Calculated high risk takers: A different breed?


Some people are willing to take far more risk with their lives than most other human beings. Now, I’m not talking about the impulsive types who take uncalculated risks. I’m speaking here of those who make very considered risk. Take mountain climbers as an example. What drives a man or a woman to climb peaks such as Everest or K2 or Annapurna? Climbing mountains over 8,000 meters is a high risk endeavor. It is considered the riskiest form of sport. More people die trying in this sport than per capita in any other sport. Why are some willing to risk climbing. We cannot attribute this to impulsivity. The planning, effort and costs associated with climbing eliminate whimsical reasons. Further, opportunities to turn back in the face of increasing hardship (cold, lack of air, isolation, etc.) also eliminate those who would be adventurous but would rather not suffer much in the process.

So, if not impulsivity and if not passivity about life…then what is it that drives calculating risk takers?

I’m reading Ed Viesturs’ The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna–The World’s Deadliest Peak.  Ed Product Detailsexplores a number of climbers who are willing to spare no expense and effort to get to the top of Annapurna as well as all 14 of the 8K plus peaks. (He’s nuts enough to do all 14 without supplemental oxygen!). You get the sense that he is (a) driven, (b) willing to turn around again and again if he thinks he cannot climb safely, (c) yet willing to take far more risks than the rest of the population by being in/near danger and by pushing his body right up to the edge of the breaking point, and (d) supremely confident in his capacity to know where that breaking point is and how to stay on the right side of it.

I think he might agree with me that many of his colleagues who didn’t make it back down the mountain (more die on the way down rather than the way up) is a large dose of luck along with his will to turn back when he meets a risk too large.

As I look at this list I see that I am not that driven. I don’t get that much rush out of doing the impossible or pushing my body beyond the breaking point. I don’t like that much pain. I don’t have that much focus or drive to do just one thing either. In addition, I not that confident in my skills of making decisions on a knife’s edge nor confident in the skills of others to help me along the way (most mountain climbers put immense trust in their partners).

How about you? Do you know any calculated risk takers? Are you one? What is the difference between those who watch and those who do? How do you calculate risk?

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Filed under book reviews, Good Books, Psychology

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