

… When will the deaths stop? Our collective wonders. I ask it, too, but I know better. They won’t. High-end climbing is going to get more risky, not less. The routes are becoming more technically demanding, in more remote areas, and the method of “light and fast”— minimal gear, no fixed ropes, doing the route in a single push — is now regarded as the best style. These trends, and others, have made the sport of alpine climbing very, very dangerous.

In the aftermath, blame is common. The deceased are blamed for taking so much risk. They’re called selfish. Selfish for leaving behind sons and daughters, wives and girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends, devastated mothers and fathers to pick up the pieces. Selfish, the claim goes, for not understanding that others are invested in their lives and that if they are gone, they take a piece of another with them. Some have said that if these climbers truly knew the impact of their deaths, they would pack it up.

Yes, agreed, but the climbers who died on Howse Peak and the dozens of others I know have been anything but selfish. They were or are devoted husbands, wives, selfless friends and loving fathers and mothers. And confident, determined and overly ambitious. Yes, they can be accused of that.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What is your take on the character traits of people like the mountaineers Mr. Sanzaro describes? Are they selfish? Are they determined? Something else?

— What qualifies as “risky,” anyway? If there are varying degrees of danger in all sports, how does one decide where the line might be drawn between what is reasonable and what is not?

— Have you ever had a pursuit thought to be dangerous to participants? If so, what was it? Did you ever think that if you were injured while participating, you would put your loved ones through pain and suffering as well?

— Mr. Sanzaro concludes his essay with the following lines:

Selfish? No. Unable to see with absolute sobriety how dangerous their path is? Likely. But again, that doesn’t make them selfish, only human. Dying happens to someone else, until it doesn’t. The people who loved them didn’t do so in spite of their love for climbing, but because of it.

One truth goes to the heart of death in our community: You can’t fall out of love with something. Having known two of the three men who died on Howse Peak, I know that climbing made them feel alive. The question is — could we feel alive enough if we stopped? Most climbers think not.

I agree.

What point does he make in this essay? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

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