Monday, March 3, 2014

Trusting Your Gut & Emilie Drinkwater

Going with your gut feeling and trusting your instinct is an interesting element in outdoor adventure that has been mentioned throughout our readings. Tonight, Emilie Drinkwater, talked about instinct during her ascents in the Tetons, Alaska, and her recent trip to the Himalaya. She mentioned a particular climb where she heard a rock whiz past her head, which understandably made her uneasy. However, with funding from her sponsors and in the form of a grant, Drinkwater said she was torn between trusting those gut feelings. Should I listen to my gut and turn around or continue to the summit? - of course she kept climbing... Learning when and how to read gut emotions, as well as how to channel that nervous energy to your advantage, are all crucial aspects and skills in mountaineering. This decision becomes even more complex when you short on sleep, can't think straight because of altitude sickness, haven't eaten properly because of a non-existant appetite, and on top of all that, the summit is "just right over there". In Into Thin Air, despite being "no more than sixty minutes" away from the summit, Göran Kropp displays an incredible degree of self-restraint and chooses to turn around, a decision that Rob Hall is impressed by. Discovering one's own limits is something that all adventurers must discover on their own. Trusting or ignoring that gut feeling that something is off might make the difference between life and death. Only experience offers valid perspective, which ideally evolves into instinct in the future. 


  1. Although I agree with you that discovering one's limits is an integral part of any adventure, it's pushing those limits that gives an adventure the extreme quality that is so noteworthy and that the mountaineers we have read about strive for. In every book we have read so far, the mountaineers have not simply reached their own limits and been content with that level of difficulty. I don't believe any of the mountains that we have read about have been capable of allowing the mountaineers to only just reach their limits. In contrast, every mountain has surpassed the limits that govern a mountaineers comfort zone and the pushing of those limits is what is responsible for those gut wrenching moments, life or death decisions, extraordinary first assents, and, unfortunately, tragic deaths. Consequently, the mountaineers have had to and been forced to push their limits well beyond the limits they are comfortable with both to succeed in the extremely difficult conquests of the summits and for their own survival.

  2. The gut feeling that Emilie Drinkwater was discussing reminds me of a passage from Touching the Void, where Joe Simpson reflects on his first moment of anxiety during the climb, “only minutes” before Simon Yates fell through the corniced ridge near the summit. He writes, “I had noticed this in the past and always wondered about it. There had been no good reason for the sudden stab of worry…I had sensed something would happen without understanding quite what it would be.” From this unfounded foresight, Simpson concludes that he “didn’t like this irrational theory, since anxiety had returned with a vengeance” (58). Comparing Drinkwater’s and Simpson’s ideas on gut reactions leaves we wondering if they are beneficial to safe climbing, or detrimental. The question that this debate brings to mind is how experience affects instinct. Does a greater level of experience translate to a greater degree of anxiety, or are more experienced climbers simply more adept at quashing debilitating thoughts?