Risk managers: Taking calculated risks to live a life of adventure. Written by MK McDonald

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Mountains inspire opposing feelings. Feelings of being tall and small simultaneously. Ego can reveal itself while mountaineering and in my experience, any extreme sport for that matter.  In contrast, there are also opportunities to become vulnerable, trekking on the outside of our comfort zone.  How do you find balance when there is so much going on externally and internally when attempting an unknown summit (Direction, safety, maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beauty and nature, photos, meeting like-minded folks,etc)?

In the last 10 years, I’ve finally started to realize while summiting and not summiting, I’ve become a risk manager. Although my parents describe my brother (we go on a lot of hikes together) and I as risk takers.  We are aware of the risks, but we push ourselves anyway. The stories about having to bail out on a hike, I believe are my favorite stories. The last time this happened that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face because it was blizzarding so hard.(Last year, December 22nd on Pikes peak). My brother is born on the winter solstice and he always plans a “death march” as he calls it. This year we just went camping and stayed up to watch the meteor shower! Everyone thought we were nuts when packing up the car and it being snowing and freezing outside. We got to Penitente Canyon, presently a beautiful popular climbing spot with American Indian petroglyphs and Virgin of Guadalupe painted high on a canyon wall left there by Los Hermanos Penitentes, a Spanish religious sect that favored Penitente Canyon for its solace in the 1880s. This is how the canyon got its name.  Anyway, it was like the heavens opened up, the sky was clear, and it really wasn’t that cold (-4 degrees).

The last major trekking trip I went on was to hike two 14ers in the same weekend… Wetterhorn (class 3) and Handies (class 1) with my best friend Nikki.  Needless to say we rocked it on Wetterhorn, on the top it got sketchy. In fact a gentlemen, thank goodness for him, caught us going up the class 4 route. He said “where are you guys going.” And I was like” uh, to the top!” On the right trail we approached the top by climbing up a steep wall, definitely stepping/crawling outside our comfort zone.  At the top we took real selfies of our bare butts.

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The next day we had planned to do our first sunrise summit on Handies peak, a considerably shorter hike than Wetterhorn.  We got lost in the dark, took a wrong turn and felt pretty dumb.  We couldn’t bag an easy class one … whoops!  The sunrise was gorgeous, we were safe and we were still very high up.  You never know exactly what will happen in life as mountaineers and risk managers but we are aware of the outcomes. Keep pushing your comfort zone but know when to bail. Also, learn how to read a map, bring one, know where you’re going!  Understanding your ability and what your level of acceptable risk is, is an important first step before heading out on your next adventure.

MK is an Art Educator, Yogi, Colorado Native, Snowboard Instructor in the winter and Raft Guide in the summer. On her free days she is often travelling, trekking, camping, backpacking, taking a walk with hippopotamus (a special brown dog) hot springing, and all the outdoor things.  In the summer months you’ll find her in a foreign country or living in her 1970 red VW van down by the river! 

Follow MK’s adventures on Instagram!

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