The Cleanest Line

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    Choose Your Own Adventure

    Cordes - DoniniChileIMG_0404(LR) While gazing into my navel and pulling out lint the other day, I wondered about adventure. It seems to me that, based on my admittedly unscientific observations of news reports and the ascents I encounter in my American Alpine Journal editorial job, refinement ascents are all the rage. By refinement, I mean something other than bona fide first ascents and new routes. Things like fastest ascent, new enchainment, first alpine-style ascent, first one-day ascent and first free ascent with its endless sub-denominations (onsight, redpoint, continuous free, team free, individual free, and so many that I can’t keep them straight – and, notably, as with everything that is a work in progress, the standards keep shifting).

    I don’t mean for “refinement” to sound derogatory. You can’t fault today’s climbers for the reality that fewer obvious virgin lines exist. But we’ve got so many more advantages now, why not make the extra effort? Why aren’t the young whipper snappers doing like the royal “we” did? Uphill both ways with frostbitten toes and an 80-pound pack, baby? (80?! Hell, we had 100!) Well, for one, it’s probably true that the young whipper snappers aren’t as inclined to trudge to the middle of nowhere – they’re too busy climbing hard.

    It’s just a shift. Things evolve. And who’s to say that a first free isn’t an adventure? (Though there can be little dispute that, all else equal, heading onto previously untouched terrain presents a much greater element of the unknown.)

    [Jim Donini, mid-approach in search of virgin climbing terrain in remote Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    No Exposed Bone (and a Marg recipe)

    Cordes - JW rap2 Shingu(LR) First off, I’m talking about my ankle. My cankle, still swollen from my broken leg and part of my next round of surgeries on Monday. My final surgeries, inshallah, making six in a little over a year. I’ve had enough. Should be minor, removing most of the hardware store in my lower leg, trimming my knee and cleaning-up my ankle. Should help my mobility. But there’s a chance they’ll find exposed bone on the weight-bearing surfaces of my ankle and have to micro-fracture, putting me back into a hellish recovery. Again. Doctors Hackett and Clanton, world-class surgeons at the Steadman Clinic, who focus on high-end athletes (thus begging the question of how I got in…), fully get it, know my climbing plans, and we’ve got a good plan. Clanton suggested we print T-shirts saying “No exposed bone.” I love it. But I started growing a hemlock tree, just in case.

    It’s just that I’ve been, I don’t know, down too long in the midnight sea. Like those times when you feel like you’re the Last in Line. It’s like being stuck 3,000 feet up something and you have to get down, but you just chopped one of your ropes. In which case, here’s a trick I’ve used to still do full-length rappels:

    [To getting down safely and enjoying good margs. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Alert Level Orange

    Cordes - dangerous man I’m excited and worried about my Pakistan trip later this summer. Most people are good people, I think, but still, the world is a dangerous place. Then again, so is sitting on the couch with your seatbelt buckled. What to do?

    My Pakistan fears have nothing to do with jihadis, and everything to do with my body. I can’t wait, and my only apprehension regards this seemingly foreign notion that I could ever be healthy and climbing again, able to go to these beautiful places and embrace risk and feel alive. A privileged worry, indeed. I’m making huge strides in rehab, and I’ll be fine.

    It’s weird, how fear gets politicized and commercialized. Danger lurks at every corner, beware: nothing is what it seems. I’m a cynic, so convince me otherwise but fear sells, baby, fear sells.

    [The world is a dangerous place…but I am a dangerous man. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Bigger than El Cap - A (totally unscientific) search for the lower 48's biggest rock faces

    Kc - meadowIMG_2816(LR) Introduction

    Little compares to Yosemite's El Capitan in majesty and sustained steepness. But contrary to popular lore, it’s not the Lower 48’s biggest rock face. It’s not even the biggest in the Valley – the south face of Mt. Watkins is bigger. Well, maybe. How do you measure? (OK, I feel the urge to crack wise about size vs. usage, but I am hereby officially restraining myself.) Several rock faces are bigger than both, but you can’t take peoples’ words for it. Climbers exaggerate worse than fishermen. I see it all the time in the reports I receive and edit for my job with the AAJ; I think some climbers measure cliff size starting from their driveway.
     
    We need an exact, unambiguous climber definition. Here goes: It can’t have too much 3rd-class terrain. Ummm, how much is “too much?” It has to be sustained (how do you define that?) technical climbing, bottom to top. I think that “technical climbing” is fairly defined as 5th-class climbing; hikers and peakbaggers consider climbing to be what we consider hiking and scrambling, and that’s fine, but this post is about legitimate rock climbing (are the stacked blocks in Glacier legit?). How much 3rd-class scrambling or how big of a treed-ledge disqualifies a face?
     
    Perhaps sub-categories are in order. But that makes my brain hurt.

    [El Capitan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Prescott-area Film Festival to Benefit a Friend in Need

    BCFF-Tour-Poster-bean A close friend of Patagonia is currently facing a fight for his life. A Patagonia Climbing Ambassador, past NOLS instructor, and outdoor photographer, Bean Bowers grew a fast and large circle of friends through his combination of irrepresible energy and positive spirt. A backcountry skiing accident in December resulted in a broken femur, a serious injury that was quickly eclipsed by complications that arose during his recovery. It was then that a large brain tumor was discovered. The tumor has been removed, but Bean's fight has just begun. Bean has been diagnosed with renal cancer and friends are rallying to support him as he faces an incredibly difficult fight, and the staggering medical bills that go with it.

    His alma mater, Prescott College, in conjunction with some of Bean's friends and colleagues, is helping to host a fundraiser Gear Swap and Film Festival to provide support in his fight for life.
     
    March 8th, 2011 -  Afternoon and Evening in Crossroads Community Room
     
    GEAR SWAP - 4-6 PM
    BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL - 7-9 PM
     
    Bean's Prescott friends and loved ones are urging anyone who can to please come and join the rally to help one of their extended family members. There will be a raffle or silent auction of donated goods. To participate in the Used Gear Sale, contact John Farmer or David Lovejoy. Sellers are asked to contribute 10-20% of their earnings to the cause. The suggested donation for Backcountry Film Festival attendess is $10/person - give more at the door if you can. All proceeds will go directly to Bean.

    Bean's climb to recovery is just beginning. As he said in a recent note to friends: "Just feed me the rope, I'll get it up there!"

    Kate Rutherford & Mikey Schaefer Establish Washington Route, a New One on Fitz Roy

    _MG_0014I sat in a cloud of dust; pants dirty, my hand planted in the sewing needles of some patagonian flora. I'd just landed there after my tired muscles failed to correct a small foot slip on the steep gravel. We were headed down from Fitz Roy on this 5th day. I stood and wiped the pinprick of blood from my throbbing finger. There must be poison in those stupid needles. I was listening to a song about a "threadbare Gypsy soul,” the singer had a "wild streak in his heart." He had a cowboy hat . . . I had those too; different hat.

    Later, on a bus, I'm still thinking about threads and whether my gypsy soul is threadbare. I'm that jittery kind of exhausted; excited and tired to the bone. But I relished it, the fatigue makes me know it is real; the only souvenir I had of our new route. It makes me smile how bare those threads feel. Cerro Fitz Roy was pink in dawn light as I climbed aboard this ride. Our new route was the left sky line, it looked so far away.

    - Ed note: We're pleased to share this update from Patagonia Climbing Ambassadors Kate Rutherford and Mikey Schaefer. The two just returned from Patagonia, where they established a new line on Fitz Roy that they're calling the Washington Route. This is fresh news - apologies for the lack of photo captions. Check Kate's personal website and Mikey's blog for more details, and hit the jump to hear the rest of the story and see more photos from the climb.

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    Second-annual Copp-Dash Inspire Award

    Copp-Dash1 Micah and I had been making more trips than usual to Eldo, trying to cross some of the more obscure, difficult routes off our list. Always working his weaknesses, Micah was on a ‘hard single-pitch redpointing’ binge at this time because he knew it would make him strong for the ‘real’ mountains. We’d had to make several return trips to finally redpoint some of the harder routes that had thwarted us. With Micah standing about 5’6” with little “chisel tip fingies” as he’d say, and myself at 6’4” with paddles for hands, our noses were about the only thing of comparable dimension, and for that reason we could never share the same beta on routes. Fortunately, this was a great excuse we’d commiserate on when neither of us sent the route, leaving us to come back another day.

    We knew logistically we weren’t ideal climbing partners for this beta-intensive single pitch stuff, but we always told ourselves that our difference in size would make us great partners in the mountains. “There’s no crack size out there that wouldn’t take one of our hands, feet or limbs,” we’d say, as ‘perfect hands,’ after all, always depend on whose hands you're talking about.

    Applications are now being accepted for this year's Copp-Dash Inspire Award. Hit the jump to continue enjoying Kristo Torgersen's story about climbing with Micah and find further Award details and application deadline. - Ed

    [Jonny Copp and Micah Dash enjoy the high point of their 2008 attempt to set up a new route on the feared West Face of the Petit Dru, Chamonix, France. Photo: © Jonny Copp]

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    Fighting Forty (pt. 5) - Anniversaries

    The 5th and final installment in Kelly Cordes' series about perils and pleasures of aging gracefully while slaying stereotypes (the first installments are here:1, 2, 3, and 4). A series of significant injuries - the most recent a severely torn shoulder - forced Kelly to bow out of an exciting trip to Patagonia. In this final segment, he marks the one-year anniversary since the string of misfortunes began. -Ed

    Packsled A year ago last week I sat grimacing in the snow in Hyalite Canyon, my shattered leg pointing east. I'd been feeling good and climbing strong, had just spent a terrific few days in Cody, and looked forward to big summer adventures in Alaska and Pakistan. In an instant, everything changed. Three surgeries, a haze of pain meds, crutches for three months, learning to walk again... Adapt, deal. Never mind my shoulder surgery and my pending "touch-up" leg surgeries - anniversaries are times to reflect. Times of growth, times of...enough of that crap. I wish it never had happened. But it did.

    Early in my recovery, my cousin asked me how I handle the uncertainty of it all. Truth is, I don't know. It's weird in a way - alpinism has everything to do with the unknown, embracing uncertainty, and I love that. It used to scare me, but I guess I'm used to it with climbing. Now, different uncertainties scare me.

    [Broken in the snow, Hyalite Canyon, MT. Photo: Cordes collection]

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    Cordillera Blanca Expedition Seeks Mountaineers


    Cordillera

    Mountaineers take note: Put your skills to use helping monitor air pollution in the vertical environment of the high Andes. Read on for more details or visit the American Alpine Club's informational page. Hurry - the application deadline is midnight, February 19th.

    In June and July 2011, the Deep South Section of The American Alpine Club is spearheading an environmental mountaineering expedition to Peru’s highest mountain range. The Cordillera Blanca contains the highest concentration of mountains higher than 6,000 meters (19,685 ft.) in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the highest mountains in the Tropics. The purpose of the expedition will be to work with local and national governments, NGOs, and academic environmental experts to develop and institute a mountain-air-pollution-impacts monitoring program.

    Cordillera2 Section mountaineers and other AAC mountaineering scientists will be spending 2-4 weeks in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, where the group will team with local climbers. The team will collect valuable environmental samples from elevations too high and remote for most scientists to be able to visit. The data collected by members will assist local land managers and scientists to determine the environmental impacts of local and global air pollution and global climate-change impacts on the Andes Mountains. Volunteer mountaineers are needed to help complete this project.

    The American Alpine Club's Executive Director, Phil Powers describes the role mountaineers will play in this research: "The high altitude ice on our planet holds extraordinary fresh water resources in places to which climbers have unique access. These are the water towers of our world. Climber scientists play a special role collecting data from locations that house key early indications of the effects of climate change but are very difficult to access."

    Core sample The AAC's member mountaineers will work with local climbers from the Mountaineering School of Marcara, the region's eminent mountaineering institution. Key mountains near the continental divide of South America will have their environment sampled and documented for air pollution impacts. Mountaineers will scale the complete vertical aspect of these key mountains to obtain these samples and data. It is expected that snow and ice will be sampled from 4,500 to over 6,300 meters in 500-meter increments to obtain a vertical and horizontal profile of impacts on the range.

    Get more details about the upcoming expedition in this interview with AAC Deep South Section Chair, Chadwick Hagan and expedition co-leader Frank Nederhand.

    [All photos courtesy American Alpine Club's 2011 Expedition site.]

     

    From the Trenches series - +1 Core for Winter Climbing

    Like flocks of swirling swallows or shimmering schools of tropical fish, our customers swoop in with mysteriously synchronized concerns and questions on a regular basis, prompting the need for ready answers. Times like these, nothing would be more handy than magically beaming knowledge out into the ether. Kelly Cordes is our guest Trencher today, fielding a question that is at once simple - and surprisingly complex: How do you dress properly for ice climbing? - Ed
    _________________________________________________________

    Kc - TC vest Some people don’t like winter climbing because, surprise surprise, it’s cold. But it’s also beautiful – the stillness, the ever-changing medium, the winter light. Fun only in retrospect (Type II fun)? Not necessarily. The trick, or one of them, is to keep your body temperature just right. But you don’t want to inhibit mobility, since trying to climb while bundled-up like Ralphie from A Christmas Story isn’t much fun, either.

    Here’s one simple pointer: wear an extra layer in your core, or torso. I call it my “+1 Core” layer. We’ve long known, courtesy of physiologists and backed by our own experiences, that when push comes to shove our bodies prioritize shunting warm blood away from our extremities and toward our more vital areas. By wearing an extra layer in your torso to keep key areas toasty, you get serious bang for your buck warmth-wise, while maintaining arm mobility. It’s a similar concept to that old saying from granny: if your toes are cold, put a hat on (surely the reason all shirtless bouldering bros wear a beanie). I, and many other climbers, believe that this whole “core warmth” thing helps me get away with wearing thinner, more dexterous gloves while winter climbing – nothing is worse than fumbling with gear in big gloves. Well, frozen fingers are worse, but that’s kind of my point, too. Like granny says.

    [Tommy Caldwell misunderstands the vest concept. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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