“If death isn’t a good possibility it’s probably not much of an adventure.”

The above quote stuck out to me today as I read this story over at theHardwear Sessions Blog. The article is written by Will Meinen and tells the story of how he, and his friend Brandon Pullan, met legendary Canadian climber Urs Kallen and were invited to his place for a few beers. The three men were talking about climbing, and Urs lamented the fact that climbing has become too safe for a lot of people. His full quote is:

“When I started climbing it was full of adventure and excitement. It was all unknown, and the risk was real. Now a days it seems that most of the adventure has been removed, and the sport of climbing has become very sterilized,” Urs told us. “A kid in the skateboard park, dropping into the half-pipe is taking a greater risk than most self-professed climbers do.” When I asked how he defined climbing he said, “If it’s not more than 5 pitches it’s not even climbing, and if death isn’t a good possibility it’s probably not much of an adventure.”

An interesting quote indeed, and one that is sure to ruffle a few feathers. I’m sure there will be some people who take exception to how Urs defines “climbing” but I’ll leave that out of the equation altogether. The phrase that stuck out even more to me was that if death isn’t a possibility that it wasn’t much of an adventure. To a certain degree, I really agree with him. That isn’t to say that you can’t have a great adventure without putting your life on the line, but if you look at the people who are really pushing the boundaries of adventure, they’re also putting their lives on the line.

Take for example Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin, the two Russian Polar Explorers who recently completed their quest to reach the North Pole completely in winter. Every step of their journey was fraught with peril and they knew from the beginning that if something went wrong, there was the strong possibility that no one would come to get them.

Or how about Simone Moro’s recent attempt on Broad Peak, also in Winter. Simone and his team struggled for weeks on the mountain, in extreme cold, high winds, and freak storms. In the end, they didn’t quite reach the summit, but there was also a sense of danger throughout the entire expedition.

Everyone defines adventure a bit differently. For some, it’s a trip to their local park for an afternoon hike, for others it’s scaling a mountain on a new route. Adventures should push you out of your comfort zone, encourage you to explore new things, and yes, maybe even cause you to face the real possibility of death. But with great risks comes great rewards, and when you find that adventure that calls to you, and you step outside of your comfort zone, those rewards will make it all worth while. After all, isn’t that why we seek the adventures we do?

13 thoughts on ““If death isn’t a good possibility it’s probably not much of an adventure.””

  1. I don’t like “great physical risk” as a necessary part of the definition of adventure. Over years of watching the occasional climbing acquaintance die or suffer disabling injuries, I’ve developed a better definition for my purposes:

    Adventure: An out-of-the-routine endeavor about which it’s at least as fun to tell stories of later, than it was to experience in the first place.

    Any endeavor from which you don’t return and thus aren’t able to tell stories about, fails as adventure by my definition. Those are just tragedies.

  2. Some people claim reading a book is an adventure–and they can tell you all about that just as passionately as they read it.

    Personally, after following quite a bit of these adventures myself, I am also like Kraig. I tend to be more drawn in to the Solo–high-risk–all or nothing attitude that people like Simon Moro exemplify.

    Perhaps it is drawn out of my own fears. We like to think we could do it-we would love to give it a shot–yet, deep inside we wonder if we have the balls to try it or what we would do in that situation.

    Adventure to me is about defying the odds. People do die (no disrespect Steve) but they also know full well the risk involved before they jump with that risk.

    Driving a car–sex–there are alot of things that could be defined as adventure even with my own definition.

    Adventure is hard to define, but we all know what it is when we find it.

  3. I agree a lot.
    To me adventure: out of luxury and you common life and MUST be in the outdoors doing something physical.

    What I don’t like is that the word “adventure” has been used for years now by travel companies. I don’t think being in a bus and doing stops and hops to visit places in the wilderness is adventure.

    At least, we still have the word “expedition” that looks more pro and involves thinking, planning, training, logistic etc…

  4. I always liked the saying:

    “An adventure is when you are in the middle of it you ask God to get you home. And when you are home you ask God to let you go back!”

    Climb On!

    Alan

  5. I really like the definitions that each and everyone of you have posted as well. As I said in the post, “adventure” means different things to different people, and I personally think it has more to do with stepping out of your comfort zone rather than risking complete life and limb. Everyone has a radically different comfort zone, and I’d always encourage everyone to seek their own adventure, no matter what is calling out to them.

    And Alan, I’ve always liked that definition as well. Seems so fitting at times. Where the hell are you posting comments from by the way? You can’t be in Kathmandu already! LOL!

  6. As a family man it’s tough to put myself at risk any longer but I have to admit that I still have the urge to try risky things that were natural to do when I was alone.

    I’ll stick to my Costa Rican drinks and my stays at Maquengue with the family and live through other adventurers eyes.

  7. You make a good point Frank, and people are often called “selfish” for pursuing some of the more dangerous adventures they go on. I think it does make a difference in the challenges you choose for yourself.

  8. Great post!
    Adventure would indeed seem to be a very relative experience…….
    And that is why musing about all of this is an adventure in itself…
    Great discussion too.
    DSD

  9. You’ve probably mused on this more than the rest of us combined DSD. 🙂 But discussions like this one are always interesting, and it’s fun to hear other thoughts. Adventure is where you find it though, and whether it’s risky or overly cautious, the important thing is to find a way to put a little into your life.

  10. The late, great JC Lafaille had an outstanding article published in Alpinist 14 that discussed this very topic – and his descriptions always stuck with me (hauntingly so, as he disappeared shortly after publication). He wrote:

    The mountains represent an extraordinary natural space, where I often feel fragile and minuscule in my human state. I still love this feeling of vulnerability that goes against our Western life in which everything is sterilized and neutralized, in which people often make plans twenty or forty years ahead and in which many of your decisions are made for you by society, by your family, by your workplace, or by some other third party. In the mountains, at every second, your life depends on your own decisions and those of your teammates. I hope that there won’t be a helicopter in the future capable of making a rescue on a great Himalayan summit, because I find it fascinating that our planet still has areas where no modern technology can save you, where you are reduced to your most basic – and essential – self. This natural space creates demanding situations that can lead to suffering and death, but also generate a wild, interior richness. Ultimately, there is no way of reconciling these contradictions. All I can do is try to live within their margins, in that narrow boundary between joy and horror.

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