Is There Such A Thing As Luck?

Post by blogger | July 11, 2007      

In his trip report we blogged yesterday, Chris Davenport wrote that over the winter he’d had “a pretty good run of luck in the mountains, a fact not in the least bit lost on me.”

Chris was referring to his successful completion of skiing all 54 Colorado fourteeners, as well as hitting other North American highpoints and concluding with what appears to be the most successful ski expedition ever accomplished on Denali.

But what’s luck have to do with it?

Sure, I can easily imagine Chris pinching himself when he arrived at Denali just as a two week storm cleared out, or when he hit Colorado fourteeners such as Pyramid peak during what might of been the best springtime backcountry snowpack in Colorado history.

Chance and fate could be part of all that. Yet since Virgil wrote back around 18 BC that “fortune favors the bold,” philosophers have known for ages that concepts such as “luck” and “fate” were only part of how so called “lucky” or “unlucky” events are shaped in our lives.

Indeed, I believe we make most of own luck in the mountains. Among other things, we make it by getting into rhythm with weather and conditions, by achieving a heightened state of awareness through education and athletic training, and by honing a keen sense of judgment that tells us when to push, and when to not even leave the door of our home. We also make luck by being flexible with our goals, and smoothly adjusting to what the day throws at us. In a sense, we control chance instead of letting it control us.

While researching this subject I came across an interesting book. In the “The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life (Miramax, 2003),” author Richard Wiseman makes the case for “Four Essential Principles” that create good fortune in people’s lives. He says that indeed there is such a thing as “chance,” but that we have more control over events than most of us think we do. (Interesting info about book and associated studies.)

One of Wiseman’s four principles is indeed flexibility — which is so important in mountaineering. Turning bad luck into good, if you will. Another principle is that lucky people “expect good fortune.” In other words, a positive attitude.

In terms of mountaineering, I’ve known some very successful individuals and had the “luck” (smile) of spending time with them. Indeed, a positive or optimistic attitude was always a big part of their kit, though they always tempered that with a relaxed flexibility — a shrug of the shoulders and a hearty laugh when things didn’t turn out as planned. Having a positive attitude is certainly the case with Davenport, as well as his finely tuned athletic ability and mental acuity.

More, Virgil was right. Fortune in the mountains does favor the bold. If for no other reason this is true because being timid and gripped with fear messes with your judgment, cripples your athletic ability, and might compromise any help you’re getting in the metaphysical realm (it’s hard to pray when your teeth are chattering in terror.)

In a nutshell: Be flexible, adjust to the conditions, and when things are right go after it with relaxed poise and skill, that way you’ll make your own luck!

What do you guys think? Comments on…


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8 Responses to “Is There Such A Thing As Luck?”

  1. pete anzalone July 11th, 2007 9:11 am

    couldn’t agree more.

    good fortune – not luck – is what Dav experienced and his good fortune is something he himself produced thanks to the many terrific things he possesses in his “kit.”

  2. Sean July 11th, 2007 9:13 am

    Good food for thought Lou. I think luck favors the prepared. Being in good enough shape to handle the trip is a huge factor. While it’s fun to push it a little at times, getting physically overwhelmed can lead to negative thoughts which are not good for the trip karma.

  3. gmon July 11th, 2007 10:29 am

    “Luck” particularly with regard to conditions and weather, has a lot to do with your window of opportunity, and availability to wait or go. Lets just say that someone that has ample free time to ski and be in the mountains all the time [as a job], has a lot more “luck”, and chances for luck, than those persons who only have a very small window of time to get after it in the mountains.

  4. Toby July 11th, 2007 1:55 pm

    I agree with gmon, he has more opportunity to be lucky, and unlucky in the context of ski mountaineering so as long as he manages his risk intelligently he will appear to be lucky. When trying to quantify luck a question I have is if you believe in luck do you believe in god? Does luck imply control by some “other”? I think you have to believe in an “other” in order to believe in luck. I believe life just is, lucky or unlucky. We just go out there and make the best decisions we can. Given situations can be viewed as lucky and unlucky at the same time. For example, I am in a car crash and I survive but my friend doesn’t. Am I lucky?

  5. Kirk July 11th, 2007 3:25 pm

    I always wonder about those fools who will read about someone breaking a pelvis or puncturing a lung in a rock climbing fall, or getting a concussion while skiing, and say, “Wow, they were lucky.”

    Uhhhh, no. Lucky is finishing a fine climb, finding a sack of gold coins on the descent and Halle Berry in your sleeping bag when you get back to camp. Breaking stuff is bad luck!

  6. Andy July 11th, 2007 3:26 pm

    luck a: a force that brings good fortune or adversity b: the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual

    luck simply exist in its own form, and we are merely victims of the enviroment it creates, Maybe there is another word that better describes Chris’s success? Like determination and focus. Things that humans can control.

  7. Peggy July 11th, 2007 4:10 pm

    great post and wonderings. want to frame this out for me for a sermon?

  8. Dostie July 13th, 2007 8:11 am

    I always agreed with this definition of luck:

    LUCK – is when opportunity and preparedness meet.

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