Yesterday I went for a walk and a climb in the forest, along a hiking trail where I have climbed before.
As I was setting up, another hiker came along, looked me over and then asked the inevitable questions: "You're not really going to climb up there are you? Wouldn't that be dangerous?"
"Not really", I answered. "I do it all the time and have been doing it for years."
He then asked if I minded if he watched. Seeing a potential opportunity to make a convert I agreed. I even asked. "Would you like to give it a try?" while knowing full well that he would turn down the offer.
So I continued with my rigging, putting the rope up, attaching the gear, and getting into my harness. I started up as he watched skeptically, and I realized that he was really wanting to see if I would take a fall. Once in the top of the tree I took a good look around, hung out for a while, then started down.
He was gone. I no longer had an audience. I can only wonder if he was disappointed that I hadn't encountered the danger that he was so convinced awaited me if I climbed the tree.
The attitude that he expressed toward my climbing is one that we climbers run into all too often. The general public sees us as participants in a very dangerous activity and are constantly warning us that we are going to hurt or kill ourselves. It reminded me of some things I had been reading while it was too cold to be out and climbing.
The issue is centered around the fact that we are not a "mainstream" activity; observers neither understand what we are doing nor why we are doing it. It does not appear to matter that there has never been a serious accident among recreational climbers, climbing recreationally, who have had the training offered in a Basic Tree Climbing Course. They don't understand it, it appears to be risky, therefore it must be dangerous, and we shouldn't be doing it.
On the other hand, these same people who call us "dangerous", see no problem at all with those mainstream activities that they understand and are familiar with, that are resulting in injuries on a very regular basis.
Take football for instance. Before going further let me assure everyone that I enjoy watching the game of football. But I don't "do" football; I climb trees!
Okay, looking at football. Every weekend during the fall millions, if not billions, of fans flock to the fields and stadiums or sit in front of their televisions to watch as twenty-two players (plus the other hundred or so who are sitting on the opposing benches) march back and forth up and down the gridiron visiting mayhem upon each other. Violent collisions resulting in injuries are the norm. And it is not accidental; this is part of what they train and practice for! I have never watched any football game in which at least one player did not need to be helped off the field, sometimes leaving the field on a stretcher.
Yet no one is telling these players that what they are doing is dangerous, foolish, or that they shouldn't be doing it. To the contrary: When a football player is injured he becomes a hero. While being hauled off the field everyone in the stadium stands up and cheers!
I don't suppose anyone ever bothered to pass that same message on to the Roman gladiators either, even though they were actually killing each other! The Romans did the same as our football fans of today, cheering as the dead bodies were hauled away from the Coliseum.
Football is a mainstream activity, people understand it, it is entertaining, and therefore it is acceptable. Not so for us tree climbers; or anyone else for that matter, who should dare choose to participate in any activity outside the general public's sphere of understanding.
A few statistics:
According to the Journal Of Athletic Training
"A football-related fatality has occurred every year from 1945 through 1999, except for 1990."
Beyond football, "From 1982 through 1999, 20 deaths and 19 permanent disability injuries occurred in a variety of sports. Track and field, baseball, and cheerleading had the highest incidence of these catastrophic injuries."
"Traumatic brain injury is common in contact sports, with an estimated 250,000 concussions occurring every year in football alone."
According to the National Center For Sports Safety
"More than 3.5 million children ages 14 and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year."
Yet no one is saying to them: "You're not really going to do that are you? Wouldn't that be dangerous?"
Think about it!