The Gut Feeling

The phrase “gut feeling” may also be used as a shorthand term for an individual’s “common sense” perception of what is considered “the right thing to do.”  (Wikipedia)

Photo courtesy Kurtis Kristianson.

It’s hard to know where these things start or when the decision was made that determines the outcome. Sometimes the feeling creeps up on you; sometimes it’s a quick punch in the gut.

Oh, there it is – that sick feeling that ranges from a thought in the back of your head to a paralyzing fear that forces you to revisit your lunch. Generally known as the “gut feeling,” no one can argue that it is potentially your better judgment screaming to your brain to throw on the brakes and turn the train around.

But do you? Are you listening? Warnings are put there for a reason.

Now it is continually tapping you on the shoulder with the tenacity of a 9-year-old who just wants your undivided attention. Something is wrong! You may have just purchased your last lottery ticket and the prize is a nasty life altering event that will burrow deep into your soul and fester for the rest of your existence (if you make it out alive).

Unless, of course, you walk away and make the judgment call that extinguishes that warning light. There is no way of knowing whether something could have really happened, but now that is not important. The stress is off and now you can enjoy the idea of going home tonight.

I can honestly say that I have had that gut feeling hundreds of times. I am sure everyone has. It is part of playing and living passionately in the mountains. But, I must confess that I have ignored it as well.

To Go or Not To Go?

Back in March, my friend Pierre* and I drove from Calgary to get some mid-week kite skiing in up at Spray Lakes. But, when we got to the launch there wasn’t a whisper of wind. It’s a long drive and with the price of gas this winter, getting skunked is the ultimate insult to ones time and wallet. Pierre suggested we put in at the Goat Ponds, where he and a few others had been two weeks before and met decent conditions.

A hole in the ice at Goat Pond’s offers a stark reminder. Photo courtesy Kurtis Kristianson.

My stomach began to twist into knots. I had hundreds of excuses not to go to Goat Ponds. I told Pierre that I had looked at the mostly open ponds the year before and swore I would never go on them. Pierre figured they were fine and was sure there was lots of ice. Most importantly, there was wind and we wouldn’t be skunked this time around.

Twenty minutes later I was out on the ice setting up my kite. I had ignored the warning voices and I was anxious as hell.

We flew for an hour until the wind died. Feeling relaxed now, I parked the kite twenty metres from shore. I disconnected myself from my control bar and quickly plunged a kite anchor screw into the ice. I’d walked only a few feet towards my kite when my left ski boot broke through the ice. I went down on my right knee to absorb some of the force. Both hands went to the edge of the boot shaped hole for balance. But, as I pushed up with my right knee I heard a snap and it too disappeared into the water below. I didn’t have to look down to register that I was in over my waist.

I don’t remember climbing back onto the ice, just scrambling back to shore and hearing Pierre laugh in disbelief that I had actually gone through. Once he looked over and saw me crawling away from the hole, his tone changed to concern and he asked if I was OK. I thought about it for a second, told Pierre I was fine and then we both laughed it off as a freak accident.

What I didn’t tell him was that I was angry with myself, mostly for having the gut feeling and choosing to ignore it. I am extremely lucky to play another day.

I can’t say that these experiences have put me off or reduced my desire for adventure. But, what the gut feeling can do for you is sharpen your senses, make you aware of your environment and, most of all, help you make good decisions regardless of pressures from peers or personal obsessions.

The trick is to learn to listen to them.

Have you ever ignored that gut feeling?

*This name has been changed.

Kurtis Kristianson

Kurtis Kristianson is an adventure lifestyle photographer based in Southern Alberta. Last year he found that his day job was cutting into his photography and play time so did the responsible thing and quit the day job. Kurtis can now be found photographing extreme people who are living out their passions in and around the Canadian Rockies.


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  1. I’ve had that “gut feeling” before, Kurtis, and have turned back on a few climbs. It was less to do with objective hazards and more to do with my own head space! Needless to say, I’d much rather live not knowing what might have happened than regret not reaching the top!  

  2. great post! Yes I ignore it way to many times. Good thing you were ok but it was a good reminder!