The video above is one Alex Honnold did for Black Diamond, and it talks about the difference between consequences and risks when it comes to climbing. Alex Honnold has certainly heard a lot from his plan to climb a skyscraper on national television. Honestly, people have always been pretty startled by his free soloing. Mostly people who do not know anything about climbing. This is not to be insulting, of course. The simple fact is that those who know about climbing have a better sense of how much risk is really involved. As Alex breaks it down himself, there are always potential consequences but for how much he knows about what he is doing, there really are not that many risks.
It is good for us to know the difference in our own climbing as well. Technically every time we climb, we face the potential for consequences. Most of the time, we don’t feel afraid because our level of risk is on the smaller side. There are lots of things we can do to limit how risky the climb is. We can make sure we have all the proper safety gear, that we have checked it and double checked it, and that we are prepared and knowledgeable to limit as many risks as possible.
Another time I’ve heard a talk similar to this was in the Warrior’s Way Clinic. The reason they mentioned it was the fact that sometimes we have irrational fears or at least fears that just come with any form of climbing but likely won’t happen (scared of heights, fear of failure, self doubt, etc) and then other times we have very rational fears (if I fall here will I smack my head into that ledge? Will a fall here be big enough to make me deck? etc). It is important to be able to recognize the difference. What is just a consequence that may happen as a result of climbing anything, and what is a risk that we really need to assess and decide if we want to still pursue the climb or not.
Ultimately any risks are up to you as the climber. Knowing how risky something is can help though. For example, Alex Honnold free solos climbs that he feels really solid on and knows are simple. Any fall will be an unpredictable failure such as a rock breaking, being attacked by an animal, etc. He won’t fall from being unable to do it. He only does these because he knows he can. A 5.13 climber free soloing a 5.10 climb is a huge risk difference than a 5.10 climber free soloing a 5.10.
You must calculate the risks accurately. Are there ways to limit it further? Is it worth taking? How much of a risk really is? Once you know your answers boldly go forward or back down and let it go. Dave McLeod talked one time about doing a climb he really could have died on if he fell. He decided to take the risk because he lowered it as much as possible. He planned to climb to the last clip before the dangerous crux and take a long rest. He really thought out how to do the sequence of moves and how confidently he felt he could do them. He thought about if he could down climb out of the crux if it proved too difficult or scary. Then he very confidently went forward. Only you can decide what is or is not too much risk, but do it carefully and then be confident in your decision.