Ed, thanks for that last post. I think it helps move this discussion in a more productive direction.
I prefer to be brief, but I’m afraid this response is a little long. My apologies.
I climbed my first peak in 1987. I was hiking in Yosemite with my girlfriend (now my wife of 28 years) when I decided to explore a nearby peak. I didn’t know the name of the peak, and I didn’t know anything about routes or difficulty ratings. I scrambled up and was defeated by the summit block. S**t! When I traversed around to get a photo, I discovered what might be a way up. I checked it out. I had no rope, cell phone, or Spot to rely on. There was nobody around to help me if I screwed up. I realized the obvious: If I went up, I would have to climb back down. Well, I went for it and made it back down. The next day I learned that I had climbed a class 4 route on Cathedral Pk., whatever that meant.
I was hooked! Unfortunately, my girlfriend was terrified of anything over easy class 3, so I ended up doing a ton of scrambling alone. I constantly reminded myself that I would have to climb back down anything I went up. That just seemed obvious to me.
When you start up a mountain, there are only five ways the story can end:
1. You climb back down the way you went up
2. You descend some other route
3. You get rescued
4. They recover your body
5. They never find your body
This is the basis of my previous statement that you said puzzled you: “If you climb up something, you must be able to climb back down it, or you must be SURE that you can make it to an easier route that you CAN climb down.” In other words, if you don’t ensure that the outcome is option 1 or option 2, it will be option 3, 4, or 5.
You are absolutely right that climbing down is harder and more dangerous than climbing up. But this isn’t some closely guarded secret that only elite climbers know. You know it. I know it. Ellen and Sally know it. Responsible climbing means keeping this in mind every time you go out. If you can’t get yourself off the mountain, somebody else is going to have to risk their lives to do it for you, and I count that as a failure.
You mention several climbs I want to comment on. I was planning to climb Whitney’s East Face with a partner back in 1997. When we got to Iceberg Lake, there was considerable interest in a party of three climbers on the East Face. They couldn’t find the Fresh Air Traverse, and they were bailing off the route. It took them forever, but they managed to descend the Tower Traverse and make it back to camp at dark. The next morning, my partner had AMS, so I ended up soloing the East Face. I wouldn’t want to reverse the Tower Traverse, but I think I could have done it back in those days. The funny part is that if I had done the East Face a day earlier, I could have started up as the other party was descending, and I would have summited and beaten them back to camp.
My first time on the U-Notch Couloir was to descend it. I had soloed the V-Notch and then traversed over Polemonium and up the chimney to North Palisade. I downclimbed an easier route to the U-Notch and climbed down to the glacier. The couloir was more snow than ice, and the downclimb wasn’t too bad.
I’ve never done Devil’s Crag, but I’ve done Black Kaweah. It’s a dangerous place with all that loose rock. We had to be super careful, especially on the way down.
I’ve climbed down couloirs on Langley, Gannett (WY), Checkered Demon, Bloody, Norman Clyde, Feather, Darwin, Emerson, Red Slate, Middle Teton (WY), Gilbert, Thompson, and Humphreys. Climbing down snow and ice is sometimes a dicey proposition, but it is certainly doable.
You pointed out that a bad outcome doesn’t automatically mean that there was a bad decision. That’s true, but bad decisions usually do accompany bad outcomes. Equally important, a good outcome doesn’t guarantee that there were no bad decisions. I’ve been climbing 30 years with a 99% success rate and no rescues, but I’ve made my share of stupid mistakes. Most of those stupid mistakes came early, but I still make them occasionally. The point is that I try to identify and admit those mistakes so I can at least avoid repeating them.