How Do You Know When You Know Enough?

Kitty Calhoun on the Cassin Ridge, Denali, AK 1985

Kitty Calhoun on the Cassin Ridge, 1985, Denali, AK.©Kitty Calhoun Collection

Many years ago I climbed Denali’s Cassin Ridge. I decided to climb the Cassin even though I had never climbed in Alaska before. And, although my partner had some Alaskan experience—he had climbed Denali’s West Rib— we were generally equal in climbing experience and ability.

Undertaking the Cassin was daunting. Yet, I knew that if I didn’t challenge myself, I would never learn and grow as a climber.

For me, success in climbing is all about strategy. For example, I diligently push myself little by little to build confidence, but I also understand that I’ll never know unless I give it a shot.

However, if you’ve been diligent, pushing boundaries little by little, then you should know enough to commit with confidence within your risk-tolerance level.

So how do you come to know enough?

  1. Start with climbs that are short and easy. Work up to longer, more technical, and more remote routes.
  2. Choose your partner(s) carefully. Even if your partner is more experienced, you must be able to exercise your own judgment. Be an active voice in all decisions. The best partners are team players with similar goals, time, money, and risk tolerance.
  3. Read all accounts of the climb. Study the best season, approach, gear, descent, possible challenges, and alternate routes or peaks. Also, make a plan in case of emergency or the need to evacuate.
  4. Carefully consider your equipment, food, fuel, first-aid kit, repair kit, communications devices, and permits. Poor preparation leads to poor performance.
  5. Be mindful. I’m always thinking, “What’s the worst thing that can happen and what are the chances?” If I’m willing to accept the risk, then I think through what I would do if things went wrong.After I have a plan, then I refocus on the next task at hand.
  6. Enjoy the experience and be open to whatever it has to teach you.
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