The Cleanest Line

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    Tango

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - colinFRmassif P1000831(LR)
    [Colin Haley walking out from a false start, with the Fitz Roy massif behind. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Early winter in Estes Park, tourist season finally over and the town asleep, I stood in an empty backroom at a local bar. “Tango,” said Jay, “is the dance of passion. It’s a dramatic cat-and-mouse game – teasing back-and-forth, graceful, seductive.”

    It’s so fun being a beginner. My girlfriend and I soaked up our fifth dance lesson.

    “There are three main types of Tango,” Jay continued, “International, American, and Argentine.”

    Wind rattled the back door. It was December 2007. Maybe getting too cold for the melt-freeze climbs now, I instinctively thought. For the past 14 years I’d devoted myself to ice and alpine climbing, which often involve mediums so fickle and ephemeral that many climbers hate it. The quixotic wake at absurd hours to pursue mere rumors, trudge endlessly with heavy packs following a hunch, and travel 12 time zones away for a potential line they saw on a crinkled photograph. In Argentine Patagonia, passionate climbers wait months on end for just one opening, one chance to go chasing windmills. You have to love the dance.

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    Picture Story - Exhaustion

    by Kelly Cordes

    Welcome to the first day of Fall, and a fresh installment in our occasional series of posts for the more visually oriented. For a lot of folks, autumn is the time of the last great hurrah. No bugs, perfect weather, decent daylight. Whether it's a alpine route or long days on the water, this time of year offers a tantalizing invitation to push it - sometimes 'til you can't push no more. - Ed

    Kc - SD Hunter 02 exhaustion(LR)
    [Scott DeCapio at the base of Mt. Hunter after a failed attempt at the French Route on the North Buttress. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    We cleared the ‘schrund, pulled our ropes and collapsed in a heap at the base. Spent. Done. Scott DeCapio and I had found success in 2000 and 2001 racing up ~ 3,500-foot Alaskan routes in lightweight style – and by racing, I mean motoring, fast as we could, full-on sprint. Tons of simulclimbing, and with moderate snowfields on which to relax between the harder climbing. Great. And a fine style for some routes. Others are too big, too sustained, too physical. At least for us.

    In 2002, we learned a lesson about pacing. We started sprinting up the then-unrepeated French Route on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter – 4,000 feet to the top of the buttress, then another 2,000 to the summit for a proper ascent. We’d simulclimbed 3,000 feet of rock-hard ice to the third ice band in a mere 12 hours, thinking How ya like us now! And then, ka-boom! How ya like hitting the wall? Hitting it hard, getting sloppy, making mistakes. Scotty fell asleep at one belay. We chopped butt-seat ledges, brewed, ate, tried to sleep and recover. Too little, too late. We couldn’t even think straight. Exhausted. So we bailed, slowly, chopping a rope on the way and trying to keep ourselves from unraveling.

    Thirty-some hours from our start, we collapsed at the base, having learned a hard lesson about the importance of a steady, marathon pace in the mountains. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to master.

    Reputations

    by Kelly Cordes

    We traverse a rare and beautiful band of bullet rock, smooth with long reaches and thirty-foot runouts, the universe dropping away to the valley floor. We’re getting close. Justin continues along the line of weakness, toward the northwest ridge 500 feet below the summit of Mt. Siyeh, Glacier National Park, Montana. For 15 years I had feared this face. Heard its stories, its legends, its reputation as a “death face.”

    Jw - 100_1945(LR)
    [He’s down there somewhere…. Photo: Justin Woods]

    Reputations can be a funny thing. Especially if they shut you down before you even try. To me Siyeh became a 3,500-foot monster that I could never be good enough to climb. Never been climbed in a day, forced bivies bordering on hypothermia, a death face, I heard. I heard.

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    Nights

    by Kelly Cordes

    The transition to darkness scares me. Fleeting rays of final light linger on the horizon. I stare down thousands of feet, where immense shadows from ice-capped towers overhead cast dark shapes into the valley below. I barely make out the specks of our tents at base camp. A fire starts. Our cook is warm, comfortable, and will soon crawl into his sleeping bag. But here, on a rocky ledge, we settle down onto flaked-out ropes and into wafer-thin aluminized bivy sacks – those little two-ounce things they make for emergencies – and await the slow and sharp creep of cold.

    Cordes - JW bivy1 LR
    [Josh Wharton awaiting nightfall on Shingu Charpa, Pakistan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    To Suffer Well

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - cfs IMG_0815(LR)

    I think back a few weeks to when I found my friend Craig 52 miles into a grueling mountain run, wobbling on the trail like a baby deer. He held himself up with his trekking poles, grinned and told me he was fine. Uhhh, you don’t look fine, dude. I’d joined him for morale toward the end of his first 100km (62 miles) race, and, naturally (as distinctly opposed to "stupidly"…), he chose one of the toughest: the Kat’cina Mosa, which gains 17,404 feet of elevation. Craig (a.k.a. CFS) blew-up around mile 40. Nothing truly damaging, he just hurt. Bad. Legs gone, drunk-walk bad. For the last 20 miles. Damn that unassuming scrawny bastard is tough. Seven months ago he could barely walk around the block. Strangest thing, too: the happiest I’ve ever seen him was during the run (at least until he blew-up, and even then he didn’t complain) – goofy, shit-eating grin, chatting, laughing, suffering. Didn’t think once of quitting. Not for a second. I like that. Wish I had it more often.

    As he eventually trotted across the finish line, I was reminded, once again, of mental toughness.

    [CFS staggering along, only 10 miles to go… Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Trad Guy Sporto Tips

    Kc - trad guyIMG_3102(LR) I try to embrace all forms of climbing, and I can learn something from everything. Furthermore, the more things I’m willing to climb, the more fun I can have. Jack of all trades, master of none, baby. Wintertime? Don’t whine, ice climb. Only got a few hours? Clip some bolts near the road or go bouldering. Have a full day and clear weather? Head for the mountains. Raining everywhere? Gym climbing.

    Working at the harder technical forms, like bouldering and sport climbing, have paid dividends for my overall climbing (though I don’t boulder much – the ground falls don’t mesh with my battered body; and certain angles on sport routes are too weird on my shoulder; so it goes, we all must live with our limitations). Anyway, no doubt that rock climbing movement provides the fundamental base for all climbing.

    But on to the point of things: we all want to look cool. Or, at least, not terribly dorky (so says the guy with zero fashion sense). And nowhere else in climbing does coolness factor-in than crag-like settings such as sport crags, the gym and bouldering areas. In my attempts to embrace these forms, I’ve learned some tips – often painstakingly.

    [Lookout, it’s trad guy! Photo: Cordes collection]

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    The In-Between

    by Zoe Hart

    Thanks to Patagonia Climbing Ambassador Zoe Hart for today's post. A recent trip from her new home (Chamonix) to her old one (New Jersey) triggered some thoughts on the directions life's paths take us. Her story originally appeared on the Dutch mountain travel site Bergwijzer. -Ed

    I woke this morning to my husband, Max, lamenting the snow that was falling outside our window. I’m legally blind without my glasses, but even without them, I could see fuzzy white saucers of snow falling in our back yard. Falling, no actually accumulating on the hedges! It’s supposed to be June, spring, birds, our garden growing, limestone climbing in the sun, sunny granite cracks up high. 

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    Spring is SUPPOSED to bring rain for the neatly lined rows of tomatoes, lettuces, carrots that our eighty year-old neighbors meticulously plant, and care for, with the aid of a ski pole for balance. Spring is supposed to bring rain to nourish the little mountain flowers that grow besides the trails.  Flowers that will capture my eye for a moment on an approach to a big route, allowing me to forget the objectives that we are heading for and the nervous excited feeling of that twists in my belly.  Spring supposed to feed the wild berries that sprout in the bushes on the approach to limestone crags.  A sweet explosion of strawberries and raspberries plucked from the branches as we saunter to a crag.

    What I’m realizing though, is that there’s no supposed to in nature, and that there are a lot of in-betweens in our lives.

    [Topping out on a mixed route on Pointe Farrar, a day out in my backyard. Photo: Maxime Turgeon]

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    I Know You

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - sky pond IMG_2233(LR)

    A breeze floats mountain air across my face and triggers of flood of chemicals to my brain. I feel something. Something familiar. I’ve been here before, at different times and in different places. Deep blue water ripples along the lake shore; stout green shrubs stand firm and stubborn against the alpine elements; orange-streaked granite encapsulates my world in the cirque. I stop on boulders beside Sky Pond, my planned turnaround for my hike-slash-gimpy-run workout, and gaze at the Petit Grepon. I feel myself there, climbing, and another flood of feelings courses through me. Though I don’t have my rock shoes with me, I wish that I did but know it’s probably best that I don’t as I scurry up the talus cone to the base and scramble around the rocks, just to touch them, to feel, to transport myself for a few precious moments.

    Familiarity. I know you. I think of the forms it can take, how it feels like love in all of its ethereal and mysterious ways.

    [Spires rising in the Sky Pond cirque, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Postcard from Chamonix: Totally Casual

    by Kelly Cordes

    “Hot damn, how cool,” I said, flipping my mullet to the side. “Totally casual day in the mountains? Yeah, I’m in. Rock on.”

    The forecast was for marginal weather, so I met Chip at a very civilized hour – quite civilized, in fact (everyone says “quite”). Time for coffee, breakfast, and then, by 9 a.m., nearly 10,000 feet higher we exited the tunnel atop the Aiguille du Midi téléphérique. 12,600' elevation. Howling winds. Blowing snow. Uhhh, casual? A sign warned us that we were on our own.

    Kc - IMG_0151


    You walk through a little gate and onto a foot-wide, knife-edge snow ridge; one slip and you’re done, save for a partner versed in the Alaska Belay (jumping off the other side of the ridge – and I’m quite certain that, to his credit, Chip has no idea what I’m talking about). No safety net, no guardrail, nothing. An American lawyer’s wet dream.

    [Chip Chace exiting the top-station of the Aiguille du Midi. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Postcard from Chamonix: Access

    by Kelly Cordes

    I’m in Chamonix, France, for a couple of weeks. Weather started bad on the Mont Blanc massif, so we drove through the tunnel and climbed sunny rock in Italy. An 800-foot roadside dome with 40 routes, all bolted. The bolts weren’t too close, nor were they beside cracks. The routes had little placards fixed to the rock, indicating which route went where. People of all ages climbed, seemingly as normal for a Sunday afternoon as watching the game back home.

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    [Parapenters (the wee white dots in the sky) soaring above Chamonix, and the south face of the Brévent. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    The next two days, as clouds enshrouded the high peaks, I climbed on the south face of Le Brévent – an otherwise two-hour approach takes a few minutes thanks to the super-fast-whisking-action of these tram-gondola thingies called téléphériques (téléphériques also access the serious mountains across the valley – Mt. Blanc, Grand Capucin, Grandes Jorasses, the Dru, and on and on and on.) We’d finish our cappuccinos and leave at the civilized hour of 10 a.m. or so, climb a four-to-six-pitch route, and be back down sipping wine and eating cheese at an outdoor café by 3 p.m. Quite civilized, indeed.

    Kc - IMG_0089
    [Walker Ferguson coming up the final pitch of the Frison-Roche route on the south face of the Brévent. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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