The 7th trap - preventing risks in the mountains

Written by: Eliott Nicot



Time to read 8 min

Eliott Nicot, member of the Lagoped Family and director of a film on the dangers of overcrowding in the mountains, presents his new film project: the 7th trap. A documentary on mountain risk prevention.

The French massifs are the playground for thousands of mountain sports enthusiasts. Despite the training offered by approved structures, accident statistics show a growing curve since 2009 . Indeed, according to an ENSA study, 200 fatal accidents took place in 2018, compared to 178 in 2009. Furthermore, these same statistics show that accidents can affect both expert practitioners and beginners (3) . How can we go beyond the complex case-by-case nature of each mishap and find a solution that could make sense, and, at all technical levels, prevent a greater number of tragedies? This is a question that I would like to be able to answer with the making of my film, “The 7th Trap”.

The desire to explore encourages us to push the limits of what is possible. Indeed, risk has never altered the quest for adventure. Yet behind each epic, whether competitive or part of the pursuit of surpassing oneself, we find “this essentially moral state reached when we obtain everything that seems good to us, which can fully satisfy our desires, fully fulfill our various aspirations, find balance in the harmonious development of our personality” (cnrtl): happiness. Neil Armstrong, upon returning from his lunar mission, may have looked in the mirror and said to himself “I am happy”. And rightly so, he had the right to be! Ueli Steck or Marc André Leclerc, mountaineers fond of soloing and large north faces, were also looking for their happiness. Thus, whether it is provided by a dose of adrenaline when performing movements above a doubtful point, by surpassing oneself, or by the feeling of accomplishment, it is the pursuit of happiness that anime .

It would then be appropriate to compare human relationships with risk, fate and pleasure , in order to find avenues for reflection on the question of safety margins. And for good reason, mountain leadership training schools (ENSA, EMHM, CNISAG) identify the human factor as the main source of accidents with the 6 traps of the unconscious as corollaries: habit, obstinacy, desire for seduction, aura of the expert, social positioning, and feeling of scarcity. However, it would be legitimate to hypothesize that there is a 7th trap of the unconscious, that of the disruption of balance between pleasure and risk-taking. This seventh trap would then be more discreet than the other six, because it would be an integral part of technical progression in the mountains: a paraglider will not confine himself to simple flights in calm air. One day he will turn to cross country, or flight bivouac. A climber, for his part, will not stay on a sanitized cliff forever. As for the skier, it is tangible that he wants to leave secure areas.

It would therefore be interesting to think about your motivations as soon as you begin to improve your technical level in a discipline. For Malon and Knoertzer of ENSA, it is fundamental to explain as precisely as possible this motivation "which allows us to integrate risk-taking and transform it into a racing objective". If some will mention “surpassing oneself, discovery, challenge, beauty”, any motivation is legitimate . Nevertheless, it is “fundamental to explain this motivation as precisely as possible (4)”. Indeed, its knowledge allows you to better define the contract entered into with yourself and facilitates the observation of inconsistencies . For example, although I am passionate, I systematically question my reasons for going paragliding: if I know that what I want is to spend a moment alone blending into the flamboyant colors of summer Indian, the contract will be fulfilled whatever happens, and I will not need to push limits that I had not set for myself. If I decide to go for a race in the mountains and my motivation is to spend a day with my friend on a rope, I will not try to put myself in technical difficulty. And finally if I want to surpass myself, I will do it on a secure route or one that is well protected. In any case, I will try to analyze my motivations, dissect them, stick to them and not mix them all up.

However, despite all these precautions, risks exist in the mountains. Often little accepted by our social norms which minimize danger, it is nevertheless undeniable that what is commonly called "zero risk" does not exist . To respond to the dangers inherent in their progress, practitioners then use their skills, their analysis as well as adapted equipment. However, a limit exists. Because perfect technical mastery, even linked to flawless analysis and good equipment, cannot be the sole guarantee of security. Above all, it is humans who choose their margins according to their abilities and motivations. Furthermore, these margins include exposure to uncontrollable objective risks. In other words, the seracs are not coming to knock on our doors. Consequently, the practitioner must imperatively question the form of enjoyment that this or that choice will provide him or her. If we are not attentive, the control of our own pleasure can thus escape us in a flight towards the accomplishment of ever more ambitious achievements, and too risky compared to what would be beneficial to our personal balance. Taken to the extreme, the seventh trap which could be called “risk-pleasure ratio” would become a headlong flight which would accelerate during technical progression.

Besides, have you never found yourself in a valley with the feeling of joy and intense happiness that the success of a race or a flight gives you? As you savor your victory, it is possible to observe this heat dissipate little by little until it leaves a form of void that calls to be filled by a new project. It is at this precise point that the seventh trap of the unconscious develops. Before committing, couldn't we undertake a short introspection? For example, we could ask ourselves: “Will what I decide to do make me happier? ” or “ What process led me to make this choice? “ or even “Have I placed my cursor correctly between my margin of safety and my enjoyment?”

Should we then decide on a moment to stop on our progression curve, and stay there safely? Some military units evaluate each year the level of stability, well-being and motivation of each member of the group, to ensure that no one will lose their means in operation. The athlete who links his life to his technical mastery, his analysis and his mind has everything to learn from this process. We must be fully aware of the ins and outs of our decisions. What are the potential consequences of our actions? What does commitment really mean? Yes, there is something intoxicating about alpine exploration. Of course we find there an irreplaceable well-being, an art of living to be protected and a powerful harmony with oneself, nature and one's climbing companions. We lend ourselves to a game where the even very distant possibility of death sublimates the burning passion for life. Sometimes, we even end up staring at the absurdity of existence in the depths of our eyes while standing up straight, to announce that we have pierced the mystery of life by playing with its balances, its rules and its limits. And if this state of chimerical grace can last, it is sometimes different.

Because when death strikes with its dull and powerful crash, similar to the rustling of an immense wing, when it suddenly freezes life which quivers all around in indescribable fear, it reminds the witnesses of the scene to reconnect with their own existence . And those who had forgotten the inconceivable value of life in their quest for ideals, sensations, social recognition, discovery, exploration and the happiness that escapes in an endless pursuit of performance, remember. Inner worlds are shaken and those who had the choice to go and gather sensations in a voluntary risk-taking and not imposed by a struggle for their survival look around them in disbelief, in search of an answer that does not exist. It is perhaps then a question of valuing as best we can the involuntary sacrifice of comrades who fell in the mountains by listening to the message that their disappearance shouts to us.

How to make it understood to the intrepid, to those who burn with passion, to those whose technical mastery and confidence have become stronger than the rules, to all those who have not experienced the cycle of carelessness then training up to the violent confrontation with death, to its smell, to its noise and to this sensation of cold which invades the spinal cord, that the search for the limit comes at a price that no one is ever quite ready to pay. pay ? Live your life to the fullest, yes. But from time to time, ask yourself the right questions so as not to lose it. This is simply that, the 7th trap. As much as night and day are linked, it is part of the unbearable paradox of the mountain. But whoever decides to face it will at least have acquired significant maturity, will have opened up to their own sensitivity, and will perhaps be a little more secure than before.

For further

I wanted to make this film because I believe that something that we don't talk about is hidden behind all the positive, lively but also a little excessive energy released by mountain sports. I'm not saying that everyone is affected, and I'm not lecturing. On the other hand, I would like my experience to help define the contours of a door that would open to a deep conversation with oneself . But I'm not making this up: how many turn a blind eye to a career, without ever having the courage to open their personal door to what they deeply desired from the start? Driven by society, the fear of failure, the need to belong, it is common to forget ourselves. The phenomenon is no different in our circles. However, I think that we should not forget ourselves in the mountains : on the contrary, we must be perfectly honest with ourselves and with others. The idea of ​​a seventh trap of the unconscious therefore seemed appropriate to express this thought. I believe that we must go to the mountains with full knowledge of our deepest motivations , and above all that we must know how to stop where the pleasure does not increase with the taking of risks. Filming of the short film will continue to take place this winter and will be structured around interviews with 3 men and 3 women. These 6 athletes, specialists in 6 different extreme sports, will each tell a story linked to one of the 6 traps of the unconscious, then reveal their personal vision of risk in the mountains. Images of the athlete's discipline will be broadcast between each speech. The conclusion of the film will be structured around the suggestion of the 7th trap of the unconscious.

catch-up session - the documentary on SOBRIETY IN THE HIGH MOUNTAIN


1) National Ski and Mountaineering School: report on mountain sports accidents from 2009 to 2018, 2018

2) Prefect of Haute-Savoie: mountain sports accidents in 2022, October 26, 2023

3) France3 Auvergne-Rhônes-Alpes, A study to analyze mountain sports accidents, supported by the Petzl foundation, December 18, 2014

4) National School of Skiing and Mountaineering: Teaching risk management in the training of high mountain guides, Mallon A. and Knoertzer JS

Eliott Nicot mountaineering mountain

Eliott Nicot

A military guide graduated from the EMHM in Chamonix, Eliott works as a journalist, videographer and photographer. Founder of a mountain film festival, he is passionate about mountaineering, paragliding and skiing. Up there, Eliott likes to create, tell stories, and pass on messages.

His portrait