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    Being Barney Rubble

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - dawnwallIMG_3246

    Damn, I thought as I glanced around, I’m like Barney Rubble at a superhero convention. Sonnie Trotter to my left, Alex Honnold to my right. I know what you’re thinking: Did you owe those guys money? Or maybe: Oh, one of those high school intelligence tests, “Which does not fit in this group?” Sonnie is poised and eager to try to repeat The Prophet, and Alex just raced up the Nose in like two and a half hours (among a bizillion other things recently). Pretty wild, sometimes, this small world climbing thing.

    Earlier in the day Tommy and I played phone tag – I stood along the road, looking at his portaledge while babbling on his voice mail: “Dude, can you see me? I’m wearing an orange jacket and waving: Hi Tommy, hi!”

    “What are you doing?” my special lady friend asked.

    “I’m waving to Tommy, but he won’t know it’s me until he listens to his messages. Huhuh, this is so cool!”

    She just stared.

    Is it lame that I’m 43 and a “fan” of my friends?

    [Above: Looking up from the base of the Dawn Wall, with Tommy’s camp visible. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Continue reading "Being Barney Rubble" »

    The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not

    by Kelly Cordes

    Caldwell - IMG_2184
    [Tommy Caldwell moving the portaledge during his attempt to free the Dawn Wall. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    Tuesday night, November 1, 9:58 p.m., posted on Tommy Caldwell’s Facebook page:

     

    “No send tonight. But the craziness of the situation struck me. Trying to climb 5.14 by headlamp during a super intense wind storm. Strangely invigorating. I love the experience but am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project.”

    I’ve often been a crusty bastard about from-the-route publicity. Ironic, I know, and indeed we all want to draw the circle around ourselves, starting with my going, “yeah but…” and explaining how my propensity to spray on the interwebs is soooo different from all that “bullshit” out there. Right. And I generally stick to it. I’m a fan of send first, spray second. That comes mostly from an alpine climbing mentality – it’s hard to imagine how you can be doing something that’s invariably publicized as “futuristic” or “cutting edge” if...hmmm...well, uh, so then, how did the camera guy get up there?

    Yeah but, Tommy’s Dawn Wall climb really is different. Different in that it’s so – yes, futuristic – difficult that Tommy’s not climbing it in some lightweight (ie. easy?) push. When you’re doing a pitch or two a day (notwithstanding the final planned day of 12 pitches up to a mere 5.13, if it all works out), then on those slow days, when you’re redpointing 5.14+, does it affect anything to have a media circus shooting photos and video?

    Continue reading "The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not" »

    Family Affair on the Dawn Wall

    by Kelly Cordes

    Berkompas - 20111025-IMG_3134
    [Tommy on the Dawn Wall, practicing this one move I taught him. Photo: Kyle Berkompas]

    When I see a photo of someone climbing a severely overhanging 5.14 limestone sport route, I marvel at the physical prowess. Amazing. And though I can't imagine being that good myself, I can see how some people can do it; I can sort of imagine it. At least I can see the holds. But 5.14+ climbing on a vertical granite face? Huh? Tommy’s Dawn Wall project doesn't look like it has a single god-damned hold on the thing. The other day a handful of friends were saying how we've been on 11+ or 5.12 granite slabs and sworn that we were standing on absolutely nothing, holding absolutely nothing, and stuck, unable to move ("There’s nothing here! Nothing!"). How the hell can anything be more technical? It blows my mind.

    Anyway, Tommy has launched, and it’s going well. As you may know – he's been quite open and public about it (not that he has much choice, given that you can see the route from the road in Yosemite Valley), even posting some updates from the wall on his Facebook page. Bahhumbug, blasphemy!? I'm not so sure, and I've got some thoughts on it, and some of Tommy's, that I'll post here soon.

    Continue reading "Family Affair on the Dawn Wall" »

    Halloween Bloodbath (?)

    by Kelly Cordes

    Kc - IMG_0755
    [Parking lot Limbo. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    "It's gonna be a bloodbath!"

    The words rocked me back to my mullet years in the 80s, back in high school, central Pennsylvania. "Oh my," Mean Gene would usually add. I'm talking about Mean Gene Okerlund, the rounded, balding, deadpan serious WWF announcer. As you know, WWF would later become WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, rather than Federation), and things would never be the same. It's when rasslin' lost its soul, became all about the money and show instead of love of the sport. As a former diehard professional wrestling fan (today I can no longer bear witness to the charade it has become), I feel qualified in my assessment, and not just because of my mullet – I attended multiple events live. Like Mean Gene, I kept it real. I once shook the massive hand of Andre the Giant (RIP), got the Junkyard Dog's autograph in a bar, got spit on by one of the Samoans, and chased by George the Animal Steele (at the shows in Altoona, Pennsylvania, they sometimes eschewed fan restraints, unthinkable as it seems given the IQ and behavioral tendencies of most [emphasis mine] 'rasslin fans). Anyway, when Mean Gene talked bloodbaths, he usually spoke of an upcoming steel cage match, as in, "This Saturday night, at the West Virginia state fairgrounds, Superfly Snuka and Rowdy Roddy Piper, in the steel cage! It's gonna be a bloodbath, ladies and gentlemen!" Oops, almost forgot: "Oh my."

    "Dude, there's gonna be Gremlins swinging from the rafters," Josh said next, snapping me out of my 1986 nostalgia. Josh Nielsen, who manages Patagonia's ambassador team (not unlike herding cats), was telling me about the upcoming all-company Halloween party.

    Continue reading "Halloween Bloodbath (?)" »

    Notes from Pakistan - Part 1

    by Kelly Cordes

    IMG_1081 - kc Pkstn2011(LR)

    I just returned from seven weeks in Pakistan, where I took a few notes:

    [Hayden Kennedy in base camp, with K6 rising in the background. Photo: Kelly Cordes]:

    • Getting from the States to Islamabad went smooth as silk. Best airline ever? Emirates. “Baller,” as Hayden put it. Side note: “Baller” is not, as I’d ignorantly guessed, a crude reference. Rather, it originally referred to great basketball players, usually inner city street kids who made it big, though it’s come to mean anything done well, and livin’ large. Emirates, baller. Definitely baller. The cheap seats are like friggin’ first class. “Um, ma’am, I think I might be in the wrong seat, but first class is way up front and I can see the back of the plane right there so I’m confused,” I said. “No sir, this is your seat. Would you like a hot towel and a drink?” Ummm, OK.

    Continue reading "Notes from Pakistan - Part 1" »

    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.

    Continue reading "Tango" »

    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.

    Continue reading "Reputations" »

    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]

    Continue reading "Nights" »

    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]

    Continue reading "To Suffer Well" »

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