The Cleanest Line

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    Kids of the Times

    by Kelly Cordes

    Silence. So rare, so nice. Four recent days of disconnected bliss – from the e-world, that is. But fully connected in more natural ways, like with climbing, food, friends, a river and beer. My only reading was on paper, not on a screen. It was nice, anyway, until a leisurely check of my phone messages upon our return snapped me back into the modern world. It was my sister: “You are SUCH a loser. Do you have any idea that you and that stupid mullet of yours is in the New York F*%king Times?”

    Gambino - RES_6085

    [The boat times, with CF Scariot (left), Kelly Cordes (reading) and Andrew Gram (drinking). Photo: Dan Gambino]

    Whatever. I was still in namaste land, so I texted her that I’d have my agent return her call. Wait, what? Well I’ll be damned. Climbing all up in the Times. The Sunday Magazine had a photo essay on the Ouray Ice Festival, where I was working hard. Strange world these days. Especially how this increase in virtual connectedness can sometimes leave us feeling disconnected.

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    Skimo in Black

    by Kelly Cordes

    Bang. The gun went off. I was wearing a suit. First time in a couple decades or more (for the suit, not the gun). All black, like Johnny Cash.

    But I wasn’t robbing a train or singing the Folsom Prison Blues; I was doing a randonee ski race. Don’t think I’ve done a formal race in nearly 20 years – maybe since I was the first woman finisher in the Seattle Marathon. And this was a sprint race, a distance I’ve never been good at, but so what.

    Kc - dojoe costumeIMG_3877(LR)

    [The Gimpy Man in Black before the race at Eldora Resort. Photo: Cordes collection]

    I’ve been loving ski touring, a.k.a. randonee, a.k.a. ski mountaineering – skimo for short. I love how stupid that name sounds, too. I’m not a skimo. You’re the skimo. The gliding motion is easy on my cankle, and allows me glimpses of that feeling I love more than anything: moving in the mountains.

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    Cerro Torre: A Modest Proposal

    by Kelly Cordes

    Seems most of us have moved on from the latest climbing world drama. Thank god. So I'll sneak-in a quick suggestion that nobody can disagree with: Put the compressor in a museum. Uh-oh. I just remembered that this is climbing. And this is the Internet. I should revise my assertion: nobody reasonable could possibly argue that, somehow, a 300-pound metal engine belongs littered on the flanks of Cerro Torre.

    Hardly anyone sees it up there anyway. Yet people clearly have a sentimental attachment to it (just look at the overblown reactions to this whole ordeal). Everybody agrees that it never belonged on Cerro Torre to begin with – notwithstanding a few “True Believers,” who also stand by Maestri’s 1959 hoax, and can’t be bothered by such trivialities as evidence and reason. Anyway, we can debate Hayden and Jason’s bolt removal ad nauseam (we’re well on our way, if not beyond). But the rusting heap of metal hanging on the side of Cerro Torre? C’mon. Even the True Believers. One word: museum. Maybe Argentina would even give the compressor to Italy, and then everyone would be happy.

    Even those who use the nonsense argument that chopping some of the Compressor Route’s bolt-ladders was “elitist” would be pleased. Everyone can enjoy its namesake in a museum. You don’t even have to be a climber. What could be less elitist than that?

    Cordes - CR descent LR

    [The infamous namesake of the Compressor Route. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Current Events

    by Kelly Cordes

    Crazy world we live in. Somebody ought to sell tickets. Hell, I’d buy one. Some thoughts on current events, large and small:

    • Wednesday was National Margarita Day. It’s about time, what with all this recent climbing world drama. Surely a little drinky can soothe some nerves, maybe temper the frenzy. Me, I’ve been fine all along (calmer than you are, dude...) – but I guess when you live it, every day is margarita day.

    Related: Got an email that made me blush. By one reader’s count, I’ve posted at least six margarita recipes on this blog, including The Cleanest Marg (my first post as a TCL regular), The Shackboy Marg, The Damiana-Sotol Marg, The Memorial Day Marg, The Uri No-Exposed-Bone Marg, and The Trying Hard Marg. Whoa. I wasn’t keeping track myself, ya know I’m really not into the numbers. Sure, some people might feel compelled to say things like, like… “Greatest marg drinker ever!” or, “How does he do it? This marg rules!” or, “For being short and gimpy, he sure does make a damn good margarita!” or even, “I think Cordes is the world margarita champion!” But that’s just a vanity thing that I try to steer clear of. I mean, it’s really all about the experience.

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    Cerro Torre: Deviations from Reason

    by Kelly Cordes

    Late afternoon January 16, Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk sat on the summit of Cerro Torre, making a decision.

    Backup. For starters, let’s be clear: None of us has an inalienable right to summit anything. If you aren’t capable of climbing a peak after a manmade path has been removed, nothing has been stolen from you.

    “If there is such a thing as spiritual materialism, it is displayed in the urge to possess the mountains rather than to unravel and accept their mysteries,” wrote the great Polish climber Voytek Kurtyka.

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    [Cerro Torre, with the southeast ridge roughly ascending the spine, facing the camera, in the center of the frame (the route approaches around from the right, out-of-view, to reach the huge snow blob at the base of the ridge). Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    I’m specifically referring to yet another raging controversy on Cerro Torre, the otherworldly Patagonian spire. In my 11 years at the American Alpine Journal (where I’m the senior editor), I’ve educated myself on Cerro Torre’s bizarre and complex history. I also have first-hand knowledge – in 2007, Colin Haley and I climbed a new link-up on the south and west aspects of Cerro Torre, before rappelling down the controversial Compressor Route (which ascends the peak’s southeast ridge).

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    Lines of Eleven

    by Kelly Cordes


    Note: On this blog in 2011 I wrote over 30,000 words in 40 original blog posts (to TCL readers, I apologize for the resultant drop in your IQ). I also edited and introduced another seven posts from other authors, and wrote a little on my personal blog (where I put my inappropriate rants). So I got this idea to paste sentences, or, in occasional spots, phrases from a sentence, from my TCL posts into one randomly connected paragraph. I kept original formatting, like italics, and tried to avoid pasting any consecutive sentences, though I cheated in a spot or two. And with 30k words, I got overwhelmed, so I just did it for the first half of the year (I know, what an overachiever). Here it is:

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    The No Resolution Resolution

    by Kelly Cordes

    “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?” folks ask. They don’t really ask me, though, because I’m wary of holiday parties (depends on how much booze is there) and go, Huh? Is that like a “five-year plan” or whatever? I heard a person recently talking about how ten is the new five, or something – like now it’s a “ten-year plan.”

    Easy there, chief, let’s not get carried away. I don’t know what I’m doing five days from now.

    I also don’t generally like holiday gatherings, because they often seem fake. Everyone acts as if they like each other (I’ve been to a few where everyone actually did like each other, and was shocked… this ain’t Christmas!), which they show by buying each other needless things. Bah humbug.

    So I resolve to avoid such gatherings – call me a go-getter. Maybe I’m grumpy since my endless hours of rehab, from my six recent surgeries, don’t have me back where I want to be. Unrealistic, perhaps. Probably. But I don’t just want the climbing. Hell, in terms of difficulty I’m not climbing much worse than I used to. No, I want that feeling back, that flow, the way it feels when I can move without restriction, without wincing, without worry or fear. Sometimes I still get glimpses. Not that I was ever satisfied with where I was – I always wanted to improve, and always wanted more of that feeling. And I’ll admit that I battle with the reality that I’ll never be as physically capable as I once was, and the question of what that means to me. Maybe I have to lower my standards. I can do that. If it will give me that feeling.

    Trotter - Bro Love 8
    [We want YOU to have a happy new year! Photo: Sonnie Trotter]

    Regardless, I’ve never been much for outwardly stated goals.

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    Old Young Friends

    by Kelly Cordes

    Mid-morning it hit me for the millionth time: this is ridiculous. Only, at this point in my life I rarely think of it as ridiculous-stupid. More like, ridiculous-ok-fine-so-what, with a chuckle-twist on the side. It was my inaugural day of taking the tools for a walk, 2011, and my friend Artley and I carried packs full of ice climbing gear to the base of Hessie Chimney, only to find it bone dry.

    Editor's note: This post is rated T for teen because of some profanities.

    “Well, we could just climb it, but it’s warm enough that I’d probably take off my gloves and climb bare handed,” Artley said.

    “Yeah. If there was a bunch of bullshit snow covering the choss, then it’d seem more worth it, huh.”

    We both paused – like a simultaneous realization that my words were equal parts true and absurd – and then laughed.

    “Sooo, Eldo?”


    Kc - IMG_3549
    [Artley Goodhart taking the first lead in a snowy Eldorado Canyon. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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    Special Places: Hyalite Canyon

    by Kelly Cordes

    Some places seem special, and I can’t always articulate why. I think it’s the smell of the air, the look of the place, the memories it holds. In a sense, Hyalite Canyon, near Bozeman, Montana, one of countless canyons in the American West of similar scale, isn’t extraordinary. Until you begin to unlock its secrets, which include over 200 ice and mixed pitches, and an incredible history of human experiences.

    Gambino - hyalite002
    [Pete Tapley on an early attempt at what would become Zack Attack, with Kelly Cordes belaying. Photo: Dan Gambino]

    This weekend is the 15th annual Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival, and so I got to thinking of writing about their festival, but the festival exists because the place exists, the memories exist, the legacy of Hyalite that has influenced so many of us. Me included, and in so many ways. One of the first places I learned to climb ice, some 18 years ago, was Hyalite. And Hyalite was the last place that I climbed waterfall ice – on February 1, 2010, the day I shattered my leg.

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    - By Kelly Cordes

    Kc - dawn at dusk IMG_3472
    [Late-day light on the Dawn Wall, on Tommy’s final effort. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    I’ve long thought that the most wasted resource on earth is talent. Talent abounds, yet optimizing its potential requires devoted effort. Of course we also have to consider opportunity, and the whole talent-and-effort issue makes regular news. There’s the “10,000-Hour Rule” of practice, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his celebrated and best-selling book Outliers – underscoring the importance of effort.  Recently I read an article about intellectual giftedness – underscoring the importance of talent.

    As far as natural ability goes, exceptional athletes are everywhere. Those who fully maximize that talent through hard work and effort, however, seem rare; I suspect they have to love it, truly love it, deep-down love it. Not just love success, or even the idea of success. Not just talk about it, and not find excuses when things get grim.

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