Ethics of Ambition, 2013
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, ice, women, Switzerland, Europe (Tuesday October 29, 2013 at 11:25 am)

Why would a climber speak to a class on the Ethics of Ambition?  Does climbing pose ethical dilemmas? It may - if you’re a sponsored climber and under pressure by sponsors to perform. Or if you have a very ambitious goal.
mt-everest-peak.jpg

Mt. Everest

I’ll describe recent scenarios  of climbers around the world that involve decisions made by climbers, guides, and Sherpas.

First, ambition requires a great deal of egotism and selfishness, as I’ve discussed before in previous year’s classes.

Once our ambition drives us to set goals such as climbing the world’s highest mountain, or being the fastest person to climb El Capitan, then these goals require much time spent training, and in the case of Mt. Everest, a very large sum of money - about $65,000 to $100,000 (per person) for a guided climb.

Today, many of the rich and would-be famous sign on with a guide to climb Mt. Everest, some inspired by the book, Seven Summits, by Dick Bass and Frank Wells.  In the book review, it states that, “For their third and final attempt on Mt. Everest, Wells had to choose between the summit try and his family.”

Driven and ambitious climbers, after paying $65,000 or more for their chance at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, have walked right by dying men and left them on the side of the trail alone, to die.

In 2006,   German climber, Thomas Weber,  collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from the trail. A British climber, David Sharp,  became seriously ill and died. IN 2006, 40 climbers, intent on the summit, refused to help. Climbers often pass dying climbers on the mountain without stopping to help - either, because they lack the strength and skills … or, because they are intent on reaching the summit.

In 2012, the Guardian posted a blog about “the ethical dilemmas facing climbers” as they describe how one climber found many bodies attached to the fixed lines and had to walk around them. In conclusion, they ask, “has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?”

In 2013, Sherpas attacked Swiss climber Ueli Steck and two of his friends  and threatened to kill them.  Steck says that after passing the Sherpas on the climb, when they returned to camp they were met by “a mob of 100 people hitting us with rocks and they threatened to kill us.”

Swiss info asked Steck what his sponsors said, and Steck replied, “they understand but on the other hand … we don’t get anything for free. The sponsors want to benefit from me. And now, all three of us have to deal with financial disaster. We spent a lot of money…  the world keeps on spinning and I have to keep going.”  Steck said he would not return to Everest after this threat on their lives.
In Oct. of 2013, Steck returned to the Himalayas to solo climb the south face of Annapurna, and said that, though he’ll not forget what happened on Everest, that “I think I’m beginning to find the fun in life once again!”

Büchel and Deutsche Welle looks at the dark side of extreme sports and sponsorship in “the Dark Side of Red Bull - the Perils of Extreme Sports.”

In 2009,  three athletes died while doing (paid) stunts for Red Bull: skier Shane McConkey, parachuter Eli Thompson and basejumper Ueli Gegenschatz - who was  filmed when he was killed.

The press asked “who is responsible for deadly maneuvers?”

Büchel said that McConkey was under tremendous pressure: “In order to stay in business, McConkey perceived himself as challenged to perform ever-more reckless acts - like combining extreme skiing and base-jumping.”

Robb Gaffney, a medical doctor,  described Red Bull marketing as unethical.

And last, but not least,  what about kids climbing? In July 2013, 12-year old Tito Traversa was killed in a fall to the ground when his incorrectly-assembled equipment failed. The Italian prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against five people - the gear manufacturer, the store selling the gear, and the manager and instructor of the club the organized the trip on which Tito was killed.

But who’s really responsible? In my opinion, not the store or manufacturer, if the quick draws are sold unassembled, but whoever put the draws together incorrectly. And whoever checked (or failed to) check them.

25 comments for Ethics of Ambition, 2013 »

  1. The sport of climbing in itself does not necessarily present ethical dilemmas. There are definitely people out there who climb for the sport and the love of the challenge and the outdoors. However, this love can quickly become corrupted as people become very competitive in the sport. It is one thing to compete with yourself and challenge yourself to more difficult ascents. But, when one begins competing with other climbers, or participating in dangerous climbs simply for sponsorships, climbing becomes more of a job rather than a hobby or personal sport.

    Furthermore, putting your own life at risk can have negative repercussions for your friends and family. When a climber begins to value climbing over their obligation to their family and friends, they lose sight of what is truly important in life. Although sports are a huge part of many people’s lives, they should not be the central focus.

    Comment by Ayathi Apostolopoulos — October 31, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  2. Climbing is only an ethical dilemma if you make it one. If you focus your entire being on climbing and everything comes second, then no, I do not believe that the lives of others should affect yours at all. But that is not the case with most climbers; they have families and they have friends and those relationships come before or may even equal climbing and they are faced with a choice. One or the other; everyone chooses differently.
    I do not think it’s anyone’s place to criticize someone’s choice, we just have to try to prevent it from affecting us too much.
    And I do think that sponsorships sort of turn this whole intrinsic desire to climb to a sort of extrinsic one where you are doing it for someone else and for the fame and fortune rather than when these climbers started off as kids, climbing just to climb, and there was no incentive necessary.

    Comment by Claire Bohnstedt — October 31, 2013 @ 11:34 am

  3. Although I am not a climber, from what I’ve read in Rock and Roses and what Sibylle spoke about, I don’t believe that average rock climbing is too unethical or dangerous for that matter. There will always be the risk of falling but there is risk in getting out of bed in the morning. If climbing makes you happy, helps you find peace, or gain a greater sense of your humanity then I don’t think anyone should stop you. I do however believe that there is a big difference between climbing in Boulder Canyon and climbing in the Himalayas. When you get above 7000m and are in the “Death Zone” you are taking a huge risk with your life. Something that dangerous can be unethical because you’re disregard for your safety effects others. Everyone has family or friends or coworkers that care about them and your death effects them all. Additionally, if you die along the trail of Everest you impact others wishing to reach the summit and they have to decide between saving a life and getting their money’s worth out of the trip.
    No matter how you feel on the safety of climbing, I think we can all agree that it poses serious ethical dilemmas. Many climbers have lost several friends climbing and continue to do it anyway. I think it’s important for climbers to assess the value of their livelihood every time they decide to climb because you never know when something will go wrong or when you’ll be pushed just a little to far and lose everything.

    Comment by Carly Ratekin — October 31, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

  4. Thanks for a fascinating post, relevant to any sport or ambition that involves ethical decisions for human life. I enjoyed the comments too.

    Comment by Gail Storey — November 1, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  5. In regards to Sibylle’s comments about climbers passing people in the snow dying, I don’t believe we can safely assume this is an ethical dilemma. This bystander effect is present in society as a whole, not just among climbers. Like she mentioned, there is usually a cognition reflecting a lacked sense of responsibility and/or ability to help. In many cases, bystanders aren’t even aware that help is needed. I climb occasionally, but have certainly never done a climb to he degree of Himalayan treks. Still, from what I hear and read from climbers, Its no easy task and climbers’ concentration could distract them from ill people on the side of e trail. I do not assert that this must be the case for each description Sibylle gave, but it seems to me that this is a very likely explanation.
    So, I don’t believe this is necessarily an ethical aspect of climbing, rather than an important issue that should be addresses when climbers are training-so that they are aware of the tendency to ‘ignore’ those in need. What does seem a more troubling case is that of the Sherpas attacking some climbers, because here there was no lack of knowledge–it was a clear. In class, Sibylle also mentioned Sherpas letting climbers die because they were committed to the other climbers on the trek. This I do believe is an ethical issue because it challenges quantity over quality. The success (reaching the summit) of many people is in conflict with the survival of one. I believe the life of the one far outweighs making the summit. However, there are cases when there is only a possibility of saving the climber and that would pose a threat to the safety of the others. In these and similar cases, the decision is quite difficult and I don’t know if any of us could be sure what we would do in such a situation until it happens. I realize in this paragraph I have re-iterated an already-posed issue with no solution. I hope, though, that my additional thoughts on it are apparent, although I don’t believe we can find a solution.
    The last point I wish to make here is about the selfishness of climbing. I am not saying that selfishness is is not involved in climbing, but that preventing people from climbing or encouraging them not to is also selfish. Yes, some climbers put themselves in danger which could affect family and loved ones; but if someone finds climbing to be a religious experience or even just dun enough that it is worth the risks, then denying them climbing would be preventing them from self-actualizing so that their friends are more comfortable. That seems just as, if not more, selfish. Thus the best thing worried friends can do is make sure their beloved climber is aware of the risks and let them decide for themselves if the climbs are worth it.

    I hope what I have said can present a new perspective to think about just as your posts have made me think in different ways. Thank you.

    Comment by Caleb Bay — November 1, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  6. From what I can tell from the book Rock and Roses, and from other books about mountaineering, the sport is one that people do because they find a sense of joy and accomplishment in it, regardless of the difficulty level or professional lifestyle involved. I think that the main trick of being a professional climber, or really of being a human being, is to know your limits. Keep trying, but have the common sense to not push yourself to death. There is also the clash between the fact that reaching the summit can be a personal goal, but getting there can affect other people, such as your family or other climbers. I think that it is sad that people have died from neglect this way, but at the same time, climbing is a personal choice and goal, and some factors are beyond human control no matter how careful one is. But it is a sport that must be taken seriously and not put above everything else. If a climber can take care of themself, they will be fine, and if all climbers do this, then the sport as a whole will benefit from it.

    Comment by Sophia Phillips — November 3, 2013 @ 8:35 am

  7. When discussing climbing, we don’t think about it as ethical vs unethical. Many people love the sport, the adrenaline rush, and challenging themselves. Climbers do face many ethical issues though, many of which need to be decided on in the moment with little time to process the consequences. Climbing is a good way to talk about ethical issues because it poses the question of “what is better, my own goals and ambitions or making a virtuous decision?” In class, we discussed two big ethical issues that climbers face. First, some climbers pass people dying on the trail and walk by without helping. This dilemma is tricky because people paid upwards of $65,000 for their trip and set high goals for themselves and don’t want to jeopardize that. Secondly, the pressure to perform for sponsors has reached an unattainable level. People, including climbers, are pushing their boundaries to dangerous limits. The tough dilemma that we face when analyzing these situations is “would we act any differently?” When I read about the challenges climbers face, I ask that question to myself. It was nice having Sibylle come into class because it gave us a personal perspective of how she views climbing and the risks she faces.

    Comment by Tara Grieshaber — November 3, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  8. Climbing poses as an ethical dilemma for a variety of reason. The most important thing to consider though, is the amount of passion and drive you put into it. Any hobby, sport, or talent can make a person so enthralled in it that they make it their life. If a person puts enough time and effort into climbing it can prove to have a series of dilemmas. Friends and loved ones can be worried about you, the time you spend climbing or training to climb can be selfish to those close to you, and the amount of trust you must have with yourself and your climbing partners can be complicated. It is all about balance and having strong conviction in your actions, that is the only way to make your decisions as a climber ethical.

    Comment by Shannon Walker — November 3, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

  9. I agree that the sport of climbing does in fact stand as a means of ethical decision making for those who engage in it. As we spoke about during the class period and also in the blog, ethics are a huge component of making the decision to leave someone on a mountain to die, or to get them help. Situations take place often, where climbers will leave individuals that have suffered from illnesses behind so that they can continue on their climbs. In a way, this demonstrates the selfish component of the sport. While you established that climbers are selfish through their willingness to leave their families behind, I believe that they are also selfish when they choose to leave an ill partner behind. It is ambition that causes the ethical dilemmas climbers face. So often, a climber will allow his/her drive for achievement to stand as a hurdle in front of their willingness to help another climber. While many can use the amount of money they’ve spent as an excuse, can you really assign a dollar amount to the price of someone’s life? How can we let a person that possibly has a family and friends, behind because of the $60,000 we’ve chosen to spend. I am sure that the ill individual is worth much more than $60,000 in the lives of those that he’s touched. It is important to keep that in mind when choosing to leave someone to die. While catastrophic events do happen, it is the small dilemmas that can easily be avoided if people find it within themselves to put others first, and do what they wish someone would do for them if, god forbid, they were placed in the same situation.

    Comment by Alexa Kolias — November 3, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  10. When thinking of climbing in terms of ethics, nothing came to mind whatsoever except maybe damaging nature. However, there are numerous ethical dilemmas in climbing on and off the mountains. Not being a climber limits my ability to speak about what I would do if I was faced with situations like the ones mentioned above, but I have an idea of what I might do. In terms of children climbing, I don’t think the concept is terrible, however there is a line that should not be crossed. Tito Traversa was only 12 years old, not even old enough to (techincally) watch a slightly vulgar movie, and was killed when he wanted to climb a mountain. Firstly, I think that children, especially at such a young age, should not be climbing dangerous mountains to begin with. They should be in a controlled environment, like an indoor climbing area up until at least age 14 or 15. As a former wrestler/gymnast, we were not allowed to weight lift until that age, meaning that we were extremely weak in all meanings of the word. Now, as I said I don’t know how to climb, but I assume strength is a pretty important component, one that no 12 year old truly possesses to be climbing a mountain, even with supervision. Equipment failure is also a huge issue in this case. Whoever was “supervising” obviously failed at their task ultimately making Tito pay the ultimate price. However, what about his parents? They have to feel the guilt of letting him go climb that mountain and dying. Why did they allow him to do such a dangerous task without them supervising him? Sibylle claims that we Americans have grown up in a way to safe and controlled environment, and she is absolutely right. We also aren’t falling off cliffs. The ethical dilemma in this case is in more than one area, from the equipment to, in my opinion, the parenting, and even to the age of the child who died. Sibylle as well as her son have made it through life nearly unscathed by the mountains, more or less as far as I know, but they weighed their options. Ethics is all about perspective, and in my perspective I think children mountain climbing is absolutely horrible, especially when they are too weak, inexperienced, and young to be doing so.

    Comment by Amir Abouzalam — November 3, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  11. I agree that ethics and responsibility are often interrelated. That is to say that the ethical choice is often the responsible one. Accountability is debatably a moral obligation. In the case of the Red Bull advertising stunts, I would argue that McConkey, Thompson, and Gegenschatz were all responsible for their own deaths. It is true that they were under a lot of pressure, but aren’t most professionals? They chose to make their livelihoods doing extreme sports. No one forced them into it. They knew what they were getting themselves into and decided to risk their lives in order to get ahead in their careers. Though these were undoubtedly incredibly tragic accidents, the responsibility clearly lies in the hands of the athletes themselves.
    I also agree that the in the case of Tito Traversa, the responsibility lies with whoever put the quick draws together incorrectly. Though it is tempting to go down the chain and blame everyone involved in the incident, in reality, the closest link is often the one that must be held accountable.

    Comment by Anna Kelly — November 3, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

  12. The case of Tito Traversa is especially thought-provoking for me because of the fact that he was 12 years old. It’s easy to ascribe the death of an adult climber on El Capitan to that person’s reasonable ability to make decisions regarding risk, but more difficult when that individual is 12 years old and is, legally at least, the responsibility of his parents.
    I agree with the assessment that neither the equipment manufacturer nor the store should be held accountable for his death. Since he was at a camp, which I assume ran under the pretense of having trained people operate the climbing stuff, his parents should not be held responsible either. The camp operators and climbing guides were definitely at fault, as his safety equipment had not been assembled properly. Tito was also responsible, as he willingly accepted the risk as he put himself in the dangerous situation.
    A more difficult and ethically thought-provoking question would arise if Tito had been climbing by himself. It strikes me as reasonable to assume that a 12 year old could be capable of assembling his safety gear properly and climbing by himself. Who accepts the risk when Tito does this? I think because he is a minor, his parents are partly responsible for his actions. But I also think he is equally responsible. Sibylle made a great point in her comparison of ski resorts in America and in Europe, in that European resorts expect you to assume a far greater personal responsibility. I side with Europe here: if people are smart enough to not go down blacks when they’re a green skier, they’re smart enough to not go off cliffs. Similarly, a kid who has received proper training and has proper safety equipment can reasonably be expected to manage the risk in climbing situations, regardless of the fact that he’s 12.

    Comment by Ryan Harned — November 3, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  13. In regards to kids climbing I think it was totally unreasonable for the lawsuits. It seems that children climbing and mountaineering is endorsed by parents until tragedy strikes. The fact is that the risk is always there and to sue because the the risks you accepted and worked with take a life is unfair. One must have a relationship with the mountain, one cannot tame a mountain, and therefor eliminate risk. Children have just as much skill, strength, and intelligence to realize the risks and climb despite them, as any adult does. Everyone takes the same risk when you throw on your pack or chalk up for the weekend and the risks don’t change because the climber is 12. The mountain does not distinguish between a 12 year old and a 42 year old. The mountain has a strange hunger climbers, it can take you because of a mistake or it can take you even if you do everything right.

    Comment by Hayden Noel — November 4, 2013 @ 11:27 am

  14. The case of climbers continuing past those in need of help is an interesting one. I have spent some time thinking about this, and though I do not climb, I think that I have come to some logical conclusions. I assume people who set out on difficult climbs try to carry as little as possible in order to cut down on weight. As a result they may only have enough supplies for themselves and whoever else they are climbing with. If one is climbing with a group of others and they come across a dying climber, it might really be impossible to help. Sacrificing some of their supplies for this other climber may lead to putting their own life in danger. There isn’t much of a point in saving one climber’s life if it’s just going to lead to the death of another later on. Each time a climber chooses to take on a difficult climb they should also accept the risks associated with it. If they do run into trouble, then they can hope that someone will be there to save them, but such an event shouldn’t be expected for the reasons stated above.

    Comment by John Zavidniak — November 4, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  15. I believe there is a certain risk in everything that we do. Be it climbing a mountain or just crossing the street on a day to day basis. I am not a climber so I cannot really attest to how I would act in the situations mentioned above, such as on Everest with dying people on the sides of the rope. I would naively like to think that people would stop and help, but understanding that the price of 65,000$ to have the once in a lifetime opportunity to climb Everest, I understand peoples choices to leave them. I think if people are willing to risk their lives in such a climb, then they should understand the risks and realize that it is nobody else’s responsibility to save them when things go wrong, and put that persons life in danger. Additionally, a climber should take the proper precautions to make sure that things don’t go wrong and they are never put in a tough situation where they are forced to make an impossible decision.
    The idea of whether other people, such as family and coworkers and society in general have a moral obligation to either stop someone from endangering their life on a climb is an interesting one. Arguably everyone has a right to live their life however they choose, I do believe that if there comes a situation where someone is obviously not prepared and experienced enough to go on a hard climb, then someone should tell them and try to convince them that they are not ready for the risk. But if someone has trained and trained and it prepared to take on a dangerous mountain, then there is nothing anyone can say. The climber has faced the fact that the risks may be tremendous and now the family and friends must do the same and realize that this is something that brings peace and a sense of fulfillment to the individual and they shouldn’t stand in their way.

    Comment by Paige Soenksen — November 4, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

  16. I feel like rock climbing is, for the most part, just like any other hobby or passion that someone may have. The questions fall under the case of the risk and values involved. Yes, everyday we have a possibility of not seeing the next day, but pushing the limits on that possibility by deliberately putting life out on a limb is one I personally cannot understand. The values that climbers have seem to be, as Sibylle states, purely egocentric. Passing by dying people, choosing between climbing and family/relationships. It’s an interesting life journey I feel only certain people can make because it’s so contradictory to the instinct to avoid harm and death. But I guess for some people, that doesn’t give them happiness. The most interesting topics for the ambition that climbers have is the issue of money, the thrill, happiness, and personal achievement, a personality that is almost encouraged by America.

    Comment by Alexia Diaz — November 4, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

  17. Regarding the issue of climbing as an ethical dilemma, I think that the most troubling moral conflict mentioned during this discussion is the issue of sponsorship and the exacerbation of risk. I watched the Deutsche Welle Red Bull documentary, after which I came to the conclusion that, although I think that many of these athletes who, like many professional climbers, would have done many of these dangerous stunts whether or not they were getting paid, the added pressure put on them by sponsors made it more difficult for them to accurately balance risk. In particular, during the interviews with Ueli Gegenschatz’s friends concerning the reasons for his accident, all of whom were experts in base jumping, I think that it was apparent that they believed that his accident was the direct result of the pressure he felt from Red Bull. Even though he was an expert and a meticulous perfectionist, his friends all seemed to be of the opinion that he maybe overlooked the impossibility of the jump (namely the insufficient height of the building, as well as the roof on the lower part of the building which he ended up hitting, shattering both his hips before he eventually collided with the ground) because he felt the pressure to provide Red Bull with a stunt impressive enough for launching their new mobile phone initiative. If taken from a teleological perspective, a comparison between the benefits of jumping versus not jumping, ultimately Ueli Gegenschatz’s Red Bull sponsorship skewed his assessment of risks so that he valued his livelihood over his life. Given this skewing of pros and cons, I think that sponsorship is most definitely an ethical dilemma. For example, in Lynn Hill’s essay in Rock and Roses, she ended up climbing El Capitan in one day on her second attempt and not her first because she was willing to honestly assess her weaknesses and decided that it would be much safer for her to push to the summit on a different day when she was rested physically and prepared mentally for the challenge. Hypothetically speaking, if she had been sponsored by a company like Red Bull, and they scheduled her climb for a specific day, it is more than likely that she would have pushed herself beyond her limits because Red Bull’s image would require that she be successful that day. Given this, it is likely that she could have ended up being severely injured or even dying because she, like the athletes who died, might be more likely to value keeping Red Bull as a sponsor rather than a more logical assessment of strengths and weaknesses that day. This is ethically murky because, in the end, it would have no longer been her decision to risk her life, but rather Red Bull’s.

    Comment by Kate Bodnar — November 4, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

  18. As Sibylle has stated, ambition “requires a great deal of egotism and selfishness.” So then by this logic climbers should be responsible for the risks they take because they are doing so to fulfill some intrinsic desire. I believe this is the case for the athletes involved in the Red Bull stunts, being legal adults who have been practicing their sport for years and should know their own limitations. However, in the case of 12 year old Tito Traversa, I do not believe he was old enough or had enough experience to attempt a climb of that magnitude. It seems unethical to let someone who has not yet reached maturity attempt a climb such as this that required a level of experience beyond that of a 12 year old.

    Comment by Anna Jaunarajs — November 4, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

  19. Until meeting Sibylle, I did not quite grasp the extent of ethical challenges related to the sport of rock climbing. It never occurred to me that values such as personal mastery, adventure, confidence and nature could conflict so much with moral decision making.
    Engaging in a highly dangerous sport with an extreme risk of death is not only physically demanding but also mentally exhausting. Hearing about all of the fatal accidents and near catastrophes climbers face on a regular basis shocked me. It is amazing to me how these people know the risks involved with their sport and nevertheless readily go out and look for challenges on the rock face. The possibility of finding myself in a situation where I must decide between the life or death of a person would cause me great anxiety.
    Therefore, Sibylle and her fellow climbing athletes earn my deepest respect. The responsibility and pressure they put on themselves every time they engage in their sport is astounding. It is that amount of determination, self confidence and courage that has left a lasting impression on me after listening to Sibylle express her true life passion. I am very grateful for having met her!

    Comment by Sarah Lincoln — November 4, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  20. When confronted with the idea of ethics in climbing, I couldn’t help but recall the raging debates over bolting which began all the way back in the late 1940’s. Later, there was the shunning of those who “chipped” problems to make them doable. More recently, there was the question of perma-draws. At the crags, we have LNT principles and expectations for the behavior of other climbers. This is climbing “ethics”: don’t play music too loudly, don’t attempt a route that impedes on another’s space on the wall, don’t trample another climber’s rope, etc.

    Beyond that, though, is something I have rarely considered as a climber myself. Is it ethical to seek out potential danger? Is it right for sponsors to expect their athletes to put their lives in danger for their sake? Well, yes and no.

    All climbing gear comes with a small manual of sorts, and the first line often goes something like this: “climbing is inherently dangerous”. A bit platitudinous one might argue, but undeniably true. We have a number of ways to reduce the risk, but it will always be there. I have proof that goes beyond the scars that dot my body: just today I shredded the primary joint on my right pinky on a campus board in a nausea-inducing avulsion fracture (by the way, Sibylle, this means I may not be able to enjoy climbing with you for quite some time). I was told that I may lose movement in my finger entirely. This is not the first time that climbing has inflicted lasting damage to my body. And yet, my parents would never discourage it (though my grandmother was quick to tell me that I must never tell her of my adventures until I am safe at her dinner table), because they know that it helps define my purpose. It helps me get out of bed in the morning.

    I am lucky enough to know a handful of very talented, big-name-sponsor climbers. In addressing the question of sponsorship, we can only evaluate their decisions through one line of inquiry: would they be engaging in the same activities if the sponsorships went away? I am convinced that they would. This does not mean that sponsorships don’t muddle the playing field a bit, though. I am also convinced that they increase the pressure of competition, perhaps encouraging individuals to do away with integrity (have we not seen this in the past, where a climber lies about ascents to hold on to big sponsors like Scarpa and Black Diamond?). Granted, this sense of competition may exist on it’s own in the form of a pursuit for mastery. This is a more personal form, and perhaps then provides less room for lapses in principal.

    What I’m getting at is this: climbing is inherently dangerous. The pros know this better than anyone, and yet they choose to engage in it regardless. In fact, it is this sense of danger that may be the primary attraction. It is cases like Tito Traversa’s that affirm to me that, above all, climbers should strive to be thoroughly competent. Most danger can be eliminated through careful inspection of gear, proper training, and a realistic sense of one’s own abilities.

    So, is choosing to go out climbing ethical? I think it’s as ethical as you choose to make it.

    Comment by Michael Cohen — November 5, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

  21. I think it is interesting to distinguish between ice climbing and regular climbing in the ethical analysis. As Sibylle made the distinction in class, I found myself asking at what level does climbing become too dangerous. Where is the tipping point as to what is an ethically responsible risk to take while climbing? Is it at ice climbing? 5.12? Somewhere else entirely? I believe that one should not avoid all risk, however, neither should they haphazardly pursue risks. Aristotle’s golden mean is useful when it comes to evaluating this tipping point. A single experienced climber with appropriate gear and no responsibility to provide for a family could, in my opinion, justifiably pursue a riskier climb than someone of equal skill with familial responsibilities. Obviously, it is also not prudent for anyone to attempt something beyond his or her ability level. The problem here is that, even with the establishment of some sort of comparative measure as to what is ethically justifiable for someone to pursue, there is no objective starting point from which we can reference this comparative scale. As much as I dislike being relativistic, I believe that the risk assessment and ethical analysis of this assessment must be done on an individual basis for every individual climb. The climber should examine their motives for pursuing the climb and consider the ramifications of success and extreme failure: death. They should have at least reached out to their loved ones to communicate their passion and desire to climb and hopefully understand their importance to others. If they like their chances and the ramifications they should then pursue it. It is not fair for others, most notably others outside of climbing, to suggest that the climber is insane or does not appropriately and rationally assess the risk because they are biased in favor of doing the climb. These people are often just as biased, if not more so, against the climber doing the climb and they often do not have an adequate understanding of climbing to make a fair assessment. If the climber and those closest to them can come to a consensus that a climb is ok, then I see no reason for it to not be pursued. In some cases, perhaps, I would even condone the climb without loved ones consent. To return to my opening thought comparing the dangers of ice climbing and regular climbing, I don’t think that I would encourage recreational ice climbs of extreme peaks like Everest because of the high danger. At the same time though, a small voice at the back of my head asks “What if there is a legitimate reason to go up there (to rescue plane crash victims, science, etc.)? Would it make sense to stop this recreational climbing that could benefit those expeditions? Is there a happy medium?” I’m not sure we will ever have all the answers especially about a universal climbing ethic. We must then do the best we can with what we have.

    Comment by Toby Bollig — November 6, 2013 @ 1:01 am

  22. Anything that is done in life involves ethics, because in some way or another, it will touch the lives of others. Sports are no different. A climber, as with any athlete, does not make decisions in an isolated world that will only ever affect him/herself. Each climber has a network of people with whom he/she is connected, and who will be impacted by the consequences of that climber’s decisions. Additionally, all climbers participate within a wider community of the sport, and all those other athletes can also be affected by the repercussions of certain actions, even if these actions are as seemingly innocuous as leaving pieces of hardware in the rock face.
    Granted, there are ways to climb that can minimize risks, and minimize the impact one climber’s choices will have, but there is no way to eliminate all risk. As with your story of the 9 year old Tito Traversa, I don’t believe anyone would have said he was making risky decisions, or that it was the fault of competition or sponsor pressure that led to his tragic death. He was pursuing a sport, for the enjoyment of it, that had an inherent level of risk, and although perhaps he never considered doing an analysis of this risk, others who played a role in putting him on that wall did. And this comes back to my initial point; every choice one makes has ethical consequences attached, because, although you may not be able to predict the consequences of your actions, lives are so interconnected that most choices have a good chance of affecting another.

    Comment by Hannah Farrar — November 6, 2013 @ 6:48 am

  23. I suppose now, after meeting with Sybille, that an accomplished climber does have quite a rounded perspective on ethical issues. The world of climbing seems to be presented as separate from the one most people live in, with it’s hierarchy, lingo, and own dogma and perhaps prejudices—and indeed hearing and reading about gung-ho climbers hiking past their oxygen-starved and slowly dying comrades, eyes fixed only upon the elusive summit, seeking their own esoteric and warped self-fulfillment, lends this seemingly separate world an aura of disgust and astonishment at the lack of humanity. But would you really do something different? Indeed, I feel that the idea that climbers exist as a separate remnant of society laughable, and while it is easy to gasp in horror at the atrocity of letting a fellow human being die on a mountainside while you climb on, we must first realize that sitting in a climate controlled room alongside a group of friends and unanimously vilifying these people, as opposed to actually climbing the tallest mountain in the world, stressed, tired, oxygen-deprived, and deliriously determined, are two very different scenarios.
    Like Sybille said, these climbers have paid up to seventy thousand dollars per person, and most travelled across the globe to make the voyage up Everest. That being said, if the price tag on a human life can now be approximated to be around 70K then I think we’ve placed a foot into a new age of the slow descent of our world into apocalyptic oblivion. If we really believe these climbers responsible for the death of Thomas Weber or David Sharp, then they should be charged with murder and locked up for the rest of their lives. But that is not the case. The fact of the matter is that even if you wanted to save this nameless individual on the side of a mountain, what could you do? It seems more likely that by trying to help them down you’d put both yourself and them in more danger. I believe it is more a feeling of helplessness that results in these seeming abominations, and one must realize that it’s not as though these people are taking a summer stroll through central park; they’re climbing Everest: the tallest mountain in the world. With such a title comes, I believe, a mutually acknowledged awareness of an increase in danger and with that a heightened sense of self-preservation. With that in mind, I think it unfair to label the mountaineers as cold-blooded killers, but more as human beings reverted to a more primal mindset amidst uncommonly harsh environmental conditions. Humans have been wired to care about themselves first, and honestly, if you think you would have done any different, why don’t you buy yourself a ticket to Everest and see for yourself.

    Comment by Sean — November 12, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  24. It was great getting to know our guest speaker and learning more in depth the complex world of climbing. In general, I believe that every decision we make will come with benefits and disadvantages. It is then the decision maker’s choice wether the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa. When reading the stories of climbers who walked along help-needing people, I wonder if they thought of a possible scenario prior to their adventure? If so, did they establish a mindset of providing no help in order to reach their personal goal and make their money worth the trip? For those who were on the other side of the situation (people who needed assistance), did they think they would possibly need help along the way and no one would be willing to help?

    Without a doubt, these are hard situations that are possible to arise especially in high risk climbs, but I do believe climbers do not think of all possible situations they might experience. Or at least they don’t think they will be part of such an experience. Perhaps, if climbers ask themselves these sorts of question before expending a great sum of money and taking on a risk, they would rethink if the goal is worth it. I am sure some will maintain their belief while other may change their mind.

    With that being said, I believe that a climber who decided to pursue it’s own ambition instead of providing help to a stranger should not be criticized. I do consider the act to be extremely selfish, but also understand that both of the climbers involved in the situation should had taken all and every possible scenario into account before deciding to climb a mountain like Mt. Everest.

    As for me, I would rather avoid doing adventures that would place me in such a situation.

    Comment by Gerardo Lopez — November 14, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  25. Climbers are typically portrayed as a very Type A, selfish, powerful, driven individuals. Climbing is also an intensively individual sport; although there are challenges and races, one spends most of their time challenging their own physical and mental limits. What does this mean for their morals and ethics?

    I think climbers have an intense obligation to be community minded exactly BECAUSE climbing is such an individual sport. Exactly because most people are mostly looking after themselves, it is wise to take a step back and check on other people. This dichotomy between team/individual sport is very clear on Everest. Each member of a climbing “team” has spent years, even decades, preparing for and practicing for this exact climb. Each teammember spent upwards of $60,000 just to get to Everest, and then is placed into a team of mostly unknown people, all with the same goal.

    This leads me to the ethical question Sybelle presents that interested me most: what decisions were made regarding climbers dying on Everest by others, and were they the wrong decisions? Each of the climbers passing the dying climbers were faced with an ethical dilemma: should they stop and attempt to help the climber, knowing the stricken climber may die anyways, and knowing it will almost certainly remove their chance of summiting? As earlier commenters mentioned, part of the reason why so many climbers ignored the stricken men was surely due to the bystander effect. But still, dozens of people passed these dying climbers without even attempting to help. It is easy to say from the safety of my warm room that these climbers should have dropped everything and tried to save these men. Always help others, says conventional ethics. Altrusim. But we are talking about 28,000 feet up on one of the world’s toughest mountains, and the number one rule of rescues is never create a second victim. Helping the stricken climbers would derail ones summit chances, put dozens of other people at risk, and likely not be successful. Would I have stopped and helped? I’d like to think I would have. But probably not. After all, there is only one chance to summit. Sometimes, admitting the truth hurts. Ethics and climbing are an interesting pair and there are never clear right or wrong choices.

    Comment by Josh — December 12, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

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