The importance of finding a mentor

Reading through some recent news within the ice climbing community, I came across an article by Will Gadd, a prolific visionary of ice climbing. Gadd stated “the local injury total so far this season is roughly six broken legs/ankles, a serious and unresolved head injury, [and] a couple of lengthy whippers resulting in various other injuries.” The list of injuries is only for the Canmore area of Canada.

While it may not seem like a large amount of injuries, to me it is appalling. Ice climbing is a sport where the number one rule is that you don’t fall. This is not a rule that is allowed to be dismissed. One can almost guarantee that falling while ice climbing will lead to an injury. Although I don’t know how many of these injuries listed are from less experienced climbers, this list made me appreciate the importance of beginning climbers finding mentors.

With both backcountry skiing and climbing, it is easier to get into sticky situations than it used to be. Take climbing, for example. Back in the day, there weren’t climbing gyms. In order to go climbing, one had to find someone that already knew how to climb and show them the ropes of how to safely climb up and down. Now, anyone can walk into a climbing gym and start to climb. This leads to people getting confident and cocky with their ability and more often than not, when they get outside, they assume it is just like the climbing gym. This is where accidents happen and things get dangerous. Climbing at the gym and climbing outside are not similar. One is a controlled environment, the other is a place that demands respect to safely travel through.

Backcountry skiing faces the same issue. It has become easier to get a backcountry set-up and go in the backcountry, without acknowledging the repercussions of traveling into avalanche terrain sans knowledge. Skiers, climbers, outdoor enthusiasts all start to travel into the backcountry faster and faster, getting stronger in controlled environments and then expecting everywhere to react in a similar fashion to the gym or the resort. This is why mentors are important.

With mentors, the pace is slowed down. And if the pace is not slowed, at least there is a knowledgeable person who can better explain the ropes. Mentors are how climbing used to be taught, before there were gyms. By having someone who is willing to take the time to help safely push limits and explain how to move beyond the basics of climbing and skiing, the likelihood for accidents goes down. I know many friends who climb harder levels than I, but because no one ever taught them how to rescue their partner if anything went wrong halfway up a large cliff, I won’t climb dangerous routes with them in case anything happens. I was lucky, having a large slew of mentors when I was in high school through a mountaineering team. This taught me how to interact with dangerous environments and learn what to do in order to mitigate the risks involved with outdoor activities.

Perhaps you are starting to wonder how to get a mentor. It is different for everyone, but simply start asking knowledgeable climbers, skiers, bikers — whatever the sport may be — if they would be willing to go outdoors with you. Start to build relationships with people that truly know what they are doing. If they care, and recognize that you care, about becoming a better adventurer, they should see the need to put in effort to help you achieve that. Mentorship allows you to get to a place where you can confidently explore and understand the outdoors, which we all love so much.