The Stikine river is perhaps the one river that burns in my heart as the bracket of experience. This is, for me, the place where all my passion lay bare and raw for all to see. It is more than the river alone. It is more than the memories it gave. For many this river, which has been put on a pedestal, holds no clues-no passion. Instead, others do, these are the places that prepare you to challenge. Implicit in these situations is the notion of personal risk. How we, as thinking organisms, perceive these risk situations is key.
It is not simply a question of can we do this?
But is the question, should we do this?
In kayaking and other adventure sports we can easily look at static risk assessments, the use of solid factual pieces that our bound to our public concept of risk. For example, we all understand that if we don’t wear a helmet on a river the risk of banging our head if we flip is high. Similarly we all understand that if we paddle a river above our comfort grade then the risk of missing a line, not been in control is higher.
It is this second point that is never as solid as we think. We all desire to grow as kayakers and to do so we knock at the door of our experiences. We wish to jam door open and we walk through. To a garden of peace or an evil dungeon. We have all made choices that in hindsight are foolish, but at the time felt right. Often these have been linked to peer pressure and our own egos. This no one else fault but our alone.
Sitting in our own private place, a still mind, we can make our own judgement calls. We judge the possibilities of risk, possibly replaying the scenario in our minds eye. For some this is not a help- as they concentrate on the fail rate of risk with such gusto that the outcome is obvious. For others the fail rate is not even apparent. Confidence in the moment, in your own worth and your own moves. The line will not be missed. Whilst this is a positive affirmation of the self I still don’t believe that it is the end. In these situations, when things do go wrong the kayakers have no emergency plan no back up.
A friend of mine put on the Stikine, although it could have been any river. He wanted to put on, he felt he needed to. Half way through day 2 he took a swim and was not reunited with his boat or gear. He hiked out to the rim of the canyon and waited rescue.
I think that what happened here gives us a very succinct example of risk and personal boundaries. Although as he will say himself he ‘failed’ on the river, he none the less managed the final outcome. He had come to the point, prior to the launching on the river, where he understood what a fail could mean and what risks were involved.
We can all discuss group dynamics of every situation we hear about and we can all look back at choices made – analysis is easy after the fact. For me this brief out line of risk and outcome has followed me for years. I continue to paddle, in remote gorges, rare rivers and in isolated areas. I understand the risks that I impose on myself but am also aware that one missed move on my local river and a ‘worse case scenario’ is just around the corner.
Whilst I understand this has been a short essay, it is simply a preface to further work. I welcome my own thoughts about personal risk and the ever changing angle of the mind. For without it I could not concentrate on the fact in hand.
Words: Darren Clarkson-King
Darren offers in-house training in the Himalaya and is a consultant for Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA) making a blue print for an Industry standard.
He also paddles a bit.