Mountaineering the Silvretta Glacier – A Risk Management View

A few weeks ago I spent some time in the Silvretta Glacier region to refresh and extend my basic mountaineering skills. The basecamp was the Silvretta mountain hut owned by the SAC.

From there, we also climbed the Piz Buin (3312m) after having crossed the Silvretta Glacier via the route shown below. This climb will take you roughly a complete day including the return to the hut in case you are not rushing. Be aware that the Piz Buin is obviously a popular peak which is quite crowded during the weekends.

Map by https://map.geo.admin.ch/

With some colleagues I had a discussion around helmets and whether it’s worth to take one with you in case you only will use it in 20% of the time during the trip.

My opinion is quite simple:
The helmet is a compensating control in order to address the risk of getting your head injured during the trip. This can happen in the mountains via multiple ways such as falling rocks, falling into a glacier gap or even hit yourself with the ice ax. So for me the helmet is a default device while mountaineering. It’s a different risk landscape compared with normal hikes.

I was confronted with the argument that the helmet is only really necessary in 20% of the time during the trip and therefore it’s not mandatory to bring it along. I disagree here since this is a weak argument given the circumstances you face on a glacier and climbing mountains. You bring a risk-compensating device such as a helmet exactly for these 20% of the cases – for the cases, when something bad happens and you need all compensating controls you can get such as helmet, rope, ice ax, climbing harness etc.

Yes – there are plenty of cases where everything goes fine and in the end people tend to say that the helmet was needless. A behavior like this is basically a risk acceptance you are issuing – you are saying: “If a rock falls onto my head or I fall into a gap and hit my head against the ice wall after falling 3 meters, I will not need a helmet and I accept the risk associated with this.” 

It’s comparable with not patching a vulnerability on a server system – you are saying that you don’t need to patch since the event that the vulnerability gets exploited will not happen. There will be no bad guy abusing this situation is the same as saying that there are no rocks, glacier walls, ice axes etc. hitting your unprotected head.

In the mountains as well as on the Internet you should take all protection you can get in order to stay safe since there are things that could harm you.

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