Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Death in the Mountains - Managing the Fear and Risk

A close-up view of the mini-avalanche that I encountered in Everest, 2006    

The recent accident in Annapurna, Nepal which claimed at least 30 lives – and which happen to coincide with my (aborted) trek and climb trip,  seemed to make mountain accidents closer and real for some. 

Especially for those who thought or considered joining the trip.   
While we don’t want to over think bad things that could happen in a trip, it pays to have proper preparation, should that black-hooded guy carrying a scythe invited us for a dinner.

1.      An honest risk assessment.  We all take risks in various ways. But if you feel that the next trip is outright dangerous and risky or way beyond your skill and experience level – re-assess if you’re truly ready and back out if you don’t feel right.   Don’t just imagine nice summit pictures,  consider the ‘bad things’ and if after weighing the scale and you’d still feel Ok, then go for it.  The decision to go is yours and yours alone.  
2.      Estate Plan.  Who cares if you only have 100,000 pesos! That’s still money and without a ‘plan’ in place, may be absorbed by the government or the bank, or at least a 3rd of it for taxes!  Significant assets demand for proper ‘last will and testament’, notarized and managed by your lawyer.  For the poor guys like moi ;)   it could be a simple ‘how to access my small funds’ plan should the dark-side-of-the-force guy appeared.  Example: for mutual funds, or bank accounts – one may consider converting them to ‘joint accounts’ (co-depositor type). One may not reveal his asset details to the 2nd party at all, just ask him/her to sign papers declaring the ‘if something happened’ intent,  and just put the right document in a sealed envelope (account details) with a note of ‘in case…”  Same thing can be done for ATM cards, leave them behind – put the PIN code in sealed envelope (in a locked box, in a locked room, in a locked house) but accessible to the beneficiary. Best to ‘code the code’ so no 3rd party can easily use it. Ex. written PIN + partner’s birth year (pre-agreed but don’t write this down) = real PIN.  If you don’t do this, beneficiaries will have to wait given the complexities of court proceedings, and of course, your remaining fund will be highly taxed.  Hard assets would be more difficult to transfer so best to have a will.  For your loans and debts/ liabilities – make sure you have insurance or plans how to pay for these, lest your ‘beneficiaries’ inherit these.
3.      Life insurance. (A subset of your estate plan). On top of the travel, medical and rescue insurances, one needs a proper life insurance to benefit those who might be left behind.  One may not be lucky to qualify for a life insurance (ex. “living a dangerous life”), but the company where you worked for may provide a group life insurance. If not, there are dozen ‘investment-ala-insurance’ type of options wherein a depositor allocates his money for investment of which have ‘insurance-type’ of clause (like getting x3 of principal money should the investor dies).  I’m still not pleased with insurances, in general – for putting this ‘dangerous life’ bias.  A simple ‘trek’ or ‘dive’ check mark in the application form already disqualifies you, or your claim greatly limited, or your premium (to pay) highly priced.  Why not include “smoking”,  “eating a lot of saturated fats”, “over weighted by 20%+”, “sleeping less than 6 hours daily”, etc. in the checklist! Those are more life-shortening than diving or climbing!

4.      Influence success of survival before the trip. Invest on proper trainings, read a lot of useful knowledge.  I heard a lot of news about climbing accidents, some were preventable like lack of collective experience (of the group), or lack of logistics support, or simply bringing the wrong cheap gear.  If hiring extra professional guides help increase success of survival (not even success of objective), do invest on those.  This is one current point of debate in the recent Annapurna disaster – whether to require guides for future treks. One infamous Everest climber way back when died on his 3rd attempt (on Everest), his expedition cost?  Compared to a hefty but typical 30-50k USD expedition cost, his last climb only cost him around 7k USD.  And his life. (At least that’s what I read in the article, pointing to a dangerous thriftiness).
5.      Control success of survival during the trip.  You shouldn’t ask someone to keep you alive. Even if you pay someone (ex. bodyguard, or a mountain guide). They will help of course, but the mindset here should be ‘self sufficiency’, self survival capability.   Decisions made in the mountains are also partly yours (we all co-own critical life decisions), senior or more experienced members may have bigger influence – but they’re there to provide options.  If you don’t feel that ‘you will make it’, say so!  (ex. pushing for the difficult summit or being left behind alone for a day – but knowing that you are sick).

Let me add 1 more though this is theoretical for me as well…
6.      What if Plan or Letter.   For family, for friends.  This is difficult to do and ‘awkward’, more like writing a suicide note of some sort – but if you feel the need, go write them down and hand it to a close friend (sealed/ unread).  Family ‘last requests’ may include burial type, minor asset allocation, etc.  again – it feels weird that’s why nobody likes to do this.  Or maybe, it could be a simple good bye note saying “I’m in a good place, don’t worry and be happy for me…”   Some soldiers do this, maybe we should… It would be fun burning the letter/document during the post-trip celebration. ; )

No comments: