The genetics of risk: a close call in Squamish

Death smiles at us all;
all a man can do is smile back.
― Marcus Aurelius 

Enjoying the view in beautiful Squamish.
Enjoying the view in beautiful Squamish.

Two months ago I found myself pondering death in a more immediate way than usual. In fact, I was pretty certain I would be dead less than thirty seconds from the time this thought first arose. Aside from my blood-curdling scream and subsequent adrenaline-induced hyperventilation, I was pretty calm about the prospect of impending death.

We were in Squamish, British Columbia, on a climbing trip (part of my Pacific Northwest road trip). Ben and I had decided to climb one of our favorite routes at the base of the Stawamus Chief, a 2,300-foot granite monolith overlooking the sparkling turquoise fjords of the Sea to Sky Highway. The weather had cleared after a day of heavy rain, and we were about a hundred feet of the ground when we heard it.

A thunderous crack. A crashing, rumbling, echoing roar interspersed with the screams of other climbing parties higher up on the wall ahead of us. As I looked up, I realized that everyone was yelling, “ROCK!” As a climber, this is never something you want to hear. Continue reading

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