Birthday Present — The Jonny Marg

Today is Jonny Copp’s birthday. He would have been 36. I don’t know how to feel, how I should feel, how I actually feel – confused, sad, and grateful, I guess. Grateful daily, I think of him daily, even the day I sat broken in the snow in Hyalite I thought of him, thought of him with gratitude. Confused because death is such an enigma. We throw out clichés, about how the ones we lost wouldn’t want us to be sad, and in their memory we need to live to the fullest – true enough – but it also remains true that he’s gone and no rationalizing changes how much I miss him. Nothing will ever replace the sadness in his parents’ eyes, and the simple fact that they will never be the same.

Jonny on the FA of Going Monk, Mt. Andrews, AK.

And I’m confused, too, because they say time heals but it feels strange that I can now look at his picture, the one I put on my desk after the memorial but haven’t been able put away, and look at it without crying. I still pause and look into his eyes, eyes that burned with life, and still speak to him, but I don’t cry. Not as often, anyway. And I guess that means a day will come that I don’t pause and look in his eyes anymore, or speak to him, or feel indescribably moved when I look on my wall and see the painting of Jonny, as a young boy in India, that leaves me speechless. The night Kristo and I spent with his parents, John and Phyllis, in their home, looking through photo albums until the early morning hours, helped me better understand what made Jonny, Jonny, and to John and Phyllis we are forever grateful.

I want to always remember.

That’s good, because as long as I am alive, I don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s a present and it makes me smile. The people that come into our lives and have an influence, they change us. We are never the same.

Ahhh, that first time in the Black, me and Scotty, Choss Pit virgins, with him and Dylan, the morning rolls on, Jonny manning the chickeneggs and bacon (piggy, of course, always the piggy), me and Scott anxiously glancing at our watches, when suddenly Jonny leads the charge – like two speeds, baby, stop and go – and he and Dylan run from the campsite, gear clanking, Scotty and I drafting on enthusiasm, hooting and shouting bombing down the Cruise Gully, and before we know it we’re down, climb out, go down again and climb another before the buzz wears off and over beers at camp it hits us that we did more than we’d have thought on our own. And Chamonix for a month late winter, five of us piled into that tiny apartment, nonstop laughter, epics, sends, friendships, suffering through the north face of Les Droites way lost, and for some reason I most remember Jonny’s outrageous head bobs at 2 a.m. – standing on a ledge discussing where the hell to go when, his body taught to the anchor, his eyes flutter and his head and torso drift forward to chest height before rocketing back up, bolt upright, eyes wide like saucers and he busts into that laugh, which turns to a smile that stays put as his eyes close and he catches a moment’s sleep while drifting forward again, repeat, repeat, repeat… Upon arrival in Cham, the very next day we bumbled to the Frendo Spur mid-morning, climbed, raced, but missed the last tram down as Scotty D waved to us and atop the Midi station me and Jonny raided the French rescue crew’s kitchen, making cheesy

Next: Cheesy fries! And after that: uh-oh...dude, you hear footsteps? Busted!

fries, emptying their fridge, making it ours until busted and banished to the bathroom bivy. Learning to go for it with him in Alaska a month later – what the hell, made the plans at the end of Cham, why not – when I’d have been content to sit around – weather isn’t perfect, I don’t know… the Brits aghast at our trainwreck, “Look at that camp and tent! The squalor!” and we’d just laugh – and the indecisive Kahiltna hang with everyone else, except you just don’t get away with that with Jonny Copp, and somehow you don’t want to get away with that with Jonny Copp, and so we went between – and partially through – storms, we went monk – I gotta dig down, I gotta go monk (after watching Zoolander on near-constant loop in Cham, Jonny and I could communicate in Zoolander dialogue – Wharton: “Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve been around you two together – it’s really annoying, actually”). Thanks to Jonny, we milked everything out of the trip. Later that summer, the Triple Lindy in RMNP – The Triple Lindy, but that’s impossible! The summer before he left, descending in the Park after a glorious day, talking about his Sara and my Jenna, and just how god-damned lucky and happy we were, and…

Shit. I guess I’m rambling. Even if time heals, healing brings mixed emotions. I don’t want to forget. And I sit here realizing that, well, I guess I’m not quite over the crying yet. But it’s OK. As long as I am alive, I won’t forget Jonny Copp. I couldn’t, even if I tried.


The Jonny Marg

I think it’s fair to say that Jonny wouldn’t be above our drinking damn near anything to celebrate – he just wasn’t that uptight. After all, he came to the white trash party in Estes, sampled my nasty powdered-sours-mix-with-swill-tequila-marg in Alaska, we swilled wine in France, Tecate in the Black, PBR on the Kahiltna – and he’d carried one, hidden from me, all the way in to our no-sleeping-bag bivy in the East Fork, and, after Going Monk – after we descended in a whiteout and I plunged into a crevasse and he pulled me out, trembling and terrified, and we returned to the tent cold, wet, and scared, but I was happy to be there with him – he dug into the snow and handed me the best tasting PBR of my life. I think anything to celebrate Jonny will work. Maybe another way to put it is that it’s not the drink that matters, it’s who you have it with.


Fresh squeezed limes, let’s do it right. Roll them on the countertop, under your palm, softening their skins and making the juices fluid. Roll the ends, too. Squeeze with a juicer – not an automatic one, but do it by hand, it’s better that way. A good lime will yield about two ounces of juice. So, get plenty of limes.

Make simple syrup – the sweetness makes a perfect yin to the lime’s yang – with one part sugar, one part water. Maybe one cup of each, that way you have enough for a few margs. Heat gradually, stirring, but don’t boil. Cool the pot by setting it inside a pot of cold water. Do this first, so it cools while you squeeze the limes.

About one part lime juice, ¾ or so simple syrup – adjust to taste. Add a splash of OJ.


Go for the good stuff. I’m saying Herradura Reposado here. Herradura makes terrific tequila, and the reposado picks up flavors from the wood barrels where it ages, blending with the wildness of agave flavor. Real stuff, a great, honest tequila. Refined and aged, but not too much. Still has its youth, but some maturity, like it has been around and seen some things and grown stronger through experience. I also love blancos, or jovens, love their rawness. Anejos are terrific, too, like an old man sitting in a rocking chair after a wonderful life. But tonight I’m going with the reposado.


Mix equal parts mix and tequila – keep it strong. No triple sec needed here, it just detracts from the simplicity and purity of the ingredients. When it’s this good, there’s no reason to mess with it.

This is a damn fine marg. My personal favorite. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Mix this, or this, the standard, even the beergarita. Even a PBR. If you don’t drink, toast a glass of water. That part doesn’t matter. But maybe it’s a good day to remember what does matter, and to appreciate the people you love. For having them in your lives, you’ll never be the same.

Adapt and Deal

Only 6,500 feet to go. Me feeling a little lighter, a few pitches after dropping part of the rack. Josh Wharton photo

Six years ago this summer, midway up the second pitch of a route, I felt these things hitting my thigh. I looked down to see half our rack sliding off the come-undone gear sling, hitting my leg and bouncing into space. Josh Wharton and I had just started up the unclimbed southwest ridge on Great Trango Tower, in Pakistan, probably the biggest chunk of rock in the world, rising 7,400 vertical feet from base to summit. Uh, shit. What now?

About ten years back Tommy Caldwell, whom I didn’t know at the time but has since become one of my best friends – giving me not only the benefit of osmosis (pretty amazing, really – I can just sit on his porch drinking margs and I get stronger), but a glimpse into his amazingly driven, yet amazingly human, mindset – cut off his finger with a table saw. A rock climber with nine fingers? Right, he’s done.

When our gear sling came open (which was Josh’s fault, I swear…), I reached down and caught a handful of the cams, and the nuts (which I needed in lieu of my own – biggest route I’d been on), and since I had already placed a bunch of gear in the pitch, we lost only five cams or so – about a quarter of our rack. The weather was good so we keep going – what the hell, we were almost there anyway, right? You can do things like that when climbing with someone as good as Josh, I figured.

A recent hangboard session, instructions: "hang on your middle three fingers." For TC, make that middle two.

Tommy has since told me how he’s learned to use his hand in different ways, and how, actually, it forced him to become a better climber because he couldn’t just rely on pure “pulling” all the time.

We all know the stories from there – I’ve sprayed enough about how Josh and I continued and climbed the route, calling it the Azeem Ridge, in four and a half days. It’s hands-down the greatest climb I’ve ever done. Sometimes we needed that missing gear, just like we needed another fuel canister, just like Tommy needed his finger. Or maybe not. You learn things as you go, and most important is the mentality, the willingness to try, and to continually adapt. Without that, you might as well stay on the couch. As for Tommy, we also know that he only got better, becoming the undisputed master of big-wall free-climbing, and pulling off repeated Olympic-caliber performances. Enough to where I get this goofy idea every time I pick up a power tool…

I’ve got to remember the mindset. People do it every day – from inspiring stories about everyday people battling with more than most of us ever have to face, to climbers who remind me to never again make an excuse for myself.

At the BRC yesterday, I saw Chris Klinga – one of the people who recommended me to Dr. Desai, and who was wrecked beyond all imagination, and is now fully back. It got me thinking of his drive. While still in a wheelchair, he rationalized that the pressure he put on his legs when switching from his chair to his bed or whatever was pretty much the same as what you’d put on a foot while riding a bike, so… “Wait, Chris, you mean like a stationary bike?” No, he actually got out and rode a bicycle. “Yeah, you just don’t want to fall,” he said with a chuckle. Hmmm.

A friend in Alaska, who ripped off his foot in a horrific climbing accident, and continues to put-up new routes in the Hayes Range every year, told me that bicycling and cross-country skiing were great recovery activities. You mean like a stationary bike and the Nordic Trak, right? Nope.

“Biking with one leg is actually really easy. The broken leg (as long as the knee is unrestricted) will simply track. … the hard part is getting on and off the bike. Put the seat lower than standard and mount the broken leg side first. Make sure ya ready. Wait why am telling an injured guy how to…oh because it is good for ya, make sure ya are ready to peddle like mad at first — no soft ground or uphill starts.

You can even have someone assist ya, or get on by leaning against a tree or what have you. Oh, and the most critical, when you fall, which you will, fall onto the good leg (duh). Oh, and don’t use bike shoes.

Skiing is more straight-forward. But involves being close to weight bearing. Basically ya put all your weight on one ski, and double pole like a Norwegian.

I’d give it a few weeks if ya can…”

Uh, yeah, I think I’ll give it at least a few weeks. Wackos. But, actually, this reminded me of my own recoveries from past injuries, my absurdly short memory, and that innate human ability to rationalize damn near anything. When I had knee surgery a couple of months after spinal surgery (with the mess that is private health insurance, once you hit that sky-high deductible it’s time for the 60,000-mile full-tune-up), after awhile I was allowed to hike. Well, hiking is pretty much the same thing as scrambling, which is pretty much the same as… One day I found myself a couple hundred feet up the super-easy (5.5) Rock One at Lumpy Ridge, unable to fully flex my knee but reinforcing to myself that I was only hiking, when suddenly struck with the notion that I’m going to feel really stupid if I fall and bite it soloing Rock One.

I’m working on staying smart this time. Still on the stationary bike. No skiing with one leg. But truly, I think a balance exists between what the docs tell you – after all, the average person probably isn’t as driven as most of us are, and not so fit, and the docs don’t want to get sued – and being careful to do no harm. It’s a fine line.

I titled this post “Adapt and Deal,” but a crucial third word comes to mind, one that drives the willingness to adapt, and puts the fire in dealing: determination. An unwillingness to simply fold, to quit.

Marko Prezelj at home.

Another friend, Marko Prezelj, the Slovenian super badass and one of my climbing heroes, surely the greatest living alpinist on the planet (here’s where the 8,000-meter peak-bagging crowd goes “Uh, who? What’s his Sherpa guide’s name?”), wrote me the other day with some encouraging words. Marko’s intense, for sure, but still I don’t know how he does it – 44 years old, been at the cutting edge forever, no signs of slowing, sooo motivated, and with a brilliant eye for art – he sees things with his photography that the rest of us would otherwise miss – has a family, and holds great insights to life. Sorry, I know, enough of the man-crush on Marko already.

So let me just end by saying I love the way the guy signs some of his emails. I think he’s on to something.

Like Marko says: Keep Fighting.

Thinking Outside the Box: A political and economic solution to the BCS dilemma

Pre-ramble: I want to branch-out with my storytelling, go beyond the climbing world and into more mainstream markets. I think I could touch more people that way. As with my last post, for example. And I’ve been dabbling with filmmaking, although my latest offering didn’t make it into Sundance. I had my all-black outfit and hipster haircut ready, and practiced wearing my sunglasses inside after dark, but they never called (whatever, their loss). It makes me realize that working in steps – mainstream sports first, perhaps – might be a wise strategy. As such, unveiling a solution to a serious problem could propel me to the next level. I think the college football season just ended, and though I didn’t hear of any controversy this year, in general their Bowl Championship Series sucks. Even I know that. But unlike all those sportswriter pundits, I have a solution. I’m coming for their jobs – unless Sundance calls me first.

“We made a mistake,” Mike Tranghese told an Associated Press writer a few years ago. Tranghese, then the Big East conference commissioner, was that year’s—I can’t remember which, but pick a year—head of college football’s Bowl Championship Series. The system was designed to ensure an undisputed champion while maintaining the tradition-steeped post-season bowl-game system, but it repeatedly fails, leaving fans and hard-working athletes who also go to college toiling with the unknown until the next year when, maybe, the BCS will work.

The solution, however, is so obvious that I’m surprised nobody’s thought of it sooner. Everyone knows that the real way to determine a true champion is through a playoff system, like college basketball does with their 64-team championship tournament (I think it starts soon). But in football, colleges fear damage to tradition, the bowl game folks fear the loss of money, and there is, of course, the issue of football’s physicality. Following the regular season—which can not and should not be eliminated because of economic stimulus to the towns hosting the games and the need to keep college athletes in classes all fall—an 8- or 16-team playoff would drag on far too long, naysayers say, because players need at least a week to recover between the physically punishing games. But a 64-team playoff tournament, if approached properly, would juke all of these issues and, finally, give us an undisputed champion.

Simple: flag football.

"It's so simple! That Cordes kid really knows his stuff," said college football coaching legend Joe Paterno. "Can't believe I didn't think of that."

For one, a full-contact regular season followed by a flag football post-season would introduce an exciting new strategic element for coaching staffs. Once a team knows they’ll receive a playoff invitation they might opt to pull some of their best players, to keep them fresh and injury free for the Flag Season (which the playoffs will certainly, eventually, be called).

It’ll also help solve our country’s growing obesity problem. Currently, most football fans are clearly overweight. But what are they to do? Nobody could expect them to go out and actually play football because, without the expensive pads, they would get hurt. Health experts say that “lifetime activities”—games or sports in which people can participate throughout their lifespan—are crucial in the obesity war. The flag football players would be tremendous role models, spokesmen for lifetime physical activity. After a hearty session of cheering, the fans would imitate their on-field heroes and play their own games of flag rather than dive into alcohol- and food-binge depression (when their team loses) or alcohol- and food-binge celebrations (when their team wins).

Though politicians and Real ‘Mericans alike would surely admonish the lack of violence as a means of settling disputes, we might find solace in kinder and gentler ways. Replace the post-hit smack talking: “Take that bitch, booyaaa!” with a perky, “Got your flag!”

The flag solution is also non-discriminatory, a big bonus in these politically correct times. Size discrimination has long run rampant in football, and eliminating post-season tackling helps level the playing field. Only the most talented athletes, free from sizism’s bias, would emerge victorious.

Finally, the economic impact—because it’s all about the economy, stupid. Flag Season could return our economy to the PBD (Pre-Bush-Disaster) years. It would create additional jobs for commoners selling peanuts, beer, and chamomile tea during the games, and help justify tax cuts for billionaire stadium owners—a true bipartisan solution. Equipment manufacturers would still get their money from the regular season, as would medical providers and insurance jackals. Factories in Asia would sew the flag belts, therefore bringing money to impoverished nations and instilling a valuable work ethic in their youth.

The 63 games wouldn’t take long because, as we remember from high school gym class and college intramurals, you can play a couple of flag football games in a single day. No “week off” sissification necessary. Greater productivity. The games could be hosted by the current 34 (or whatever it’s up to now) bowl games, keeping them happy, while creating opportunities for 29 new bowl games. Again, good for the economy.

The harshest critics, the fundamentalists, surely think such a proposal absurd because, they’ll say, you gotta have tackling to have real football. But there’s no tackling allowed in basketball, and their playoff works fine.

Minor Rant, Major Language Warning: Ticketmaster Sucks

Note: This post has absolutely nothing to do with climbing and is filled with bad words. Lots of f-bombs, but nothing like the 292 in The Big Lebowski. If you’re having a cheery day and want something upbeat, click here instead.

All the dude wanted was his rug back. And all Phil, my brother-in-law, and I want to do is go to the Lebowski Fest, pathetic and sad as that may be, in a couple of weeks, in Los Angeles, the city of angels – though I haven’t found it to be quite that exactly. Phil’s definitely a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever (yes, yes, and proud I am of him). A few years back he and some friends, visiting from Iceland, rented an RV and drove from NYC to a Lebowski Fest in Kentucky. He is a very busy man.

So this morning I called in sick — what day is this? — and went online to buy tickets, run by Ticketmaster, those greedy rotten scumbags. “Convenience Charge”? WTF is that? Says right here that the ticket costs $19.99. But a $9 fee on top of it, and you’ve got the fucking nerve to call it a “Convenience Charge?” So, let me get this right, choada boy, you’re charging me 50% of the ticket price for the great honor, nay, the convenience!, of buying a ticket from you? When some dude from the ‘hood does it outside a stadium, he risks arrest under the charge of ticket scalping. Oh, but that’s different? Like hell it is. Piss off. Assholes. Only, what else am I to do? (Besides, of course, getting a life and not going to Lebowski Fest…)

If you’re going to scalp tickets, just tell me the god-damned price. You aren’t fooling anyone. Don’t do this insulting bullshit where you kick me in the nuts and then ask me to thank you for the convenience.

They’re like the airlines. And don’t even get me started on banks, the finance world swindlers, and “health” insurance companies. These companies all do this bullshit where they go “Well, we wish we didn’t have to charge such fees and institute such policies…” WTF do you mean you don’t have a choice, you douchebag? Oh yes, you have a choice there, slick, you’re just choosing to long-dick us, hoping to make everything look better than it is. You could, for example, choose to not put profiteering above honest presentation, or choose not to pay your CEO a $40 million dollar bonus for his brilliance in contributing to the economic melt-down (btw, what’s up with the slime at big banks and Wall Street saying they have to pay such bonuses to attract the top talent? You mean like the talent that got us into this mess? Are you fucking serious? I think Joe the Plumber could do better).

Here’s a novel concept – just quit the deceptive pricing (“19.99 ticket price” x 2 tickets = $57.98 on my card…I’m no Aristotle, but that doesn’t add up…) and corporate-speak bullshit, along with the add-ons, and grow a pair, tell me up front, like a real human being, how much the god-damned thing costs. If you can’t bear to do it – I know, it’s asking a lot – then just call it “our profiteering fee.” At least I’d have a shred of respect for your being honest, for once. As un-American-businesslike as it seems. Bunch of fucking amateurs.

This aggression will not stand, man. So in the interest of all the commoners out there, I’m left with no choice but to hereby challenge the owner/CEO of Ticketmaster to a duel. Not golf or lawn darts, Sally-boy. (Obviously, I’m not a golfer…) But a boxing match. Him and all 140 pounds of me (actually less right now), in the ring, once my leg is better. Or a free-solo to the death if he prefers. Hell, I’ll do that with one leg. By 3 o’clock. With fucking nail polish. His call. I’m serious. If I win, they start doing honest business and the price is the price. He wins, I return to my cave and shut my cake-hole.

These guys really pissed on my rug. But I’ll go out and achieve, anyway.

Tonight’s marg recipe isn’t a marg. It’s a White Russian. Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling.

White Russian (aka “A Caucasian”)

2 parts Vodka

1 part Kahlúa

1 part cream or milk

Get cheap Vodka. I’m not much of a Vodka drinker, but I know it’s a fairly neutral spirit to begin with – unlike tequila – and so I never bought into the Grey Gaylord hipster designer bottle crap to begin with, especially since several blind taste tests found that nobody could tell the difference between that overpriced swill and Smirnoff.

Put the booze in a glass and stir. Add the cream/milk. On ice. Just like the Dude.

Training – adaptation & motivation

“What is this, a hangboard for ants?!?”

Training is all about adaptation. Specifically what experts call a “stress-adaptation” – regularly subject yourself to a greater-than-normal stress, and your body adapts. When injured, quite simply you have to embrace other expressions of adaptation.

Hangboarding is something I can do in my current state, so I’ve been hitting it recently. I’d been hangboarding on and off over the past few years, I’m a fan of it and it seems to have not only longstanding, but recently resurgent, support from serious rock climbers (i.e. those far better than me) as a potent training tool.

Derek & a model of his School for Kids Who Can't Read Good.

When injured, you can choose to focus on what you can’t do. I can’t walk. Can’t run. Can’t bike, ski, or climb. Poor me. Except that attitude gets me nowhere fast, and so I’ll occasionally wallow that way for a few seconds (at most), and then focus on what I can do. It’s a form of problem solving, which I love. Did Derek Zoolander let his coveted “School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good (and want to learn how to do other things good, too)” die when he saw a model and threw a tantrum, asking if it was a school for ants and insisting that it had to be at least, at least…THREE times this big! (That’s the explanation for the opening line, for those not privy to the new shit, man – it’s from the movie Zoolander, second only to the Big Lebowski.) No. He went out and achieved anyway.

Someone recently asked about motivation to train when injured. In part, I’ve beat it into myself over the years to where training has become part of my life. Though I’m dealing surprisingly well with being gimped-up, of course I have ups and downs and of course it’s getting old, and I’m getting way twitchy. Can’t sleep at night, sit there all fidgety during half the day, sometimes have to get up and just shake my arms and jump around. Being active has been an enormous part of my life for a long time. Beyond that, though, I suppose part of it for me has to do with gratitude, appreciation. Focus on what I can’t do? What bullshit. So I have one leg at the moment. That means I have another leg, two arms, ten fingers, my core (which runs from your hips to shoulders), and my brain. Plenty to work with.

"What is this, a hangboard for ants?!?"

Up at my little place in Estes Park, I made myself a gimp-sized hangboard stand, sized so my butt would hang just a few inches above my crash pad and I wouldn’t risk falling on my leg. Probably unnecessary, as it’s reasonable enough to carefully hangboard while standing off my good leg, but dudes love building shit. I wish I were good at building shit (and I want to learn how to do other things good, too).

Anyway, I’m down at Jenna’s place this week, thus away from my “Hangboard for Ants,” and so my great friend Matt Samet picked me up, took my gimp ass on some errands (I’ve got a margarita experiment in the works…I test all my margaritas on myself before subjecting it to you – and that’s my Kelly Margarita Guarantee!), and then to the Boulder Rock Club. I’ve come to fully dig the BRC. Got me thinking about what I like and dislike about different gyms, which I’ll bore you with soon.

Anyway, a sampling of what you can do with a broken leg. Yesterday’s workout:

• 45 minutes hangboarding. That’s way more than I’ve done before – when fully able, I don’t spend that much time hangboarding, in part because I climb often in the gym and outside, but this reminds me of the opportunity in my injury. Warmed up and worked my way into it with the bigger rungs, mostly 20–30 second hangs, then worked into harder ones, first-digit, 10–15 seconds max (hard for me), and down to some tip-hangs I could hold for only 5 seconds or so (smallest rungs in staggered position – one hand two rungs higher than the other hand). Mostly open-handed grip or partial crimp, to avoid the tendon-stressful full crimp. Usually shorter rest periods than the power boys recommend, generally starting each new hang/rep on the minute, as taking longer rest between reps annoys me. I did rest enough between sets (my sets usually = 3 hangs), though, to eventually read a good piece on the “just like me” idiot phenomenon of Sarah Palin, in the New Yorker, so that was cool (for the record, I don’t want a leader to be just like me. Our nation’s leaders should be a helluva lot smarter than me, and certainly smarter than the average dullard – look at what eight years of a moronic frat boy whom the average ‘Merican wanted to “have a beer with” got us?). Where was I? Oh yeah. Did my session on their overhanging campus board. The wooden rungs make for a great surface, friendlier on the skin and better than some of the hangboards out there. Their campus board starts close to the ground, and has a bunch of cushy pads beneath it, making it a perfect impromptu hangboard for ants.

• Some one-legged squats, or “pistols.” A great exercise for both strength and balance, in which I extend my gimpy right leg in front of me, somewhat parallel to the ground, and, from standing, squat on my left leg till my butt is down by my heel, then stand up. Another opportunity: since surgery on my left knee in 2005, my left leg has been a little weaker than my right.

• Some one-legged push-ups. Left foot on ground, right leg straight out behind me. Very easy/basic core stabilization, compared to doing push-ups with both feet touching.

• Muscle-ups. From a dead hang on the rings (rock rings and such work fine), pull up and turn-over your wrists and shoulders into the bottom of a dip, and press it out, continuous. So, essentially go from a dead hang to a full pressed-out position, like when you’re at the top of a dip. Haven’t done these in about a year, psyched I still could. Never spent much time on them, but kind of want to get to 10 consecutive. Maybe I’ll work on that. Did 3 sets (7-6-6), closely spotted by Matt in case I wiped out. Long (several minutes) rest in-between, strenuous exercise.

• Wrapped it up with some core work, including my all-important “pointer dog”/”superman” exercises for my spine (major spinal reconstruction surgery, with fusion, in 2005). I’ve had to increase my balance and core stability when I do the side with my right arm and left leg extended, which means my right knee and foot (and left hand) would be touching. But since I’m not supposed to put any pressure on my right lower leg/foot, I lift my foot and allow only my right knee to touch. Thus, I’m touching only right knee and left hand when I do the right arm and left leg extension – balancy! It inspired me to do the other side that way, too, in order to maximize benefit.

So there we go. Now I’m sore, feeling good, and not so twitchy. At least for today.

Personal Ad — Celebrate the Goddess

Time to lighten up a bit. All that accident analysis writing and pondering worked me. So, I’ll take some shortcuts today – both in length and depth (that’s what…oh, nevermind). My friend Peter Haeussler, who introduced me to the fun scale, was cleaning-up his office the other day and found a personal ad that he’d clipped (for amusement only, mind you — happily married for 25 years) from the Anchorage Press years back. Given that we all seemed to get a kick out of my total flop of a personal ad, as well as people’s great replies/comments with their own stories, this seemed a nice addition. Only question – where was this “goddess” around the time I posted my ad? Then again, something in the tone spells “psycho,” does it not? And that was one of my original qualifications: Psychos need not apply. As if I could be choosy. But I digress, and it’s worked out for the better anyway. Especially considering, as Peter wrote in email, “If she’s real, she might give you something that would make for Type 3 fun…” All you climber dudes up in AK, home to the wintertime adage, “She might not be much to look at, but she’s warm,” take note — the goddess could still be out there.

Accident Conclusions

OK, enough already. We get it, you broke your leg. I know. Hard to believe, but even I am getting tired of talking about it.

Part of me hates to chalk it up to “bad luck,” but that may be the ultimate real-world explanation. Granted, I probably created, or certainly contributed to, my own bad luck. Perhaps it’s the flip side of that Thomas Jefferson line that I feel like I’ve lived for awhile now: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Most likely two or three seemingly minor things conspired to create enough slack to un-weight my crampons from the ice bulge when I leaned back, right at that crucial “edge transition” from horizontal to vertical, and send me airborne.

1. I should have yelled “take” or “up rope” first, rather than skipping to my call of “lowering,” to ensure Steve had me as snug as possible. Especially important with stretchy ropes, and when transitioning from horizontal to vertical.

2. Directly related to #1, and adding to my fall, when Steve heard me call “lowering,” he naturally let out a little slack (two feet, at most). He then, cautiously, locked me off to ensure a controlled lower, which makes sense when you can’t see the person. My not doing #1, to suck up the slack & stretch, resulted in the additional slack of #2, likely creating enough to do me in. Most of the time – countless times in the past, I’m sure – I’d have been all right. But that ledge, right there, with the sharp drop over the edge and the swing into the ledge/corner, and it’s a rare but perfect storm.

3. Perhaps the rope was caught behind a bulge or an icicle, making it feel falsely snug, but then, under full weight, the rope popped free. This would let out some slack abruptly, as we’ve all likely experienced sometime when lowering. It couldn’t have been much, but maybe just enough.


A handful of seemingly random factors came together. Some minor pilot error by me – a little slack normally doesn’t cost you this much – with the simple bad luck of hitting the exact wrong spot, with my cramponed foot in the exact wrong angle, and we’ve got a horrible and rare scenario that transmitted hellish force into my leg, shattering it.

Perhaps I’m in denial, but this doesn’t bum me out as much as I might have thought it would. I mean, really, what can I do? It’ll hurt when I’m supposed to be in Alaska and Pakistan — the sorts of things that I live for — but I can’t turn back time. I’ll learn from it, though.

Randomness fills our world. Ever stop to think about all the forks in the road of life, and how one seemingly innocuous event – a dinner conversation with some person, or the time you decided to cross the street on this block instead of the next one down and then you ran into someone (or you got hit by a bus) – ended up influencing your life in untold ways? When I close my eyes and drift to the incomparable joys and treasures I’ve known in my climbing life, I’m grateful for the randomness of life. Though I’ve lived in shacks, sacrificed plenty and busted my ass, I didn’t make all of it happen myself. Some of it just came together. I don’t know how. Sure, we take opportunities and we work with them, as Jefferson said, but still, sometimes randomness works for or against us, and we have to accept the good with the bad. Such is life, there is beauty in randomness.

Great Andean Condors, circling above Jim Donini & I for an hour or more, at times swooping so close that we could hear the wind ruffling their wings. Northern Patagonian Icefield, Chile, Jan 2009.

Accident Report — Details & marg recipe

Since my accident, I’ve posted the story version of what happened, some gnarly photos (here and here), a personal ad (why not) and various other drivel. Now comes the accident-tech-geek stuff. Details, details, a dry report – but it has a nice splash at the end.

More Details:

• After I topped out the route, walked out of sight to the anchor tree and clipped the ropes through, and then walked back to the edge, Steve heard me call “lowering.” I hadn’t yelled anything else. The rope felt snug, so I did not first yell for him to up-rope or pull me tight before I leaned back. Upon hearing my “lowering” call, he thinks let out a little slack (it’s hard to remember every detail) – less than a cycle through his ATC-Guide (two feet of slack, max) – and finished the payout by instinctively locking off. Makes sense, as he couldn’t yet see me, and I often do the same – let out a little bit, but don’t start fully lowering just yet. He recalls having me locked-off because he was starting to yell up about how we should manage the top-rope for him to follow (since, as I mentioned in the Accident Story, I’d forgotten that the route was more than a half-rope length). Then he heard me yelling “Too fast, too fast!” and saw me falling, giving him a horribly confused feeling since he had me locked off and had not yet started to actively lower me.

Click for clearer version (no idea why...)

• As I fell, I got pulled slightly rightward into the true fall-line, and extended my leg to anticipate the impact. My foot was in a dorsiflexed position, which is like letting your foot off the gas (lifting the top of your foot toward your knee). Apparently this position created the perfect storm for a nasty Pilon Fracture, sending the full force through my talus bone (in the foot) and into my tibia (my lower leg bone that got destroyed) where the tibia has the smallest cross-section and where the greatest stress occurs. To get a feel for how vulnerable your tibia is in this position, dorsiflex a foot and then tap that heel against the floor. Then imagine striking not the heel first, but just in front of it, between the heel and the arch, and you can almost feel your talus bumping up against the tibia. I just did it with my good leg, and though it might be just me, just now, that alone felt spooky.

Falling sideways also increased the actual distance I fell – think the hypotenuse of a triangle being its longest side. Steve and Pete went back the next day to recover the gear and study the scene, and it’s maybe two meters from the edge (where I stopped and yelled “lowering”) to the small ledge/corner I collided with. Add a couple of feet from the edge up to my tie-in point and some stretch (I ended up a little below the corner), and I fell probably 10 feet.

• Steve feels confident that he didn’t get jerked forward – makes sense, given the amount of rope out, friction in the system, and his being 20+ pounds heavier than me.

• We were climbing on two 7.8 mm ropes (Metolius Monster, dry treated). They’re rated as doubles and also as twins. I used them as doubles (clipping pieces alternately), as I mostly do, due to the reduced impact force on my pieces in the case of a fall. I clipped both through the anchor. The ropes were dry, stacked neatly in tramped-out snow, which I mention because we’d considered things that could have caused the rope to slip through Steve’s hands.

• Steve belayed with a Black Diamond ATC-Guide device, which is rated for use with ropes from 7.7 to 11 mm. Not likely that the ropes, which were dry, slipped through the belay device. He wore mid-weight liners with good dexterity and feeling, and had me locked-off. I’ve used this device with these ropes countless times without incident.

• None of the gear or systems was novel to us.

• No traverses; the route was straight up.

• No gear pulled. While lowering, after the fall, two equalized nuts (my first gear) popped due to the outward pull on the one rope. This didn’t drop me at all, since nothing popped on the other rope.

Notable Considerations:

Steve Halvorson, at the base of The Thrill Is Gone.

• When Steve was cutting my back pad for part of the splint (he did a brilliant job – my Cobras, the pad, several slings that he cut and used to cinch into hitches, plus a half roll of athletic tape and a jacket), he first sized it against my leg and mumbled “too big.” Through gritted teeth I replied, “That’s what she said.”

• Steve, an M.D. who works in the Emergency Department and is involved with wilderness medicine and SAR courses, did an amazing job of thinking clearly, staying calm, and being resourceful. While sitting there, I wondered – with all respect to my other climbing partners – if many other people I know – myself included for sure (note to self: time to take a WFR course, as mine is 15 years old) – would have any idea of what to do. Sure, he had to stop and think from time to time, but that’s great. It’s one thing to learn those things in a course, it’s another for him to have a good friend with a flopping leg and be on the spot to figure out how to best splint it, and how to get me down. He’d pause, breathe, remaining calm always, think, and then act. He could not have done any better.

I made Steve snap some photos. After not laughing at my "that's what she said" crack, I think he felt obliged.

• We created a pretty cool little butt-seat sled out of my pack (“My CILO GEAR pack, which literally saved my ass, I never leave home without CILO and neither should you!” – er, oh, wait, wrong channel…but thanks for the tequila, Graham!). We rigged it like a diaper-seat, connected to my harness, and ran slings up along my inner thigh and under my arms toward my upper back, so that Steve could drag me backwards downhill. That, and ample parts of pushing, pulling, me doing dips to get up and over fallen logs, and the full Jane Fonda Workout ab-routine of keeping my injured leg lifted the whole time, got us out in about four hours. No painkillers in either of our packs, though – I’m saving some from my surgery, to add to a half-roll of tape and a belay knife, for my future first-aid kit. The tape and knife proved super useful in rigging the splint. Taking a full-bore first-aid kit is typically absurd, I don’t do it and don’t know anyone who does (unless they’re guiding) – but being McGuyver-like with a knife and some tape sure helps. And drugs (if you have ‘em).

• Steve and some of his SAR and doctor-professor geek friends are doing some modeling about the accident, forces, etc. Eager to hear more if/when they come up with some numbers and scenarios. For now, it seems apparent that with 140 feet or so of rope out, it’s easy to drop at least five feet just with initial stretch. Add to that my failure to call for tension – thus another foot or two of slack likely in the system– and my calling first for “lower” – another foot or two – and we have my fall.

Winter Dance, on the other side of the canyon in Hyalite, and one of the best ice/mixed routes I've climbed.

• Crampons make things worse, for sure – the spikes catch and bite into things, concentrating the force. There can be no doubt that ice/winter climbing is generally more dangerous than rock climbing. It’s also fun, and being intimate with the winter landscape unlocks untold beauty. Plus, I can’t quite bear to sit around like a whiny bitch complaining about the weather. I love every season and I never get bored as a result. Once again, however, even 16 years into a climbing life that includes a fair bit of “spiky climbing” around the world, I’m reminded that ice climbing requires serious attention to detail.

Possible Preventive Measures:

• Suck-up the slack hard before lowering. If in doubt, try to pre-stretch the rope, both belayer and climber, by having the belayer lock off and sit back hard, then suck forward while taking out more slack, locking off, and repeating a couple of times. Especially helpful with ice climbing, as it seems unlikely that I’d have broken my leg, at least to this degree, without crampons on. How many times have we dropped a few feet while lowering on a rock climb – the rope pops around a bulge, for example – and your feet just dance around the rock? Happens often.

• Be clear in communication/commands. I’ve done a lot of climbs where my partner and I could not hear each other, and so we think, we feel what’s going on with the rope, and then we act. But in this case, I should have been more clear. I should have called for Steve to “up rope!” or “tension!” or “take!” first, and then called “lowering.” Generally, what I did, and with an experienced partner like Steve, doesn’t seem disastrously remiss or out of the ordinary. But it cost me. Such a simple mistake. Neither of us feels good about it, given how badly everything turned out. Steve wrote to me:

“I could just as easily have asked if you were at the lip. My mistake was placing you in the snow above it. I’d had a fleeting feeling of uncomfortableness with this – a nudge to check in – which I should have listened to. I realize that’s why I’d given only a short cycle through my ATC and started to call up, finally acting on it. I think this is at the heart of why I feel so responsible. I think communication goes both ways, which is what ultimately this is about: listening to ourselves, each other and acting on the responsibility to speak up if you don’t like something. You’re questioning your thoroughness in calling down, but I could just have easily – and had reason to do so – called up or clarified the plan before you even started up the route. Good belayers do that.”

• Not a preventive measure, but one that helps with reality: acceptance. Shit happens, and part of the beauty of climbing lies in its unknown elements. Of course we want to embrace these in a good way, and we want to remain vigilant to prevent accidents like this. It is always easy to second-guess afterward (just check any injury/accident forum on the Internet), and being extra careful never hurts. Nor does it guarantee anything (I have some interesting thoughts on risk, surviving, and learning; maybe I’ll write about it sometime). Our climbing world obituaries are filled with the phrase “He was the safest climber I know…” So, I’d say be cautious when it matters – but not too cautious, not too timid, don’t live in fear – and remember to think and to learn, and to accept that things can happen. Either that, or stay on the couch, reliving that dyno you did that one time, drinking margaritas.

Speaking of which, this post is too damned dry. Tomorrow I’ll finish by posting my Conclusions. But for now let’s loosen-up – Uri Fridman just sent me this marg recipe. Sounds really fucking good, and I’m ready for it. Need some lemons, though, but I can crutch to the little grocery up the street in about five minutes…

Mix: [seems Uri likes to have plenty of mix on-hand…but it’s good to be prepared.]

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

Mix well until sugar dissolves, then mix in:

1 1/2 cups of fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup of fresh lime juice

Add a dash of salt.

The Marg:

1 1/4 oz Hornitos or Herradura tequila

1/2 oz Cointreau

3 oz mix

Splash of orange juice (very little)

Mix all items in a shaker, add crushed ice to a glass, pour.

(Optional: dip rim of the glass in lime juice and add either salt or sugar to the rim)

Accident Story

Where to start with a description of how I broke my leg? How ‘bout some dialogue – they say dialogue engages the reader.

“Oh fuck, FUCK, Steve, I broke my leg, I broke – fuck! OK, fuck! My leg’s broke!” I shouted down after slamming into a corner with a small ledge. Steve said he looked up, saw my lower leg flopping side-to-side, and almost puked. Yup, I think I’d agree with your diagnosis, he thought to himself. Steve is my good friend Steve Halvorson, who lives in Bozeman and was one of my first climbing partners some 12–15 years ago, when we both lived in Missoula.

Hiking from the trailhead in Hyalite Canyon, with Winter Dance (the tiny-looking dagger far off, in center of photo) in the distance, perhaps the best ice route I've climbed.

Only he went on to become an E.R. doc, while I went on to waste my life becoming a climbing bum. Great stuff for us both. We had a terrific trip to the Bugaboos in August, and the Black Canyon in September, and I’d just finished a few days in Cody and was psyched for Hyalite Canyon, one of my old stomping grounds and home to so many great memories. Hyalite’s Unnamed Wall has a bunch of superb single-pitch routes, and the morning we left for the canyon I posted one of the original “Sketchy Kelly” stories, about a route there called Black Magic, with Pete Tapley about a dozen years ago. Steve and I pulled into the parking lot and, I’ll be damned, we saw Pete – first time I’d seen him in years. Big hug, huge smiles, a few minutes to catch up, and we made plans for beers after climbing that evening. Except I’d be going to the hospital, not the bar.

Steve and I hiked the 40 minutes or so to the Unnamed Wall – seemed a fitting place to spend the day – and I’d led our day’s warm-up climb, The Thrill Is Gone (sure seems that way now), a classic Jack Tackle mixed route that I’ve done at least a half-dozen times over the years. It’s great. Every time. Moderate but keeps you thinking, as it did this time. I climbed well, smartly (for once, I know…), placing good (mostly) pro and a fair bit of it, carefully running it out only when I had to. Topped out the main chimney/corner, hit a sloping little ledge that I’d soon hit again, and placed an ice screw in the body length of steep ice remaining – just to be extra careful. I love the feeling of self-control amid the improbable. Absolutely love it.

Steve below the Unnamed Wall. Behind him, to the right is Bingo World. The Thrill Is Gone is to the left.

Cruised up, hit the flats, now out of Steve’s sight, and plowed through some firm snow, mid-shin deep, to the tree anchor maybe 20 feet back. The tree already had a double strand of new one-inch webbing around it, but I added my cordalette to be sure, and clipped them both with two ’biners (one locking, one non-). Perfect, couldn’t be any safer. Steve probably wouldn’t be able to hear me from the tree, and he knew I’d topped out (it was obvious, and we’re familiar with the area), so I walked back toward the edge without yelling down, him paying-out slack by feel as I moved. I stopped at the top of the ice step, and the rope felt snug. The rope looked to be running clean. Again, all normal.

At this point, I can’t remember exactly, but I think I first felt the rope tight against me, and thus thinking no need to call “take” or “up rope” – a scenario by no means uncommon – I skipped a step and just yelled down, “Lowering!” as I leaned back. Suddenly I accelerated, screaming, “Too fast, too fast!” and then I slammed into the little ledge and corner, only about six feet down. Add a couple feet to account for the distance from the ledge up to my waist, and the total fall was maybe 10 feet. A couple more for rope stretch, perhaps, as I dangled below the ledge, my lower leg bent slightly but grotesquely to the side.

I’d forgotten that the route was more than 30m, even though I’ve done it before (typical…). Steve was just calling up to me about this when I leaned back and fell. Would have been no biggie, standard fare for my dumb ass, I’d have just batmanned back up and belayed Steve from the top. So many “ifs” – same as anything in life, when you think about it, with its innumerable forks in the road – like if I’d remembered the length, I’d have just brought Steve up and none of this would have happened. Then again, were I smart, it wouldn’t be me now, would it?

“Lower, Steve! Lower, slowly, slowly, aaarrrgghhhfuck!” – once my leg was broken, I just wanted to get the fuck down. Every time I’d accidentally bump the rock or ice with my right leg, my bones grinded together. I kept watch on the ends of the ropes and called down to Steve to do the same (he was already on it). With 10 feet of rope left on Steve’s end, and me 30 feet off the ground, I had to stop and, from a hanging stance on one leg, grit my teeth and build an anchor.

Steve's superb and resourceful splint job.

It’s interesting what emergency or desperate situations can do. For whatever reason, I’ve found over the years that I tend to handle them fairly well and can retain, even heighten, my focus without freaking out. So, I focused hard and cold and built a trustworthy anchor, thought it through, clipped in direct and then clipped-off the blue rope (on the side coming from Steve) to my harness to keep me from losing it. The green rope was still going through the tree anchor and back to me. Next I untied from blue’s end and pulled it (from Steve’s side, by where I clipped it off to my harness) through the tree anchor above, took its end once it came down and tied an overhand-bight that I clipped to my belay loop with a locking ‘biner, and then freed the clipped-off part (the part I’d originally tied-off to my harness for safe keeping). I took the blue rope going from my harness and clipped through my new anchor and called to Steve to take-up blue’s slack and lower me on it while keeping me on with the green rope – the remaining 10 feet on green (still going up to the tree) would serve as an extra backup to my new anchor, testing it for a short bit before green passed free through Steve’s belay device and I came exclusively onto the single rope (blue) running through my new anchor. The last thing I wanted was to make anything worse.

Soon after I was down, Steve splinted me and we began the four-hour haul out – the beginning of an even longer haul that awaits me.

The other day, Steve came across a passage in Farewell to Arms, a great book by Ernest Hemingway (though The Old Man and The Sea is my favorite – read it twice in a row, back-to-back):

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Tomorrow or Thursday I’ll post more details and an analysis (almost completed) of the accident.

Long Live the Bums

Ever feel like Wile E. Coyote, in the old Roadrunner Cartoons, when he falls off a cliff and an anvil follows him down and smashes him after he’s already decked? Splat-Bam!

A few months back I wrote positively about the things that I value. But people whose fundamental life values center on materialism make me sick. I feel it physically, in my gut, when such people try to force their shallow concept of living upon me. Of course I shouldn’t care, and since we tend to self-select our peer groups, I usually avoid it well enough. But things don’t always work that way. Sure, we’re all materialistic to a degree, especially here in the U.S., and I am a hypocrite like everybody. But travel the world and see how most humans live, and you see that even the most minimalist of our community live privileged lives. I always return home grateful for my life and the things that truly matter. And so maybe it’s the lack of perspective that so repulses me.

If someone accosts you with their pathetic and antiquated ideas of what constitutes “life,” while berating you for living what feels like – what you know is – a fulfilling and passionate existence, and for that derides you as a loser and a bum, how should you respond? Yeah, sure, you should feel sorry for them. But I’m tryin’, Ringo, I’m tryin’ reeeeal haaaard to be the shepherd. So it goes. Security is an illusion, life is precious and it can be lost in so many ways.

And so, though I’ve been meaning to get that accident report going (maybe this weekend), in the spirit of living life I’ll post a slide show (look out, trying to get fancy…hope it works). A sampling of some memories that fill me with love, physically, in my heart, and make me grateful for all that I have. Even if I am a bum. The bums will always lose!

Nah. Long live the bums.