Perceived Risks and Benefits of Climbing Mt. Whitney: A Qualitative Application of Risk Homeostasis Theory


  • Whitney Ward Southern Illinois University Carbondale


Mt.  Whitney,  the  highest  peak  in  the  contiguous  United  States (14,505 ft, 4421 m), is part of the Sierra Nevada range located in California. It is unique in that the summit of Mt. Whitney can be accessed by a number of routes. A trail leads to the summit  for  hikers,  as  do classic 3rd and 4th class mountaineering routes, and several  alpine climbs ranging 5.6-5.11d in difficulty (McNamara, 2004). There is significant potential for a wide spectrum of climbers to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney by way of the various routes. Few locations offer such a diversity of opportunities for a large majority of the population to potentially climb to the summit. There is, however, significant risk inherent in climbing Mt. Whitney; each year numerous accidents and fatali-ties occur (INYO SAR, 2008). Nevertheless, each year thousands of individuals voluntarily make the climb that is fraught with risk. Some climbers may not fully understand the risks involved with climbing; however, most understand that risks are inherent. However, risk perception is very subjective and can vary from individual to individual. Therefore, this study utilized a qualitative approach and applied risk homeostasis theory to provide a better understanding of the subjective perceptions of risk and benefits that climbers associated with climbing Mt. Whitney.