This Guy Walks

Big Daddy Cordes would like to thank all the little people out there like his trainer Jeff Giddings and his doctor Bharat Desai, his friends Wayne Crill and Chris Klinga who put him in touch with the good doc, his sister Jill and her husband Phil and baby Fia, and all my baby’s mommas out there – yo Latisha! – and the good lord above for giving me the talent and determination, the margarita drive, and all the agave farmers in Mexico who make that magic mystery potion so revelant – er, excuse me, relevant – to my recovery, and to Big Daddy’s good friends who give him da potions, and to his lovely Jenna as she put up wit me day in day out I love you baby!, and to my sponsors and the agave farmers in Mexico, and, last but most definitely not least, to the Jesus and the Baby Jesus.

Er, sorry. Got a little excited and thought I was a professional boxer in a post-fight interview, or a rapper. Will go back to referring to myself in first-person and rambling slightly less than normal. But first, for the record, I’m sure that lots of 140-pound white guys go by “Big Daddy.”

The cane is just the first step in my makeover.

So, a few days ago, Tuesday, April 27, after consult with my doc, and upon Jeff’s (my awesome Physical Therapist) evaluation of my progress, Jeff sent me this email:

“Don’t overdo it and use a crutch/cane if you’re having pain, otherwise, start walking like a real person.”

Like someone who’d been touched by the hand of a TV evangelist, I stood up out of my chair and I fucking walked. Hell yeah. Can I get an Amen?

Five steps. Or maybe four. I don’t know, but I walked. My first unaided steps since February 1. Less than three months from “vaporizing” my ankle and lower leg, as someone aptly put it, to walking – even just a little. Not bad, I’m psyched. But I’ve still got a huge road ahead. It’s not like I suddenly jump up and am all better – remember that scene in the Big Lebowski, when Walter convinces himself that The Millionaire Lebowski (not the Deadbeat Lebowski), is “A goldbricker, a fuckin’ phony, this guy walks! I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life!” And he suddenly picks him up out of his wheelchair and Mr. Lebowski crumples to the ground. Horrible scene, in a way, only funny because Walter’s such an asshole. Well, that’d be me if I tried to do too much. So, progress, slowly, surely I hope, and, yeah, it hurts and it’s sore and stiff, but I’m working at it and I’m getting better.

I’m working on proving Walter right about one thing: This guy walks.

Training by the Numbers

When it comes to training, I can get obsessive. The mentality helps even now – especially now – because I want to recover my leg, and also because I have an opportunity to get stronger fingers. Pathetic, I know, but it’s good to focus, even on little things. It helps, and not just for climbing. After never doing much dedicated hangboard training, I now have one in all three rooms of my cabin – three hangboards in 580 square feet. Must be some kind of record. I use my two Metolius boards regularly – the guys there are awesome, they’re all climbers, they make great gear and have supported me for a long time. Also, after my accident Josh sent me a Moon Board with a “Get well soon, and get strong” note. How cool. It’s nice to have some variety in my training apparatuses (apparati? Nope.). There are two sets of holds on the Moon that are tiny. Like half of a finger pad deep. In their numbering scheme, which makes recording your workouts convenient, these are holds #4 and #3. #4 is just ridiculous. I’ve been working to stick #3 – “sticking it” meaning hanging unassisted, with both hands (fingertips), for six seconds – in a three-finger open grip. I can do it in full four-finger crimp, but it’s super tweaky on my tendons. My hard-rock climbing buddies all say the open grip is the ticket, as do most training sites. So, I’d been taking weight off for progress with open three-finger #3, since I can’t do it. I use a pulley system to make me lighter – minus 15 pounds for awhile as my times went up, then minus 7.5 pounds, then, viola! Hung it the other day, at full body weight, for 5.8 seconds.

Balls! Only 0.2 off, aaaaarrrggg! So close. Funny how something so short can be such a battle. Of course we could rationalize, “What’s 0.2 seconds, anyway?” True. But fuck that. Nobody who gets top results out of their training thinks that way.

Concrete, quantifiable goals can be good. Often this means using numbers. Alpinism is typically the complete opposite – conditions vary dramatically, ratings aren’t solidified, you’re often on unclimbed terrain anyway, the crap you’re climbing feels un-ratable, and so many factors vary so greatly that it doesn’t allow for objective comparison. Fine by me. I like making up my own rules. I can convince myself that I’m not so bad. But in training, quantifiable measurements – so long as you don’t get too attached to them, and remember that pushing yourself is the real key to improvement – can help drive you. I use numbers in training to prepare for the times when numbers mean nothing.

As with most things in life, I find that a balance works well. Sometimes numbers, sometimes not.

For example, I have a training book/file (more scraps of paper than anything organized, but I’m working on it…) in which I record some of my times on the trail, and various solos, etc. One-hour 52 minutes, trailhead to summit, North Ridge of Spearhead. Five minutes from my shoe-up-spot to top-out on White Whale; 29-something road bike time trail from the end of my driveway to Deer Junction, a lung-busting uphill (I forgot my exact time after Tommy, that bastard, beat me, and so I took my ball and went home). Each time I go out, I can measure myself against my time. I’ll have to adjust now, and will likely never be that fast on the trail again due to my ankle/leg. Some of these things are obviously just personal trials (uh, where’s the end of your driveway, dude?), and some of these things would be a cruise for some people, more difficult for others. That doesn’t matter, and would miss the point: the numbers give me a quantifiable way to push myself. The watch doesn’t lie, and lets me know if I’m progressing or I’m lame.

On other things, we set more general goals. Jonny Copp and I did this thing in RMNP that we called the Triple Lindy, in a little under 23 hours – we just wanted to do it, hopefully in a day. A couple of months earlier, we’d done a new route in Alaska, and though I remember the approximate times, the goal was to do the damn thing in good style. Period.

As for comparing yourself to others, I suppose that can be good and bad. All high on my improving hangboard strength (now, if I can only learn to use my feet and move my body correctly, I might climb well), the other day I got to surfing the web. It started with reading Will Gadd’s blog, which has lots of training thoughts, and which I always enjoy. I can get to geeking out on this stuff, and I ended up on “Beast Skills: Old School Bodyweight Strength.” In one of the guy’s posts, he had this great line: “Injuries are great. Every time I get injured I learn something.” Amen, brother.

Burly! From

Then I realized how weak I am. Holy cow check out this pic that I lifted from their site (sorry guys, don’t squash my head like an eggplant in your hand), of a dude doing a “plate grab.” Sweetbabyjesus, man! I’d drop that freakin’ plate so fast my toes would be like my leg. Pretty cool. The super musclehead strongman guys all, apparently, train grip strength. “There has never been a strong man with weak hands,” they say, and I imagine it’s true – it’s gotta be the weak link when you can lift a tractor but you have to grab it first. I want to lift a tractor. I’d heard of these feats where dudes can fold a penny between their fingers, and we see them on TV pulling monster trucks with their teeth and stuff. Not the same specific thing we train on a hangboard, but pretty wild, and no less stupid than climbing. It’s fun how you can get into something.

While reading that Beast page, I regained some self-given manly points after watching people doing muscle-ups by relying on this huge swing – OK, nevermind that the vids were of people getting their first muscle-ups (congrats guys!), and I guess the swing is a good way to learn ‘em. I don’t know, I just tried them a few times a few years back until I could do them. Regardless, I can’t do a plate grab but I think I got ‘em here. Even with crutches, in a cast (video below). When you’re a gimp, you take the little victories when you can. At the BRC, about a month after surgery, I got seven in a row (probably because I lost weight after surgery). I rarely do them, but should, because I want to get 10. Ten’s a good number. Not important, not essential to my climbing, but sometimes the little things drive the bigger things, and numbers can help.

Like gaining that additional 0.2 seconds on hold #3, damn it. OK, time to start my warm-up.

Fear-based Motivation

A comment on my last post got me thinking – how do I motivate to keep up on rehab, especially once I’m mostly better and I need to do the easy-to-ignore maintenance work?

Part of it is fear. I know, we’re supposed to be all good here, brah, all love and happiness, and fear is a negative emotion. So then, would that make us synonymous with the douchebags who strut around in “No Fear” T-shirts? Except Urijah Faber, who’s super badass (though he’s got a helluva tough fight tonight in Jose Aldo), and if No Fear wanted to pay me to wear their stupid shirts, I would, too, and I’d laugh all the way to the bank. But wait! Maybe Faber realized the above, as it appears he’s no longer got No Fear. Jose Aldo will do that to a guy. Besides, I’m sure “Amp” is way cooler. OK, then.

Walking with my back brace, 2005. (c) Dan Gambino,

So, about fear. Does fear motivate me, or do I solely motivate with positive emotions? Heh. Of course I want to live my life with love. All bullshit aside, that is one of my ultimate goals. And hell yeah, fear motivates me. I’m terrified of losing the ability to do what I love.

When it comes to maintenance phase work – like with my back, for me – if I’m not keeping up, then my body sends me signals, like pain. This happens with any body-part tweaks, no? It’s like an alarm clock sounds and reminds me it’s time to keep up. With my back it’s constant, to the point where I know how I’m going to feel if I don’t keep up, and I don’t like that feeling. It’s harder to play catch-up, too, similar to falling behind on the pain curve – and, yes, I’ve learned the hard way. But proving that I’m smarter than I look, I’ve learned that keeping up puts me into a positive feedback loop, and so with my back I (mostly) stay ahead of the game.

My full spinal routine takes me 45 minutes to an hour, and I’ll usually do that a few times a week. It sucks time, sure, but it’s worth it to me. I can do much shorter versions, though, and still benefit, especially when I do them daily. When super busy or super lazy, I sometimes break the various routines into very small chunks and try to do a few of them each day – two or three minutes of back exercises are better than none, and a handful of very short sessions seem so much more digestible when I’m busy.

Can’t even do that? Well, here’s an insider secret – sometimes a little self-loathing and taunting goes a long way. Go ahead, wound your inner child. If you can’t toughen-the-fuck up and do the very basic things that keep you mobile – and for me that means keeping myself happy – then reaffirming your laziness with a chocolate milkshake and a hug sure as hell isn’t going to do the trick, either. I’m currently booking slots for my motivational speaking tour, by the way – big banks, youth groups, old folks’ homes – call my agent.

If you’re having trouble motivating, try this. Seriously. Adapt as needed:

“Kelly, you piece of shit, you really mean you can’t do three minutes of back exercises right now? Really? So, you’d rather deal with the downward spiral and be hurting and unable to do what you love to do? Now get your ass down on the floor and do your exercises.”

Works every time, brah.


The video below kind of sucks, but it’s one of the best SNL skits ever. “Go For It,” Motivational Speaker Matt Foley. For a better version of this classic, click here ( I couldn’t figure out how to embed it).

You Can Do It, Champ! (Reality, motivation and rehab)

Anyone who’s wasted time reading this blog knows that I’m proud of one thing, something I do exceptionally well, that one specialty in life: drinking margaritas. But it recently hit me that I’ve got another talent: rehab. Call me multi-talented. I’m good at going from a fucked-up state to moderately functional again – talking physical recovery here. Not from too many margaritas.

Now, for my next trick, I will set the world on fire and be hot.

I love PT (Physical Therapy). Have another appointment in a few hours. Speaking from personal experience with my various trainwrecks, getting a good physical therapist is crucial. As with surgeons, they’re not all the same. My recovery from my horror-show broken spine (I’ve seen a lot of spinals, dude, this guys walks! OK, sorry, I’ll try to stop with the Lebowski lines), and much simpler knee surgery, both in 2005, only reinforced it all. The surgeon is crucial. But you can’t stop there. Yeah, it’s a pain sometimes, sometimes literally, and it takes time, but what else are you going to do? Let it go to hell and accept the (sub-optimal) results? No, I went out and achieved anyway! (Sorry.) I know I might not return to 100%, but who among us is? It’s part of life. Pick up, get better, work hard, and return.

Sure, it takes some motivation. But Jesus H Christ on a mechanical bull, how can you not be motivated to get better? I suppose I shouldn’t be so harsh – motivation varies. Apparently some people need generic cheesedick motivational posters on the wall – like these two I saw at a big corporate-owned health club last week. Who comes up with these things? If something is blatantly unrealistic, it doesn’t work for me. Are people so dumbed-down that their bullshit sensors don’t go off? Maybe I’ll get me a wife-beater tank, add a little muscle-fat, puff-out my chest (and gut) and make my own, realistic, motivational posters. Actually, a company named already makes awesome, realistic de-motivational paraphernalia. Which of the below provides better motivation? If motivation has to do with reality, I’ve got the answer…

Click to enlarge, read the bottom.

Much better; more realistic.

While rehabbing my spine five years ago, my PT kept telling me to back off, to not overdo it. OK (I listened.) “Man, I don’t mean to discourage you, Kelly – this is great, really it is. We have to beg most people to do just five minutes a day,” he said. I looked at him like he’d just told me that 2+2=5. It’s the sort of thing that makes me twitch and stutter, “N-n-no. No! That’s not it!” What the fuck? Don’t people want to get better??! I simply do not get it. Everyone says they don’t have time, and people definitely get busy, people have full-time-plus jobs and families and all that. But also, anybody who watches TV recreationally can’t claim they don’t have time. That means that 99%+ of Americans cannot say they don’t have time to do their PT (so says Officer Cordes). I still do ongoing back rehab – “pre-hab” I like to call it now, to prevent, or at least delay, future problems – and it’s like a part-time job, but I prefer it to the alternatives. And hell, ya can do your PT while watching the idiot box. What’s the average daily brain-rot, like three or four hours? Crazy. Much as I like Cops and big-time rasslin’, once the novelty stage wears off, I swear I can literally feel my brain turning to mush. Quite simply, that is something I cannot afford.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I lucked out in getting a longtime, experienced and active climber who specializes in orthopedic injuries and soft tissue mobility – Jeff Giddings, of Adams & Giddings Physical Therapy in Ft. Collins. Dr. Desai took care of the bones, and my future mobility increasingly depends on how the scarring and joint surfaces heal, and that’s where ongoing rehab comes into play. Jeff impressed me big-time at my first appointment last week. He got my ankle moving, thought it looked good, manually worked out some of the lymph and scar tissue, gave me instructions on doing the same at home, did some evaluations, gave me a bunch of exercises, specific things important to my specific injury, mobility exercises and stretches and ways to dissolve the scarring inside the joint that I’d have never, ever known on my own. It’s not like going to the gym and hiring some dude to go “C’mon, Champ, you can do it! One more rep!” or to have muscle-fat “Get Tough” guy mouthbreathing over my shoulder. No, not like that. I don’t need that bullshit.

It’s still a long road and plenty remains to be seen – no crystal ball, but things look good. I’m only going once a week because I can do the exercises and progression on my own – been doing them three-to-four times a day, and working mobility while sitting at my desk with my leg up. I don’t make excuses or get lazy about it (hate to break tradition by avoiding laziness, but miracles do happen).

OK, it’s almost time to, you know, put on my tank top, regain my edge, get tough, fear nothing and be invincible.

Inspiration — The Goldbricker Marg

Damn, been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Er, that hits a little close to home in my gimped-up state. I’m far more PC than that, as some people do have only one leg – well, like me for example. Maybe the guys I’m trying to hunt down to wrap-up the Alaska section of the next AAJ will read this and have sympathy on me. Why the hell can’t they answer my emails within, like, a day or two? Oh, wait, maybe they aren’t sitting in front of a computer and are actually out

Alaska's Ruth Gorge, from atop the Moose's Tooth, 1999.

climbing. Bastards. I’m even trying to make it super easy on them, having gathered info on their routes, and sending photos with what I think are their lines drawn in, with options labeled A, B, C at various junctions. They can just email me back – whenever they’re done wasting their lives going climbing, of course – and tell me where their climb went. I feel like Walter Sobchek in the Big Lebowski, when he and the Dude go to Little Larry’s house (flunkin’ social studies, little brat), and Walter presents this school assignment he found in Dude’s car and asks: “Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?”

Is this your route, guys? Is this your route?

Granted, it doesn’t matter, since climbing doesn’t really matter, and thus – “Ever thus to deadbeats, Lebowski” – in an attempt to diversify myself, a couple weekends ago I made an about-face from my pathetically one-dimensional life and went to Lebowski Fest in L.A. (the city of angels, though I didn’t find it to be that exactly). It was me, my brother-in-law, Phil, a few of his friends, and a couple thousand other losers fellow connoisseurs of artistry through cinema.

Honestly, I worried that going to the Fest might ruin it for me. Kind of like returning to a route you already onsighted – why wreck it? I’m all about enabling success through lowered expectations.

So with caution I crutched toward Lebowski Fest, feeling shy and even reclusive. And thus it came as a marvelous surprise when, at dinner beforehand with Phil and his friends, his buddy’s wife, M, showered me with praise after Phil mentioned something about my climbing. Shit, my best friends don’t even care about what I climbed, I thought to myself, This is pretty sweet. She’d seen me gimp-in with my Jimmy crutches – yes, I’ve been called “Jimmy,” the character from South Park (friends like these, huh Gary?) – and she figured I had a real handicap. And I climbed mountains.

“You’re sooo brave,” she said, softly. I glanced over my shoulder, puzzled. Only the five-foot-tall waitress – we were at a Korean BBQ – stood behind me. So I went with it. A guy like me doesn’t get this everyday.

“Yeah,” I said, feigning nonchalance, reclining and refilling my beer. “Pretty much.”

“What you do is nothing short of inspiring!” M said. Phil looked at me, back at her, at me again and snorted.

“Well,” I continued, furrowing my brow, looking side-to-side and then leaning forward, “I think that if you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”


An hour and multiple beers – oat sodas – later, we headed for the actual Fest, and, while crutching along, I heard M giving Phil shit. Turns out she hadn’t seen my cast when I gimped-in, just my Jimmy crutches, and now realized that I wasn’t disabled at all (apparently nothing else in my personality tipped her off), but just some climbing bum who’d fucked himself up. And, somehow, this was Phil’s fault.

“Well what did you think when I was calling him a cripple earlier, then?” Phil asked back, laughing.

“I thought you were just being an asshole, like you usually are,” she said.

Inside the theater, where a bunch of people in costumes reciting movie lines in unison didn’t ruin anything at all for me, we took our seats. Phil got up and brought me back a drink – “Here ya go, cripple.” M shot me a sideways glance like I wasn’t anything inspirational at all, just some goldbricker, a deadbeat climbing bum. Oh well, fair enough. It was good while it lasted. I leaned back, sipped my white Russian and waited for the movie to start.

Goldbricker Marg

gold brick (informal), noun: a thing that looks valuable, but is in fact worthless.

• (also goldbrick or goldbricker) a lazy person : [as adj. ] hardworking Amos and goldbrick Andy.

verb (usu. goldbrick) [ intrans. ]

invent excuses to avoid a task; shirk : he wasn’t goldbricking; he was really sick.


Galindo Añejo. What, an añejo for me? Well, añejo means gold – just without the brick. I provided that when I made my sister, Jill, buy the tequila. Actually, she’d texted me before my flight out, asking what tequila to buy. I explained that if they wanted something really good, like for top-shelf margs and sipping after I leave, get Herradura Reposado – but I know it’s pricey, I’ve only received it as gifts myself – and so I continued, explaining that the standard Hornitos would be just fine. Only she didn’t get to the second half of my text, flying into a frenzy at the first half. She called Phil and went off, “He used to live in a fucking chicken coop and he wants us to buy him a $55 bottle of tequila?! No fucking way! That deadbeat!”

At the liquor store, they gently pointed her to a fine alternative – a lesser-known, smaller brand, that they insisted was comparable and far less expensive: Galindo. Absolutely superb, made some of the best margs I’ve had. I hope I can find it around here. The añejo ran about $40, which still puts it generally out of my price range, but it was damn good stuff and, well, if, like, you know, like, you aren’t buying, man, you can still be pivy to the good shit…


Since this is good stuff, you know this by now: fresh-squeezed limes and simple syrup. For each part of lime juice, do maybe ¾ part simple syrup. You make simple syrup by mixing one part water with one part sugar, stirring and heating gently until dissolved. Don’t boil it. Then put the heated pot inside a larger pot of cold water, to cool it down while you squeeze the limes.

The Marg

No triple sec. Don’t need it or want it with the good stuff. About half the marg is the Galindo, the other half mix. Add a splash of OJ. Shaken, not stirred, on the rocks, with salt. The dude abides.

Waterproof/Breathable Shells — construction options

More tech geek stuff on waterproof/breathable shells. Non tech geeks might just skip down to the micro-rant, or read a real rant. One of the comments to my last post on w/b shells got me thinking about definitions – what’s the difference between the w/b shell types we hear about: 2-layer, 2.5-layer, 3-layer? Well, it’s a construction thing. Specifically, the construction as it relates to the interior layer of the garment. Each type of w/b laminate shell construction has pluses and minuses, which can help determine which best suits your needs.

First, I should mention that un-laminated waterproof shells, like raincoats, exist. I believe the standard raincoat is made of rubber or polyurethane-coated nylon. I don’t know. They’re heavy, don’t breathe at all, and, so far as I’ve seen, not cut for athletic movement or featured for technical use. Single-layer fabrics can be treated with waterproof coatings, but they wear off, just like a DWR coating will wear off over time. So, as per current technology, the only way to achieve true, lasting, waterproof/breathable protection is with these laminated fabrics. And you still have to keep up with the DWR coating, to keep the face fabric from getting saturated. Once that face fabric gets saturated, you have no effective vapor pressure gradient between your moisture on the inside, and the saturated fabric on the outside – and thus, no breathability. Some companies claim theirs will still breathe due to the temperature difference driving

Ol' Jim Turner climbing in his favorite 3L shell in Silverton. Good thing he also has a rope.

breathability – and temperature does drive vapor pressure – but with a physical barrier like a laminate already there, this claim is bullshit. They can “prove” this breathability claim in a lab, yeah, but anyone who’s ever worn a laminate in the field, when the DWR has worn off and the face fabric is saturated, knows it’s bullshit.

Side note: you might not need a waterproof shell that’s also breathable. Sometimes you just want what amounts to an emergency rain smock. Will present some ideas on that another time.

By the way, any shell labeled “waterproof/breathable” by a reputable company will be seam-sealed. Either stitched seams with seam tape, or welded seams.


The w/b part is just the outer two layers – the face or shell fabric, bonded to the w/b laminate. Since the w/b laminate is fairly fragile, and thus needs protection, a hanging liner gets added to the inside of the garment. Doesn’t this make it three layers? Kind of, but the hanging liner doesn’t “count” in this type of math. The hanging liner helps wick moisture, and feels soft and comfortable, especially since they’re often made with brushed poly, soft mesh, or microfleece. Doesn’t usually feel like a garbage bag next to skin. But doing it this way adds considerable weight and bulk. They’re usually quieter, not as crinkly sounding or feeling. Sounds nice, but they’re heavy and bulky. Though I’m probably wrong here, I don’t think anyone makes a technical, climbing, w/b shell in 2-layer construction anymore. Since that hanging liner isn’t glued/bonded to the w/b barrier, it can actually make for pretty good breathability, but it’s hard to compare straight-up breathabilitiy across the garment construction categories; as I understand it, it’s a mixed bag, a can of worms, and goes above my pay grade – too many factors with construction, whether it’s bonded with glue or lasers and stuff, the distance from the heat/moisture source (your body) to the w/b barrier, and so on. 2-layer garments aren’t very compressible due to the hanging liner, which can also get bunchy over layers. These things best make for an around-town jacket, or maybe resort skiing, things like that. Usually good price-point pieces, not as expensive, not very technical.


The interior of a 2.5L (left; the Patagonia Spectre p/o, unfortunately no longer made), and a 3L (right; the Patagonia M10).

These have a bonded inner liner (not hanging), but it’s not a full liner – hence the “half” part of 2.5. It’s like elevated specs, or parts of a bonded liner, sticking up off the w/b laminate, often in a dot or cool little printed interior pattern. Thus, there’s less bonded liner material on there. This decreases durability, and can allow contamination of the w/b laminate, because it’s partially exposed. It also makes it more susceptible to mechanically breaking down over time, thus reducing the shell’s effective life. But it does make for superb compressibility and the lightest weight. Smooth layering, too. Depending on construction, these can be super technical, stretchy, good features, good breathability, all that – or made as an emergency-only shell. Naturally, price therefore varies. You can get some good 2.5L shells for pretty cheap, and they aren’t necessarily bad. These emergency-type shells have some merit, particularly for summer alpine rock, like a “If you’re in the Park and hell unleashes with afternoon thunderstorms and it dumps for two hours emergency shell.”


A complete bonded liner is laminated to the inside. Thus, the w/b film is completely sandwiched between the inner scrim and the outer shell fabric. The scrim does a number of things well: it disperses water vapor (which helps keep it from becoming actual moisture) along the inside, to enhance breathability and keep you dry from the inside. Also has a much better next-to-skin feel than a 2.5L, like if you’re wearing it over a short-sleeved T (I find this of very rare value,though, at least with climbing – if I’m concerned enough to bringing a w/b shell, I’m usually up someplace where I’m wearing long sleeves, even in summer). Significantly, that bonded liner on the inside protects the w/b barrier (which, as we know, is prone to contamination), making for longer life (of the shell, that is) and, typically, better performance over the course of the shell’s life. A 3L fabric package also has greater tear strength and abrasion resistance. It usually has a softer feel than a 2.5L, but is usually heavier and less compressible (though Patagonia’s M10 – yes, I’m biased – does a remarkable job of being light & compressible for a 3L). Those who favor 3L shells tend to wear a hard shell for regular, dedicated use, and thus want something with a good feel and durable, solid performance day-in, day-out. But 3L shells are usually the most expensive – especially if they’re also technically dialed and honed-in enough to also be lightweight, maybe have some stretch, etc.

Again, all of this is if you’re going with, or need, a hard shell vs. a soft shell, which is a different topic – soft shells are great for many uses. An aside about definitions: there are no stone-set standards for what constitutes a hard vs. soft shell, but — ah, hell, time for a side rant.

Side Rant on Definitions:

My understanding, and one embraced by most in the outdoor industry, is that hard shells are waterproof, while soft shells are not. Since a laminate, or waterproof barrier, sandwiched into the garment makes these shells waterproof, all that sandwiching makes them feel “harder.” Soft shells, without that barrier, have a much softer hand. This definition makes sense, at least as I understand things in relation to the origins of soft shells. I think the concept really grabbed hold with winter climbing in Scotland, when people started realizing that their “waterproof” shells were leaving them soaked anyway, just from the inside. So, somewhat counter-intuitive as it may seem, some climbers started wearing jackets that were non-waterproof, but significantly more breathable. The jackets just resisted exterior moisture, slowing it down, but meaning that, in those nasty Scottish conditions, they’d allow some moisture to penetrate the shell fabric. But with such a breathable shell, and layered underneath with directional pile to help channel their own outward-driving heat, their own body heat would help keep them dry and combat the moisture that tried to enter. The shell and pile feel soft, and have no laminate barrier or stiff polyurethane coating. This “modern soft shell concept” works when you’re generating your own heat – it won’t work for watching Tiger Woods in the Kentucky Derby or whatever it is (obviously, I’m not a golfer), in a pouring rain. Though it might work for him, as apparently he generates plenty of heat.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally heard companies market something like a “waterproof soft shell,” which is a contradiction of accepted terminology. In that case, you’re just making up definitions however you want, aside from any semblance of reason. They might say “well, it doesn’t feel hard” (is that what…oh, nevermind) or claim it has a soft feel, but, fuck, ya can say that about anything, it’s wildly subjective. The claim of “waterproof” isn’t an exact science, either, but at least it’s some sort of standard. There are rules here Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. (OK, there really aren’t rules, but that doesn’t mean I’m over the line.)

Need to get back to work. Coming soon, maybe next week – my ideas as to which end uses might steer you to a 2.5 vs. a 3-layer shell. The 2-layer ones are usually best for walking to coffee shops in the rain. Or watching the Tiger Driving Open Master’s Derby or whatever it is.

Over the line!

The Uncertainty Principle

I’m excited. Big day for me – a key appointment with my surgeon, and, as six weeks have passed since my last surgery, two months since my accident, we should finally see bone growth, hopefully some notable healing, and remove the cast in favor of a boot. The view of the RMNP skyline, on the ride down from Estes this morning, made my heart dance. I miss it. It’ll still be awhile until I can learn to walk again, but my leg feels good, and I’ve tried to avoid thinking about the “what ifs.” What if it doesn’t heal right? What if we don’t see bone growth on the Xrays today? What if something goes wrong? There’s no guarantee that the bones will grow back together after being so pulverized.

My cousin asked me how I handle the uncertainty of it all. Truth is, I don’t know. It’s weird in a way – alpinism has everything to do with the unknown, and embracing uncertainty. There, I love it. I guess I’m used to it. But, come to think of it, the uncertainty of it used to terrify me. As it does now in other realms. It’s still a challenge. Life is a challenge – at least to live it in the way that feels right.

With my leg, some variables remain that are simply beyond my control. In life, other variables exist that are worse, and I can get crazy carried away sometimes, to where I feel like there’s a hornet’s nest inside my head. Some things can still reduce me to a crumpled mess. But with my leg, I’ve done great. Last summer gave me perspective. Sometimes I call upon the strength that gets me through difficult climbs, but that also sits right alongside my weaknesses, and transfer it into forcing the runway train to stop, to put up a barrier around my inner self that blocks the hornet’s nest. Breathe…Stop, focus on the moment, everything is OK right now.

Sometimes it works.

Climbing is easy.

Climbing is good. With my leg, maybe the truth is that I just can’t go there, into thinking that my active life could change so drastically. When I let my mind drift close to that edge it scares me too much, because while part of me knows I could probably adapt and live a meaningful life, as so many others have proven possible, part of me doesn’t know if I could. It’s an unknown that I don’t want to embrace. But I don’t need to, because right now, in this moment, everything is OK. And very soon, I’ll know whether or not that’s really true.

OK, I’m off to see the doc.

Waterproof/Breathable Shells – the breathability issue

The importance of staying dry particularly resonates with me after fulfilling a lifelong goal Friday night by attending the famed Lebowski Fest, but that’s another story. I’d planned to write about what shell fabric is best for a belay parka (IMO, a non-waterproof shell is better for most belay parkas – will explain later). But then, aw heck, I got to rambling – too many White Russians and Oat Sodas still in my blood stream, I guess. So, well, you know, like, there’s a lot of ins, a lotta outs, a lot of what-have-yous here. Regarding shell materials, for now I’ll just do an overview of waterproof/breathable fabrics (aka “Hard Shells”), more geared toward understanding breathability as it

At least he didn't pee on it.

applies to field use. Maybe it’ll help understand things like which works better if Wu pees on your rug (and they pee on your fucking rug!).

Waterproof shells do, at least mostly, block incoming moisture (some leak sometimes). They do this by sandwiching a thin barrier, a film, also called a laminate, between the shell fabric and the lining. The laminate itself is too fragile to stand alone, and is super thin, this stretchy white thing that’s waterproof and breathable. So how come you sometimes feel wet when being active in a hard shell?

Most often, the problem comes from the moisture you produce, making you wet from the inside. When you move, you generate heat. Moisture comes with it – by-products of energy metabolism (higher work output = higher energy turnover, a.k.a. greater metabolic output), as we all recall from physiology class, include heat, H20 and CO2. The CO2 and H20 get released a couple of ways, primarily through the mouths of many – if you don’t believe me, just visit your local Wal-Mart. The mouthbreather species abounds everywhere, though, as I’m sadly reminded of when I get busted watching Cops reruns. But those are extreme examples to illustrate a point. Another way H20 gets released is through our skin – i.e. water vapor and sweat – even if we don’t visibly notice it, because at low work rates (and in dry environments, which greatly enhance evaporative rate) it evaporates before we feel damp. But as long as we’ve got a metabolism – as long as we’re alive – we’re releasing heat, H20 and CO2. Just at varying rates, depending on what we’re doing. The moisture has to escape to the outside environment or we get wet from the inside. You can test this by putting a non-breathable plastic bag over your head and going for a run. The inside of the bag will be warm and wet. Warm for awhile, anyway.

OK, so the flipside to waterproof shells is the “breathable” part – in quotes because it’s far from real-world effective. Companies all claim their fabrics breathe, and, sure, they breathe well at certain rates of output. It’s why the masses love them – riding a lift up, then skiing down, or walking to the coffee shop in the rain, simply does not push any realms of breathability. Cool. It works great for certain applications. But anybody working hard can quickly overwhelm the breathability limits of waterproof/breathable fabrics – in other words, your moisture output becomes too much for the fabric to keep pace – remember that H20 and CO2 are by-products of hard work (increased metabolism, or energy turnover). Then, the moisture can’t escape fast enough through the waterproof/breathable barrier, and the inside of your shell gets wet with sweat. Cute lab tests concocted to show breathability are cool (kewl if you’re cool, so I’m told…) and work great in a gear shop’s display or an exhibitor’s booth at a trade show. Simulclimbing like mad, or post-holing like an elk on an approach, though? Ha, breathability, right. (Ha, leads…)

The fact remains that with current technologies, making something fully impermeable from the outside also compromises its breathability from the inside – ya can’t have it both ways. Not yet. Some companies have made notable improvements, though, including some cool things I’ve tested, but that I can’t talk about yet lest I end up in Guantanamo Bay.

It sounds like I’m bashing hard shells, but, actually, I use them a lot. On some climbs, protection is my paramount concern, and indeed hard shells offer superior protection. They’ve got some other advantages, too, which I’ll hit on soon, along with things to consider regarding making them work for you. As with so many things, it’s a balance – in this case, between which is more important for the situation, keeping dry from the outside, or from the inside?

Getting My Namaste On

Funny how pride messes with ya, even in little ways. Was feeling pretty good about myself in the airport yesterday, like suddenly I wasn’t a short guy with a low IQ and a gimp leg, as I maintained my longtime eschewing of escalators, instead booking down the stairs, and skipping the lazyman’s moving walkways, instead crutching along faster. Of course my gate was forever away. But that’s OK, because I’m clearly a better human being than those who use the walkways.

One-legged Stairmaster. Didn't work so well.

I’ve been starting to miss climbing. Physical activity – a 30-minute crutch session, or getting after it on my hangboard (I now have three in my tiny cabin) – helps, for sure. But damn, there’s nothing like climbing or just being in the mountains, and there’s most certainly nothing like climbing in the mountains. Damn. I can’t wait to come back.

I’ve also come to realize something that I guess I knew, but hadn’t confronted myself with in a little while: that I greatly rely on physical activity, especially in the mountains, and especially climbing, to cope. Here, of course, we find that damned “opportunity” thing. True, this is an opportunity, an opportunity for me to sit around and drink and watch pro wrestling learn healthy new ways to cope with life’s challenges, rather than just escape into my private, vertical world. I’m working on it. But some opportunities, I’d be just fine without. So it goes. I need to learn, and I’m trying to learn. A good friend even took me to a non-secular hippy Buddhist meditation thing last week, and don’t hold me to this but I’ll admit that I found it good, healthy, and I’ve been practicing some on my own (just in case it wasn’t obvious by now…).

Anyway, a silly dose of pride got me when I reached the gate just as they announced that my flight had been moved 25 gates away. Oh well. Just had to laugh at myself and spin a 180 on my gimp sticks, suddenly feeling a little less smug. Still no lazyman’s sidewalk, though – a little extra exercise won’t hurt me, and it put me in a better, more balanced mood. How ‘bout that. So, yeah, I don’t have that whole internal meditative thing dialed quite yet – though I’ll try to stare into a sunflower somewhere on this L.A. trip and find my inner calm, chi, or whatever the hell it is (namaste, motherfucker, NAMASTE!). In the meantime – just in case I don’t score my inner peace merit badge before the deadline – my sis bought me some good tequila, and my brother and law and I are heading to Lebowski Fest Friday night. Oh yeah, how ya like me now.