Good judgment can be a climber's most valuable ally. Good judgment is the quality of using knowledge gained from study and experience to make sound decisions. Your mountaineering judgment should get better and better as you read and as you climb. Watch experienced climbers at work and try to determine what decision they will reach in a particular situation, and why. Learn to think, question, and reach informed decisions.
Experienced climbers won't always agree on what constitutes good judgment in a particular case. Some climbers demand a conservative high level of safety and would consider a decision that results in moderate risk to be evidence of poor judgment. Others would find the decision correct based on all the conditions of the climb and the abilities of the climbers. Each person has an individual definition of an acceptable level of risk, so climbers need to discuss this question with their teammates before a climb. The start of good judgment is to decide on an acceptable level of risk for yourself and to match your known skills with the difficulties of the climb.
A common form of poor judgment is underestimating the skills needed for an objective, whether it's a single move or a major mountain ascent. It's poor judgment to climb beyond your present ability and knowledge during a demanding climb. Try new moves and techniques in a practice situation. But if they come during a climb, be sure you have extra protection—good enough to prevent injury in case you fall and to permit you to get back on route afterward.
It's also poor judgment to let desire for the objective overwhelm an accurate assessment of the risk. Desire is a very useful element in climbing; it helps you forget weariness and calls forth your best efforts. But if it's not restrained, it can end in disaster. It can delude you into thinking that a faraway summit is close, that a questionable placement will hold, that a weakened team is strong enough. This is wishful thinking. Be rigorous in making a rational evaluation of weather, party strength, and other factors in deciding whether or not to turn back.
Good judgment in mountaineering also means acknowledging when you or your team are having a bad day. All experienced mountaineers remember days when their climbing lacked the usual feel; when easy pitches felt hard. Take any bodily limitations into account, such as fatigue, cramps, blisters, altitude sickness, or poor conditioning. If you're honest with yourself, you'll recognize that occasional bad day and scale back your plans accordingly.
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