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    Going Monk?

    by Kelly Cordes

    I gotta dig down, I gotta go monk. Ever seen Zoolander? Of course you have. Me, too – about a hundred times. It’s a hilarious spoof on the world of male modeling, and there’s that classic scene of the “walk-off” challenge when, between rounds, Hansel digs deep and pulls out what’s needed to win the comp. Thus it seemed fitting to Jonny Copp and me, in 2003, to name our new route “Going Monk.” High on an obscure peak in the East Fork of the Kahiltna, as a storm rolled in, we continued, driven, summiting in a whiteout and fighting through a spooky descent.

    I wrote about inspiration, Jonny and my love for climbing in the mountains in a recent piece, The Art of Disaster Style, published in the latest Elevation Outdoors. Funny thing is that for the photo of Jonny on our route, they wrote a serious caption referencing our route name (Jonny would have loved it!). Same with a Rock & Ice editor back then, when they did a news piece and the editor asked, “Did you guys name it ‘Going Monk’ because you saw God?” Me, completed flummoxed: “Nah man, haven’t you seen Zoolander?”

    Flash forward to ten days ago: Justin Woods and I sit on a ledge 12 pitches up the Eye Tooth. Massive avalanches roar through the cirque, crashing down from the mid-day heat melting the snowpack. Alive. We’re totally safe, out on a pillar, though Justin hacks like a smoker – or, to extend the Zoolander thing – a longtime coal miner.

    Kc - justin leading IMG_5212(LR)

    [Black lung and all, Justin Woods leading on the west face of the Eye Tooth, Alaska. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    A Sort of Homecoming

    by Kelly Cordes


    Dude at curbside didn't budge from his chair. Gave me a bored look.

    "Can you take my bags?" I asked.

    He sighed. "How much they weigh?"

    "'Bout 65 pounds each. I already checked 'em in online."

    "Still gotta take 'em inside," he said, barely moving. "They're too heavy."

    "You sure? Because I'm allowed three 70-pound bags and I only have two," I said, with a hint of smug pride at coming in light for a climbing trip – a lifetime first. His boredom shifted to confusion, like he knew what this meant but it didn't jibe with what stood before him: a scarred and scraggly dude in a baggy T-shirt who limped from the car in a bad mullet. Side note: in a case of mistaken brilliance, I gave my mullet a homemade trim before leaving for the airport. I botched it. Bad. It now looks terrible.

    Dude stood up. Looked at his printout.

    "First class, Premier Status," I said, flashing a nonchalant sideways glance. 

    "I'd be happy to help you with that, Mr. Cordes! Going to Anchorage, correct?"

    [Above: Kelly Cordes descending London Tower after the first ascent of the Trailer Park. Photo: Scott DeCapio]

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    Captain Bumbly and the Hammershark

    by Kelly Cordes

    Dammit Hammershark, I mumbled as CFS and I began rapping from Mammoth Terrace – 10 pitches up El Cap – to the ground, in the dark. Someone had forgotten our food bag. Granted, Hammershark had nothing to do with it, but he was outvoted. (We had to blame someone.) CFS and I were the last to leave the truck, and somehow spaced the food bag. Surely it had nothing to do with our midday margarita sendoff. None of us had (or have) ever climbed El Cap – “The Captain.” We were off to a helluva start.

    CFS and I jugged back up in the morning, and the cluster began. I’ve gone stupid-light on plenty of climbs, but stupid-heavy? Gimme the manspoon over slow and heavy any day. I’d never done a climb using bigwall party tactics – I’m a bigwall bumbly for sure – and I’d soon discover why they call big haul bags “the pigs.”

    But we’d have none of that. Ever since my New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been trying to be more positive.

    [Above: Captain Bumbly slide show by Kelly Cordes.]

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    The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15

    by Kelly Cordes

    "The best thing about screwing up," I said, speaking from a wealth of experience, "is that you can only improve from here." Tommy had just forgotten his climbing shoes. He and Alex Honnold – a climbing dream-team if there ever was – were 45 minutes into the hike for their first climb in an utterly audacious Yosemite linkup: the All-Free Triple. That’s climbing the three biggest grade VI walls in the Valley all free, on lead and second, in a day: Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, Half Dome. But partway into the hike, Tommy remembered that he’d spaced his shoes. Given that I’ve forgotten every imaginable piece of equipment at some point in my life, I felt a kinship to the A-team (hey, we all grasp at a connection to greatness when we can…). Anyway, Jeff Johnson and I were tagging along when we weren’t getting lost, lending subbie support, a bit like the B (or C) team, mostly psyched to witness such a feat. It’s not everyday that we get front-row seats to world-class achievements, but the climbing world is still unique like that.

    Jeff j - 20120519JJ0065
    [Tommy and Alex atop El Cap at sunrise on May 19, after free climbing Free Rider by headlamps in 6:45 (this after first racing up Mt. Watkins, and before Half Dome). Photo: Jeff Johnson]

    Following that auspicious start, we got the shoes and the boys put the hammer down. South Face of Watkins in 2 hours and 50 minutes, then Free Rider on El Cap in 6:45 (via headlamp), and the Regular Route on Half Dome in 5 hours. Over 7,000 vertical feet of free climbing up to 5.12+, some 75 guidebook pitches climbed in less than 30 pitches – via extensive simulclimbing, through 5.12 – and the entire linkup, base of first to top of last, in 21:15.

    Continue reading "The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15" »

    Park Rumors

    by Kelly Cordes

    “I hear Tommy had to carry you out of the Park the other night,” the Danimal said over the phone. “Carried ya in his strong arms like Kevin Costner with Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.”

    Dammit. So this is how rumors get started.

    Rewind. First, last weekend, me and my special lady friend (SLF) did this:

    Kc - toots lumpy IMG_4446(LR)
    [A fun Saturday on Lumpy Ridge. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Pretty nice little Saturday, actually. Damn, it’s a great time of year in the ‘Rado.

    But then on Tuesday, for some stupid reason, Weasel One and I went scratchy climbing in the Park. We heard Alexander’s Chimney was in good shape – a nice, moderate outing, and I haven’t climbed much scratchy stuff since breaking my leg two and a half years ago, so I thought it might be a good time. You know, pull some G’s. (G is for grovel.)

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    An Outing with Donini: Birdwatching (Part Four)

    by Kelly Cordes

    In early 2009, Kelly took a trip to Northern Chilean Patagonia with climbing legend Jim Donini. Here, Kelly revisits his notes from an adventure with Jim. This is the final part of a series of short posts from their trip. Click to read the first, second and third.


    As we start down from the top of the snow mound, returning to our bivy – we would never get any closer to the route – a condor circles overhead. The Andean Condor is the world’s largest flying land bird, with wingspans of 10 feet and weights of 25 pounds. I pull out my camera, and another one comes. They circle us. They cover enormous ranges and have visual acuity beyond our comprehension. Surely they’ve seen humans before. Just not up here. I’m awe-struck as they glide around, sometimes still for a moment on a thermal, suspended in space, before changing direction and soaring away.

    Kc - first condor IMG_0484
    [An Andean Condor begins to check us out. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    We downclimb the easy snow slopes and they follow. A third one arrives. When the birds see another circling miles away, they must figure it’s carrion – their sole sustenance – and come for some feeding. I’m glad I’m not any smaller.

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    An Outing with Donini: Puzzles (Part Three)

    by Kelly Cordes

    In early 2009, Kelly took a trip to Northern Chilean Patagonia with climbing legend Jim Donini. Here, Kelly revisits his notes from an adventure with Jim. This is the third in a series of short posts from their trip. Read the first here, and the second here.

    Kc - donini IMG_0489


    When we stood there, scoping the face with binoculars and discussing possibilities, somehow I thought of Jim’s story about why he got into the military some 45 years prior. He was a teenager driving on the turnpike in PA – near Philly, where he grew up – and had two buddies with him in the car. Last thing Jim remembers was having his driver’s window down and his arm hanging out. It was late at night and his buddies were asleep. Next thing he remembered was waking up in the overturned car. His best friend and the other buddy were both dead. As Jim told me the story, his voice didn’t waver and he didn’t elaborate, he just told it. Maybe it’s the passage of time. He said nothing about emotions or scars, and I didn’t ask. Then he paused and said, “So then I joined the Army.”

    He wanted to be in the action, and he likes solving puzzles. He did extremely well in the admissions tests, and got into Special Forces (a.k.a. Green Berets; back then there weren’t sub-divisions). They initially had him training for radio repair, of all things. He said there’s a B-team that does crucial intelligence and logistics work. Then there’s the A-team, which doesn’t do radio repair, but that goes in and does the doing.

    [Above: Donini high above the glacier in Northern Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Discussions of Influence

    by Kelly Cordes

    Dave Graham wasn’t holding back at the Outlook. For those who don’t know, Graham is one of the best rock climbers to come along in the last decade. We were guests on a live on-stage radio show, by ClimbTalk, at the Outlook Hotel and Bar in Boulder last Monday. The various guests talked usual climber-talk, and the conversation was mostly tame. Until Graham, animated and intense, took hold of the mic. He launched passionate opinions on climbing ethics, the American government, overly restrictive rules in national parks, and the lack of cohesion in the climbing community. As the energy of the audience rose, I overheard a whisper: “I wonder what his sponsors think of this?”

    Which got me thinking… is there merit to the notion that climbers are increasingly becoming soulless commodities to their sponsors’ marketing machines, speaking in corporate-friendly trivialities, and that the climbing media has done the same? At the front, it sounds absurd. Then again, this is America 2012.

    Issues such as these recently sent the climbing blogosphere abuzz, after climber and art history professor Peter Beal wrote a provocative blog entitled “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There an Alternative?” Beal writes of the marketing influence on climbers and the climbing media, leading to a dearth of coverage of serious topics and controversial issues, and asserts, “The climbing environment is reaching a tipping point in terms of how much more commodification it can stand before a total vitiation of the core of the sport is achieved.”

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    An Outing with Donini: Porch Angles (Part Two)

    by Kelly Cordes

    In early 2009, Kelly took a trip to Northern Chilean Patagonia with climbing legend Jim Donini. Here, Kelly revisits his notes from an adventure with Jim. This is the second in a series of short posts from their trip. Read the first here.

    Kc - doniniSV IMG_0404

    Porch Angles

    Just before dark, utterly worked at the decidedly unimpressive altitude of 2,350', we found a flat mini-meadow and bivied. In the morning, within an hour of moderate bushwhacking we reached what Jim calls the “Sound of Music Meadows.” Indescribably beautiful, rolling meadows with peaks and ponds in every direction, not a road in sight, glaciers winding in valleys below and icefalls tumbling from glacial plateaus. Another smaller meadow lies above, then a scrappy rock band, and then long, easy snow climbing culminating in a crevasse-riddled climb up an unnamed ca 6,200' peak that’s the key to reaching the line that Jim won’t shut up about seeing from his porch.

    [Above: Jim scheming at our first bivy, still only a fraction of the ways toward San Valentin. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    An Outing with Donini: Entry Fee (Part One)

    by Kelly Cordes

    In early 2009, Kelly took a trip to Northern Chilean Patagonia with climbing legend Jim Donini. Here, Kelly revisits his notes from an adventure with Jim. This is the first in a series of short posts from their trip.

    Kc - sVal view P1050430

    Entry Fee

    I’ll be damned, the old man was right. Chilean friends universally flashed doubtful looks when I said we planned to access San Valentin from Mirador, rather than the epic icecap way – probably the main reason why this line remains unclimbed. And this line, well, Jim has a full-on woody for it, won’t stop looking at it, won’t stop talking about it, because, he readily admits, he can see it from the front porch of his house (his and his wife’s humble but tranquil “retirement home” in pretty much the middle of nowhere). This was January 2009, and I’d spent the previous week in Santiago, and when friends asked I’d just shrug my shoulders and make air quotes in saying that Jim claims he “Has it all figured out.” One Chilean, who’d just come back from a month on the icecap, shook his head and smiled a smile that said, OK, but you gringos have no idea. He’s right that I had no idea. Jim, on the other hand, older than my dad (Jim was 65 then, but going on 30 – still is), has forgotten more great climbs than I’ll ever do. He’s a walking talking climbing legend who’s still cranking trad-eleven (5.11 trad routes, that is), and he knows how to figure things out.

    [Above: The coveted view from the porch – literally shot from Donini’s porch – with the unclimbed north ridge of San Valentin in profile in the middle of the frame. Lago General Carrera in the foreground. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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