Beware Heuristic Traps

Dear Editor:

I’ve just read Holderness resident Ty Gagne’s new book, The Last Traverse: Tragedy and Resilience in the Winter Whites. I bought additional copies for Christmas gifts, going to both Gibson’s in Concord and Innisfree Bookstore in Meredith. Other New Hampshire bookstores should carry it. Ty’s career is in risk management. His new book is about a hike gone tragically wrong on Mt. Lafayette. An earlier book, Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, emphasizes risk awareness. Both tell riveting stories of real people, and what can go wrong when terrible weather conditions change everything during winter hikes.

Gagne writes well. I randomly open The Last Traverse and find: “The winds have a soulless brutality to them.” At one point in the book, as severe conditions threaten doom, hiker James Osborne realizes he’s let his hiking companion Fred Fredrickson do all the thinking and choosing. Here, Gagne brings up heuristic traps—ways of thinking that may increase our risk.

“The Acceptance Heuristic occurs because, according to Ian McCammon, we ‘have a tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted by people we like or respect, or by people we want to like and respect us’.”

Another heuristic trap may explain why so many otherwise thoughtful Republican Senators, Mitch McConnell at the top of the pile, fall into line behind President Trump’s foibles. A Presidency comes with built-in urge to respect.

I buy this book (as I did Gagne’s first) with the idea that every relative or friend I give it to—people who do outdoors adventuring—may read it and pre-empt mistakes they could make by understanding what went wrong when even highly-qualified adventurers fail.

Lynn Rudmin Chong

Sanbornton, N.H.


Majority Leader McConnell has finally acknowledged that the mantle of the Presidency will soon slip from the shoulders of a certain short-fingered vulgarian—only took him six weeks. Power—it’s a hell of a drug.

The Editor

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