The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Heuristic Traps

Some thoughts on Heuristic Traps and guiding

Human factors in decision making

A heuristic is a rule that people apply when they recognise some common pattern in a complex set of data.
E.g. Analysing avalanche risk is a complex judgement call involving variables such as new snowfall, wind direction and speed, humidity, temperature history, slope gradient and steepness.
A heuristic trap is where an off-piste skier ignores this large data set and incorrectly applies a ‘rule of thumb’

There are 4 common traps -
·         Familiarity
·         Social Proof
·         Commitment
·         Scarcity

What is surprising is that experienced off-piste users and climbers were as likely to be caught by these traps as inexperienced 

Where a group is skiing slopes, they have skied many times in the past. It seems when we are skiing terrain we know well we let our guard down and ignore warning signs.

When groups of experienced and inexperienced off-piste skiers were compared -  Experienced skiers were at a distinct advantage on unfamiliar terrain where they critically examined available data.
Although on familiar slopes though there was no difference between experienced and inexperienced groups.

Note - the familiarity heuristic may sometimes have a sound basis e.g. slopes that are skied regularly are stabilised by the passage of skiers.

Every day example –
If you own a petrol car, then you’re probably an expert in filling it with fuel – you’ve done it a thousand times
You travel to the States, rent a car, the red light comes on to indicate the fuel tanks empty so you pull over at the next petrol station.
You know the cars petrol, the rental company told you so, most garages in the States only sell unleaded, so you pull up to a free pump, get out, grab the green handled nozzle, ram it in the fuel tank and fill up….it’s second nature.
Green handled nozzles in many fuel stations are diesel!
Everything’s the same, you’re an expert at it but the place/environment has changed

This method of decision making is OK if you are not in a hazardous situation and the consequences are small – familiarity

Social proof
We tend to believe behaviour is correct or can be justified when we witness other people engaged in it.
This can range from people crossing piste-closed markings to decisions on whether to ski a slope. It’s interesting that social proof affected even groups with significant avalanche awareness where they witnessed groups similar to themselves on a slope.

This is the tendency to carry on with a course of action whatever the indications are to the contrary.
Groups that had a high commitment were trying to achieve a stated goal with the pressure of darkness, timing or weather constraints.
These groups were more likely to expose themselves to danger.

When we perceive resources to be in short supply e.g. powder snow, we tend to compete for them more aggressively.
You tend to find that the presence of untracked powder snow within easy reach of other skiers to have a significant effect on the evaluation of risk. 

Don’t fall into the trap!

You have a complex set of data which you’ve used to plan your day.
You have climbed the route, know the area or skied the slope many times before but treat the day as a blank sheet of paper so you don’t let down your guard and ignore the warning signs.

Create the right culture and environment –
Be transparent in your guiding so that others learn from your experience and decision-making while also questioning your judgement so that you look at all the data in a constructive way in relation to the here and now and not what normally happens.

E.g. this takes into account the current weather, current snow, current temperature, the feeling of the group, the ability and experience of the current group and also questions the ‘Expert Halo Trap’ whereby you’re the leader and others just follow, thinking you know best. But we are all human and people need to take personal responsibility.

Social Proof
Just because you see someone else do it, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe.
Take personal responsibility in making your own decisions based on the information you have.
Your decisions will be based on the group/individuals that you are with, your experience and gut feeling, the group’s ability, the information and knowledge you have which has culminated in you making a decision and the very intimate knowledge that you do or don’t have of a particular area or climb.
Just because it was done yesterday and you saw others climbing, doesn’t mean that it will be safe today e.g. icefall climbing

Aim high, but the goal or objective needs to be achievable – don’t continue with a course of action if indications tell you otherwise.
A client has paid you to take them up a route in a day, but don’t let that overriding factor affect your judgement as to whether any complex data is suggesting otherwise e.g. weather, dangerous conditions, speed of movement slows due to conditions, fitness of the client, the realisation of the clients ability on that day.
The overriding factor is safety.

Plan into the day any possible dangers, put a time frame of the objective/goal, be realistic with the client and build in sufficient time for any problems.

Be transparent in your guiding so that clients are already bought into (the sometimes difficult) decisions you make, as they understand the process of decision making you go through throughout the objective/goal and as an up shot will continually learn from it and your decisions will be made easier.
This also creates the right culture and environment for leaders to make better decisions

When routes are rarely in condition or there has been a bad spell of weather people race to make the best of the now better conditions and sometimes do not wait until things have settled down and are safe.
Don’t let the only ‘good’ day in a week be the deciding factor that you’ll climb a route. The sunny weather on that day may mask the poor conditions.

The best decisions are made up of your own personal experiences, being transparent in your guiding and communicating well, gleaming as much information as possible from other colleagues, hut guardians, foreign guides, contractors and building data from the Internet looking at weather forecasts (past and present), condition forum sites, blog sites of people who may have done the route recently…….cast the net far and wide to make the best decision.
The right culture/environment needs to be in place to create this.
That culture will also allow better reporting on incidents and near misses so that we can learn from others.

Safe Climbing

Saturday, 13 December 2014

First route of the winter today!

Great mixed conditions up on Cambridge crag today, good snow covering, frozen turf and iced up cracks.....the first route of the winter!
We climbed the classic 2 pitch route Professor grade 5, Cambridge Crag.

Cold and clear first thing this morning - great views looking North from the foot of Cambridge Crag, near Bowfell in Langdale, Lakes.

Huw Davies tackling the awkward start to the 1st pitch on Professor grade V, Cambridge Crag, Langdale, Lakes

Great views across to a snowy Bowfell Buttress from Cambridge Crag, in Langdale

Huw enjoying the mixed climbing on the 1st pitch of Professor grade V on Cambridge Crag today

Great conditions today although it looks set to change again tomorrow......

Safe climbing

Thursday, 27 November 2014

La Pedrera topo

Topo of the main wall at La Pedrera, Collegats in Catalunya.
Fantastic climbing and all the routes are 3star.

Safe climbing

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Great week climbing in Catalunya last week.
Glenn and I flew into Barcelona and headed North West to Lleida.
We stayed 10km outside of Tremp in a small hamlet on top of a hill called Santa Engracia where Glenn had stayed previously. It's a stunning position high above the valley floor with fantastic views, especially those looking North to the Pyrenees. 
We stayed with Jane Newman who runs Casa Mauri, a cluster of rustic and very nicely put together self catering appartments on top of the hill. Every morning you wake up to views like these, while the surrounding valley is still shrouded in cloud.

Santa Engracia and Tremp are super close to all the climbing venues and great places to hang out.

Casa Mauri

Bruxies in Terradets

Glenn 'warming up' on Jam Sesion 7b, Bruxies in Terradets

Heading across to La Pedrera in Collegats (don't forget leather gloves if you head over, there are some split wires on the cable heading over and they shread your hands!)
We linked up with some other friends Paul Swails and Kris McCoey over from Ireland.

Paul Swails enjoying Fleck 7b at La Pedrera, Terradets in Catalunya

  Kris McCoey on-sighting Talibans go home 7a at La Pedrera, Collegats in Catalunya

Kris enjoying the climbing at La Pedrera, Collegats

Paul Swails crushing Happy Flowers 7c+ at La Pedrera, Collegats, Catalunya

Griffon Vultures watching over La Pedrera in Collegats, Catalunya

Me leading Etern 7a+ La Pedrera, Collegats in Catalunya

Glenn on-sighting Arnalada at La Pedrera, Collegats - we went back later in the week and Glenn on-sighted Tita Bullida 7c which was a great effort (Tita Bullida heads straight up the tufa's directly from where he is in the picture. Here Glenn's heading right to finish Arnalada)

Great climbing at Vilanova de Meia, Terradets in Catalunya

We had a great week, fantastic climbing and inspired to get my self fitter for another trip early spring!

Safe climbing

Monday, 10 November 2014


I've been training hard down the FlyCave this past few weeks as I'm off to Barcelona with Glann Sutcliffe on Thursday - we're keen to head NW from Barcelona to the crags of Lleida and Terredets.

Ian Barnes getting back into it after a summer off down the FlyCave

Paolo, an Italian IFMGA Guide who works for ISM throughout the year came over to the UK for a week. He spent the first few days down in North Wales where him and Stu McAleese climbed at Gogarth in better weather than what he found when he drove up to the Lakes.
 Paolo leading at Raven Crag Langdale on a wet day that literally chucked it down after the first pitch!

Half Term we decided to take a last minute holiday to find some sun
Heading over to Fuerteventura

First views when we woke up the next morning!

 We had a great and very relaxing time away - a much needed family break

It's a great destination this time of year with guaranteed sunshine, white sandy beaches, good surf and fantastic food - what more do you want? Well we hired a car but couldn't find any crags!

Back home and ramping up for the Kendal Mountain Festival - loads of great lectures and films to watch this year. I'm running some free workshops at the Kendal Indoor Climbing Centre in conjunction with the Britsh Mountain Guides and Arc'teryx.
We'll be Dry Tooling, learning some Alpine rope skills and spending time on the main wall on a portaledge!
Later that day I'm presenting the 'Swiss Machine' Ueli Steck at Kendal leisure centre. Ueli's giving a talk on his historic solo first ascent of a new route direct on the South face of Annapurna 1, a face which a British expedition led by Chris Bonington first climbed back in 1970 - should be a great evening.
Another lecture to look out for is by the amazing French Alpinist and climbing legend Christophe Profit talking about his climbing life - should be very inspiring.

Guiding on Saturday rock climbing in the central Lakes and then headed out for a long cyclocross ride over the Howgills in the Yorkshire Dales on the Sunday - my old stomping ground before I moved to Kendal!

 Great ride out over the fells, reminding me of how beautiful the Yorkshire Dales is

My new wheels arrived today, the finishing touches to my now, not so new, Specialized Crux cyclocross bike!

 Only just released and new for 2014/15 Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc wheels

Training hard down the FlyCave again today and off to Barcelona on Thursday and looking forward to pulling hard on some steep limestone!

I treated myself to 14 new Spirit Express quickdraws to replace some very tired older CT draws the Climbers Shop gave me to test. The new draws look and feel fantastic and the extra wide flat tape will be great to pull on!

I've also recently put together the ISM autumn newsletter which I sent out last week - check it out, if only to see some inspiring photo's!

That should pretty much bring things up to date! 

Safe climbing/biking

Saturday, 11 October 2014

BSB Silverstone

I had a great couple of days at the British Super Bikes at Silverstone last weekend. A friend Richard Metcalfe from Kawasaki invited me behind the scenes with VIP tickets into the Lloyds British GB Moto team garage/pits which was fantastic.
It was a real insight into the Lloyds British Moto Kawasaki team and BSB racing in general. Everyone was super friendly, Mark Smith-Halvorson the owner was very welcoming and open about the bikes, riders costs and stresses of what it's like running a top level BSB team team.
The riders Chris Walker and James Ellison have both had a couple of crashes this season so both recovering from injuries so not 100% at the moment, although James got a 3rd place in Race 2 on the Sunday which was fantastic.
Ironically James lives in Kendal! - I'm sure I'll continue to bump into him now we've met..

Chris Walkers bike before race 1
220BHP to the back tyre and costing around 70/80K!

The unveiling of the bikes to the public before race 1

Race 2 - Ryuichi Kiyonari finished 1st, Shane Byrne 2nd and James Ellison 3rd, which was a great result for the Lloyds British Moto Team Kawasaki

I had a great weekend and thanks again to Richard and the Kawasaki team.

Safe racing!

Fred Whitton

I had a few days after the 3 Peaks with my feet up resting, which fitted perfectly with ISM's end of year meetings, as normally I'm itching to get out before day 1 is even over!
Over a couple of beers in the Masons Arms on the last evening, Steve Monks and I pulled together the final plans to ride the Fred Whitton the next day!
Meet in Windermere at 7.30am and head off from there!
I woke early, loaded the car and then scrapped the ice off the car's front windscreen - it was 2 degrees on the car's temperature gauge as I pulled away and there was frost on the fields as I left Kendal, it felt like a lovely cold and clear winters morning, but we were heading off for the Fred Whitton!
Gearing up in Windermere we could just feel the first rays of sun on our backs and we new this was going to be a fantastic day.

Passing by Ullswater early morning after our first pass which was Kirkstone Pass

Looking down into Buttermere after cycling through Keswick, up Borrowdale and over Honister Pass
Heading up over Newlands Hause towards Winlatter

Just about to head up over Hardknott Pass and the Wrynose Pass after cycling from Winlatter and down the west coast

Me pulling over the top of Wrynose Pass - next time I'll ride a triple and have a 32 on the back!!

We had a fantastic day out, the weather couldn't have been any better - 180km and over 4000m of ascent! - thanks for a great ride Steve

Safe cycling