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    Picture Story: Competency

    A photographic exposition, in which the photographer herein pontificates on the significance of sufficient competency in the face of ample conditions . . . -Ed


    The joys of competency and individuality – The Chief and I seemed to have the latter down pat, anyway. I suppose we delude ourselves, which is part of the beauty of escape and climbing. Back in the mid 90s, midway up the north face of the Canadian Rockies’ classic Mt. Edith Cavell, rated an old-school 5.7 (we’d have been wise to check the weather and conditions before leaving, and to have scoped the approach and the route, have not arrived after dark and too many road sodas, have…well, you get the point), a full-on blizzard engulfed us. I began to shiver uncontrollably, and indeed The Chief showed true competency and took over, leading us to the top and down the whiteout descent. By the time I’d warmed enough to become functional, the next day had dawned and we intersected a highway of a trail off the descent scramble. We started hiking the right way, convinced ourselves it was the wrong way, turned around and hiked a couple of miles toward the Tonquin Valley until a couple of bewildered hikers – bewildered like, “what are these two idiots doing out here?” – eventually set us straight. “Uh, yeah – YEAH dude, totally, I thought so!” The Chief told them. “Thanks for clarifying it for us!” Back at the high-speed pod 30-some hours after leaving, we reveled in our adventure. At least until we read that infamous guidebook line: “A competent party can climb the face comfortably in a day….”

    And still, we celebrated.

    [The Chief, back at the high-speed pod, celebrating our incompetence. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Picture Story: Conditions

    Another in our occasional series of posts for the more visually oriented. This one goes out to all those lucky enough to charge off the couch and into the unknown without looking back or thinking twice . . . or doing much thinking at all, for that matter. - Ed

    Cordes - n face Edith Cavell (LR)

    This photo is from one of my earliest technical alpine climbs, the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell some 15 years ago, when The Chief and I zipped from Missoula to the Canadian Rockies in his dented, pea-green Honda Civic hatchback, “The high-speed pod.” (coincidentally, I currently drive a Civic hatchback of about the same year – different color, though). We bumbled into the trailhead parking lot near midnight in a low-cloud drizzle, opened the doors and rolled-out with a bunch of empty beer cans (this was a long time ago, and we were a lot stupid), slept for a few hours, overslept, got lost immediately upon leaving the parking lot, realized at sunrise that we’d mistakenly approached beneath huge seracs, made a hasty traverse and eventually found the general vicinity of the route. In the dark the night before, while packing, I’d insisted we needed only one ice axe each. “Looks easy up there, dude,” I said. “It’s only 5.7.” It might have been reasonable to check the weather and conditions before leaving. Conditions - including our own.

    [The Chief just before a blizzard rolled in, midway into a minor epic on the 4,000-foot, 5.7 north face of Mt. Edith Cavell, first climbed in 1961 by Fred Beckey, Yvon Chouinard and Dan Doody. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

    Read part two: Competency

    Picture Story: Wave of the Day


    In the summer of 2010 Margo Pellegrino paddled the West Coast of the United States to bring attention to pollution and other issues facing the ocean. Along the way she met some wonderful people and experienced both the sublime and the terrifying. Here she shares a story of one of the lighter moments on her journey:

    The summer of 2010 I paddled from Seattle to San Diego, as a project of the Blue Frontier Campaign, in an effort to draw media attention to the many problems facing our ocean and coastal areas. My partner in this, June Barnard, and I met for the first time on June 25th, a little more than a week before embarking on the two and a half month long adventure. During that time, we became fast friends and a solid team.

    While the Oregon and Washington coasts offered different types of gnarly, the California coast offered almost a respite. The timing of the trip was everything, so after catching the tail end of ugly in the Pacific Northwest, we hit the California coast when life was sweet as conditions became perfect and enjoyable. We laughed more, we were actually warm on a few occasions, the fog seemed to lesson, sort of, and I could paddle with my wetsuit top down, and life was grand.

    Continue reading "Picture Story: Wave of the Day" »

    Picture Story: Wind

    A test of the elements atop the Bishop’s Cap, Glacier National Park, MT, with Justin Woods back in 2009. In early 2010 I destroyed my lower leg, and multiple surgeries later, culminating with several procedures this past Monday by my heroes at the Steadman Clinic, I’m on my way again. Though I might not look it in the video – serious concentration required for these high-end productions, you know – I’m the happiest person on crutches imaginable right now. I can’t wait to get back to goofing off in the mountains.

    [Video: Kelly Cordes]

    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.

    Picture Story: Prayer for Thanksgiving Snow

    The snow has finally come to the Sierra Nevada, giving those of us who moved here to be close to the mountains all the more reason to be thankful. If you're able to make skiing part of your Thanksgiving holiday this year, here's a little something to offer up before you drop in:

    T-day pow

    Now I point 'em down the steep,

    I pray to Lord this powder's deep,

    If my turns don't face-shots make,

    I'll have another run to take.

    [Nov. 24, 2010, 7:30a.m. - An unnamed skier gets ready to genuflect with gratitude, 30 minutes from Patagonia's Reno Distribution Center. Photo: localcrew]

    Picture Story: Shandar!

    Sometimes a compelling image says everything, no words needed. Sometimes the most basic photo hides a deeper meaning, an experience, a story; maybe a few details deepen what we see in that captured moment, or maybe it’s something we never imagined. Other times it’s just a pretty picture. That’s all.

    A lot of my posts run long, taking some time to read. They also take a lot of time to compose (I know, hard to believe upon reading my posts, much like when someone sees art and goes, “My kid could do that.”) So, we got to thinking that sometimes a brief post, almost like a haiku, might be nice. Break-up the tempo a bit. Here’s the first of this periodic series, in which we’ll post a photo(s) with minimal text.


    Cordes - fire shandar-2Shandar!” shouted Sarfraz, our assistant cook, at the explosion that was the daily lighting of our campfire in Pakistan’s Nangma Valley. Shandar means excellent, rad, beautiful. But I suppose it can mean different things. Rain soaked us for weeks. Ghafoor, our cook, guide and dear friend, and Sarfraz spent every afternoon gathering enough firewood to build enormous white-man’s fires, usually pouring kerosene directly onto them while lit. Josh once suggested that maybe such an enormous fire wasn’t necessary each night, and Ghafoor looked at him as if he was speaking French. So I grabbed one of our fuel canisters and made a hucking motion toward the fire. Josh smiled and shrugged. Ghafoor's eyes lit up. Terrible, I know, but…Shandar!

    [Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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