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    AAC's Young Gun Awards

    Cordes - P1010054 Last week we posted about some major grant deadlines and mentioned that, contrary to popular notion, most of the grants go to trips other than cutting-edge adventures. In fact, the AAC just announced the latest recipients of their biannual “gateway grant” – the Mountain Fellowship Grant, which awards young climbers (age 25 and under) tackling ambitious projects in remote areas. The award is 100% endowment-funded, and I love how it helps aspiring dirtbags undertake adventures they couldn’t otherwise afford.

    Many of the recipients over the years have evolved into America’s top climbers, and, as such, I suppose it’s contributed to the decline of many a potentially respectable lifestyle. Good stuff (I know, call me a bad ‘Merican – my advice to the kids: Go on adventures! Don’t work too much, and don’t buy into it all! Live cheaply, stay out of debt and go explore!).

    Where were we?

    Oh yeah, it’s my favorite of all the grants – I didn’t even start climbing until I was 25, and so I’m especially amazed by some of the adventures these “kids” do (I’m dating myself, I know, but indeed I’ve been writing about the perils of getting old, so…).

    Congrats to the young guns getting after it everywhere, including those who recently got some help from the Mountain Fellowship Grant:

    • Scott Bennett (25)—$600 from the Rick Mosher Fund for a possible first ascent of Cerro Pollone’s East Peak, Argentina.

    • Tyler Botzon (21)—$400 for to attempt on Ama Dablam, Nepal.

    • Christopher Carter (21)—$400 for ski mountaineering in Altai Mountains, Mongolia.

    • Sean Dormer (22)—$1,000 from the REI Challenge Fund for possible first ascents in Arrigetch Mountains, Alaska.

    • Hayden Kennedy (20)—$400 for a possible first ascent of the North Face of Chamlang, China.

    • Jewell Lund (24)—$400 for climbs in Kara Su Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

    • Jacon Mayer (23) and Max Talsky (23)—$600 each from the Boyd Everett Fund for the Cassin Ridge on Denali, Alaska.

    [Four years ago to the day, Colin Haley, 22 at the time and on his Mountain Fellowship Grant-awarded trip to Patagonia, gets psyched to lead the crux pitch of a new link-up on Cerro Torre. We did our route from Jan 5-7, 2007 - the grant for that route/trip was just for Colin – I was 38 at the time! Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Two Major Climbing Grant Deadlines this Friday

    KC - Ruthgorge What could be better than getting your climbing trip paid for? Uh, pretty much nothing.

    At the basic level, that’s what the climbing grants do – and applications for two major grants, the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award and the McNeill-Nott Award, are due this Friday, January 1. So, get after it. Just a public service note.
    Granted (get it?) there is a little more to it. Filling out the form entitles you to nothing, but it would seem worth the effort if you’ve got a project that fits. Yet few apply (note: I’m not on any grant committees, but I’ve asked some of the people who are). I don’t know why, maybe it’s just a small pool that self-selects – the grants are competitive and, to my knowledge, none exist for run-of-the-mill things like repeating classic routes or road-trippin’ with your bros. Indeed, when we look at recipients of some of the major grants geared toward cutting-edge adventure, like the Mugs Stump Award, the Lyman Spitzer, the Polartec Challenge, and the Shipton-Tilman, they’ve supported some of the greatest alpine ascents in recent history. These objectives are almost always new routes, not refinement repeats (i.e. not first one-day ascent, first free ascent, first all-woman ascent, first American ascent, etc.), as impressive as these may be. To paraphrase a saying that, I think, gets attributed to climbing legend Jim Bridwell: “You don’t travel halfway around the world to repeat somebody else’s route.”

    [Alaska's famed Ruth Gorge, as seen from the summit of the Moose's Tooth. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Two Major Climbing Grant Deadlines this Friday" »

    Fighting Forty (pt. 3) - Waking up puking

    Today we've got Part 3 in Kelly Cordes' series about the bout of injuries he's experienced this past year (here's the links to check out part 1 and 2). His most recent setback, a severely torn shoulder, happened shortly before his scheduled departure for a climbing trip to Patagonia. Part 3 brings us the details of the surgery and what it's like to start thinking about getting back into the ring. -Ed

    Kc - LT descent Holy hell did I hurt. The sort of pain for which they had me on a morphine pump in the hospital when I had broke my leg. But this was just a shoulder. Damn, I wondered, how soft have I gotten?

    I remember waking up in the recovery room puking. The surgery required far more than anybody had anticipated and, by all accounts, Dr. Hackett worked a miracle on my shoulder. I remember seeing him briefly – either in recovery or in the hospital room where they kept me overnight, I can’t recall – and he asked if I was sure that was the only time I’d dislocated it (I’m sure). “Because," he said, "it looked like a shoulder that’d been dislocated a hundred times. It was a mess.”

    That was two weeks ago, in what now seems like a haze of puzzle-piece images. The next day I writhed in pain, trying to override it with my brain but resorting to double-dosing the painkillers.

    [Scott DeCapio descends from the summit of London Tower, Ruth Gorge, Alaska, 2000, after his and Cordes’ new route, The Trailer Park.]

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    Picture Story: Little Peruvian Men

    Another in our informal series of posts for the more visually oriented. Today's is from Kelly C, who's still on the mend after last week's shoulder surgery. Earlier picture stories can be found here (1, 2). - Ed

    Cordes - Little Peruvian Men

    Jim Earl crests the north ridge en route to the summit of Nevado Ulta, on the first ascent of Personal Jesus, in 2003. We’d pushed hard, through difficult climbing on the north face, taking 20 hours on the face and we summitted about two hours later. True to form and stupid, we blew-off acclimatizing beforehand and around the time of this photo my memory grows hazy. The sun soon set, and in the dark I followed Jim’s lead up a mixed pitch in which little Peruvian men began speaking to me. They were short (about three feet tall each), fit, cheery little guys in tight T-shirts, like ambassadors for “Climb Peru” who appeared in a cartoon-style bubble whenever I’d use the ice, rather than rock, on the mixed pitch. Peru, in case you don’t know, has a justified reputation for horrendous snow-ice that often offers desperate climbing, especially along its peaks’ ever-present double-corniced ridges. Anyway, I’d swing into the ice and they’d appear: “Hola amigo! You see, we have good ice here in Peru! Very good ice! You should tell your friends about our fine ice!” I remember nodding in acquiescence, not wanting to piss them off – I’m not sure why, I mean, they were only three-feet tall – but I’d silently (I hope) reply in my best diplomatic tone, “Uh-yea-yes! Yes, you have very good ice here, I agree that it’s gotten a bad rap,” they’d look at each other with smug grins and nod, and I’d reaffirm as I’d scrape through crappy sugar snow: “I’ll be sure to go home and spread the word.”

    All true, and it makes for a funny story now, but it’s also an experience we were lucky to survive. We endured a harrowing descent – something like 22 rappels down an adjacent face – in which Jim took a big fall onto the first anchor off the summit, a massive avalanche washed our path (where we’d be in a half hour) midway down, and, stumbling around in the talus at the base afterward, we somehow got separated from one another and rejoined many hours later back at our bivy. Jim’s lungs gurgled with HAPE, and I don’t remember large chunks of the ordeal. It was far too close, and we got lucky. Maybe the little Peruvian men helped guide us down, but since then I’ve tried to pay more attention to proper acclimatization.

    Fighting Forty - Part One

    It's tough to say who's been getting more exercise lately, Kelly Cordes or his insurance policy. TCL regulars might remember his recent injury, a dislocation he wrote about back in October. As the surgery date approaches, Kelly's found himself in a pensive mood. Today we offer the first in a multi-part series where our hero takes a look at the myths, the excuses, and the stark realities that come with fighting the big four-oh. -Ed
    Halvorson - kc bugs Lights flashed and sounds clicked, buzzed and snapped in an eerie mash inside the claustrophobic rave party simulator otherwise known as an MRI machine. I thought of avalanches, and panic struck. Breathe, relax, hold still, if you were buried in snow and tragically not killed by the trauma, could you be at peace in those suffocating moments, grateful for everything you had?

    Freak accident. Again. Some bad luck, too, but people mutter this “getting old” bullshit and it drives me nuts. It drives me nuts because I think it’s usually an excuse people use to justify having spent the last 20 years neglecting their bodies, and they want some reason to continue doing so. I fight against that very thing because I love what I do. But I will admit that I’ve been searching for some explanation as to what the hell is going on with me – since February I’ve destroyed my leg, smashed my face, and now wrecked my shoulder. I don’t think it’s as simple as some stupid number, though, no matter who says it.

    And damn, I don’t like tight spaces. But the MRI had to be done for my shoulder. “Had” even whirls my mental cuisinart because it’s far from life-and-death, and people in far worse situations get far less. Despite my lower-than-average income, I’m extremely privileged simply to have health insurance.

    How did I get so lucky?

    [Another climb, a little more luck: Sunrise over the Bugaboos, en route to the South Howser Tower, August 2009. Moments before, just below the Howser Col, I grabbed a car-sized boulder that shifted and fell toward me, but in a split-second of lucky angles and reactions, I leapt and danced out of the way and we laughed it off down toward the route. Photo: Steve Halvorson.]

    Continue reading "Fighting Forty - Part One" »

    Annapurna III's Unclimbed Southeast Ridge

    Patagonia Climbing Ambassador Matt Helliker, together with climbing partners Nick Bullock and Pete Benson, recently returned from their attempt to climb the 2300-meter southeast ridge of Annapurna III. Theirs was the sixth attempt of the route, and a tenacious attempt at that. After their first sortie became mired in logistical challenges (which included everything from missing partners to exploding volcanoes) the group returned in October of this year to have another go. A fine description of their chosen line is offered by the folks at DMM Climbing, fellow sponsors of the team's attempt:

    AnnapurnaIII "Annapurna III's 2300 metre southeast ridge featured in an Alpinist 4 article titled Unclimbed - a 'to do list' of nine objectives in keeping with the spirit of exploratory alpinism. Conrad Anker, writing about his attempt to climb the south-east ridge, said: 'Every mountain has a line that defines it; this line becomes the goal for climbers….This is the unclimbed 2300m southeast ridge of Annapurna III. . . . My hope for this amazing route is that it will be climbed by fair means. If climbing were about finding a solution to an engineering problem it would cease to be an art.'"

    Pete-bollard Following is one of Matt's entries to the team's blog, written as they were gearing up for a bid on the route. View the team's post-trip reflections here.

    Lying in my tent this morning waiting for the warmth of the sun to hit BC to encourage us from our bags as it always does at 8am, but this morning for the first time since we have been here it was gloomy with a fresh dump of the white stuff on the ground.

    After a day of needed rest, the weather has cleared for a few hours allowing us to prepare for our outing in the morning. Sorting the climbing rack, clothing and the food for the route, which mainly consists of Maximuscle Viper and Promax bars.

    The plan tomorrow is to carry a heavy load to our high point from a few days back, dig a snow cave on the ridge and load this with some of the gear and food we will need to take on the east ridge using the snow cave as an advanced base camp. Depending on time we will hopefully descent back to BC tomorrow night for a good night's sleep before we take it on to the next stage!

    That said it's pouring down outside now, which means quite a bit of snow up high.
    If you have been following us, you will know that freelance journalist Ed Douglas travelled with us into BC for a few days to write a piece for the Times newspaper.  Ed's personal view of the expedition should make the Times this Saturday and I guess we will have to wait until we get back to the UK to see what he has written!

    [Photos courtesy of Britist Annapurna III Expedition website.]

    The Dog House

    Huey - Zack 054(LR) In most places, late fall and winter bring real ice. In places like Rocky Mountain National Park, however, the ice sublimates and we typically grovel-up snow-plastered rock. It’s an odd obsession. It also leaves lasting memories. Here, Zack Smith, a friend of Patagonia and a talented all-around climber, shares some of those memories. Thanks to Zack for a great story that reminds us of the things we have to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.

    It is winter and I have plans to climb with Jonny Copp. Over a hurried phone call he tells me we’ll hike “a ways in” and check out this “thing I’ve been thinking about.” I list off a few classic Rocky Mountain National Park mixed routes that I would like to do but he firmly tells me that this will be good; this will be better.

    A few hours later I’m sitting in my truck in an empty parking lot on the outskirts of Boulder. It’s the middle of the night and every fiber of my body tells me that I should be asleep. Twenty minutes later a mini-van pulls in. There are two outlines in the van and I can tell the other one is Steve Su. Winter climbing in RMNP usually means steep, snow-covered rock with very little actual ice and Steve is an unknown master of this strange pursuit. All I can think is Good. Maybe I won’t have to lead anything. Jonny jumps out of the van; all teeth, thick limbs, and big hair. He tells me to load my gear. He never mentions that he’s late or that he invited another person last minute. I join the show and we drive north.

    [Zack Smith indulging in the Park in winter. Photo: Jesse Huey]

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    Going Up

    Cordes-CoppMonk(LR) In the dank and smoky Fairview bar in Talkeetna, Alaska, 2003, I learned the simple secret to hard climbing. Jonny Copp and I had just come out of the Range, and we swilled beers with a couple of rowdy Brits. As usual, Jonny had been the driving force in our climbing. Everyone, it seemed, wavered about the weather, doing the infamous and somewhat maddening “Kahiltna Hang.” Yet Jonny saw touches of blue through cloudy skies.

    C’mon, we should go.

    He was like that. We had a great trip and pulled off a cool new route on a remote peak, complete with epic descent, managing it between, and partially through, big storms. Anyway, in the bar that night Paul Ramsden, a U.K. alpine badass with serious ascents around the globe, fully entertained us and joked about how Americans spend so much time getting gear dialed, fussing about weight, and training. Paul thought we were missing the point:

    “The bottom line for hard alpinism,” he said, “Is you have to want to go up more than you want to go down.”

    I remembered his words nearly every day for the following year, leading up to the best climb of my life, with Josh Wharton on Great Trango Tower in Pakistan. Paul’s right. The other things matter, too, like dialed systems and, certainly, training, skill and fitness. But without the desire to make it happen when it matters, those things mean nothing.

    [Jonny Copp going up on “Going Monk,” Alaska. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    American Alpine Journal Gems from 2010

    Kc - AAJ_2368 Climbing reports come in all forms. Some basic, simply giving the key details of a climb. Some tell a story, sometimes understated and sometimes overstated, sometimes hilarious and outrageous. And occasionally we stumble upon absolutely beautiful stories.

    I’m mostly talking about reports we receive for the American Alpine Journal, which is a yearly tome reporting the big new routes worldwide. It’s been published annually since 1929, and, for the last 10 years, I’ve been one of the editors. We strive for first-hand accounts from the climbers themselves, which generally makes for honest and authentic reporting.

    Again, it’s almost all big new routes – you won’t find reports from cragging or from tourists getting dragged up Everest. The reports range from major climbs that everyone knows about, to the less-technical but way remote and exploratory, to plenty of super badass climbs that went otherwise unreported (side note: in case you didn’t already know, there are a ton of low-key, under-the-radar, hard-men and -women out there).

    I’ve read thousands of reports in the last 10 years, and every year I make mental notes of my favorites. We on the editorial staff (all two-to-four of us, depending on the year…) call these “AAJ Gems.” They’re some of the best reports anywhere, I think, some of the best storytelling and best writing, often written by people you’ve never heard of.

    Jeff My vote for Gem of the year in the AAJ 2010 (which just came out and was recently mailed to AAC members and contributors) goes to someone many of us already know from the film 180 South: Jeff Johnson.

    [Top right: The 2010 AAJ. Photo: Kelly Cordes. Right: Jeff Johnson, courtesy Woodshed Films]

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    Rain on the Tent

    5 Cordes - Josh river LR The Fall Alpine catalog just came out – or will be out soon – and has a theme of near-misses. Those climbs where we gave all we had but came up short. Anybody who’s thrown themselves to the alpine knows the story, and in the catalog we share some of those specific tales. I wrote the intro essay (inside cover), about mine and Josh Wharton’s 2006 failed attempt at the unclimbed north ridge of Shingu Charpa, Pakistan.

    I love the theme of failure, and not just because it’s my specialty in life, but because I’ve always admired those unwilling to succumb to irrational fear, willing to try their hardest, willing to try and to fail by fair means, and willing to straight-up admit what they did without rationalizing.

    It’s a disingenuous cliché, a justification seemingly present after every summit-less climb, that coming home itself defines success. Sure, OK, maybe at some point, but extend the thinking and you’d never leave the couch to begin with. Likewise, defining success merely by the summit oversimplifies everything, because you could get there with a helicopter. Somewhere in between we have route names lavishing self-congratulations for leaving the ground and stopping wherever the climbers got shut down. It goes like this: We could have done it, or, We retreated from the end of the difficulties, or, It was too hard/dangerous/whatever and so we retreated, followed by the obligatory: We reached our personal summit and named our route Steel Balls. Arg.

    I suppose that the rationalizations remain unimportant. Maybe trying hard and returning with that feeling somewhere between emptiness and spaciousness is what we’re after – yes, I think that’s ultimately it. Whether “success” or “failure.”

    Granted, success feels better than failure, but they’re both important, no?

    [Josh Wharton in the Nangma Valley, Pakistan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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