My Cerro Torre Book (and marg recipe)

I’ve spent most of the last two-plus years researching, thinking, planning, analyzing, agonizing, toiling, writing, editing, rewriting, revising, refining and proofing a book about the most beautiful mountain in the world, Cerro Torre. I conducted in-person interviews in seven different countries, researched original documents spanning from the 1950s until 2013 (my selected bibliography contains 256 references, though many more contributed to my thinking and writing), and nearly drove myself mad.

kc - book - LR cropThis site, along with my book’s Facebook page, will serve as a place for me to post book-related material. My book is entitled The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre. More about the book here, ordering info here.

It just returned from the printer and is available through Patagonia. Other retailers should have it soon. Guess that makes me a little late rolling into the requisite self-promotion that I loathe. But, apropos of much of the behavior and beliefs surrounding Cerro Torre — and many human endeavors, for that matter — when confronted by reality I’ll compartmentalize my thoughts into a little black box inside my mind, and then charge ahead. What the hell, it’s more fun that way.

With my posts, I can’t promise much of the “#Look at Me!” perfect-life curated content we’ve grown accustomed to in today’s social media, because I don’t think real life is like that. Alpine climbing isn’t like that, at least not often, and writing a book sure as hell isn’t like that, at least not for me.

But I’ll do it. My friend Gregory Crouch, an extraordinary writer, advised me (on Facebook, no less): “Don’t feel guilty about promoting your shit. It’s one of your responsibilities as an author. And yes, I know, it sucks. So pour yourself another margarita, hold your nose, and make it happen.”

I hope it’s not shit (#Yay Me!), and I’ll fulfill my promo obligations as best I can, even though I’d like to think the book stands on its own.

Anyway, quite simply my delay in getting going is because it took awhile. After the book shipped to the printer, I swore I’d never write another word, and I went climbing.

Some things, like good margaritas, just take time.

Kelly’s Book Spray Marg:

Herradura Reposado. Go for the good stuff. It’s a special day somewhere. Herradura makes terrific tequila, and the reposado picks-up flavors from the oak barrels where it ages, blending with the wild agave flavor. Real stuff, a great, honest tequila. Refined and aged, but not too much.

Triple Sec
Cointreau or nothing. With good tequila, I often skip the triple sec, since cheap paint thinner can ruin the smooth taste. But a fine liqueur like Cointreau adds a tasty touch, and a touch of class. A hefty splash, maybe 1 part Cointreau to 3 parts tequila. Fine to skip this step. Not fine to substitute cheap paint thinner.

A lime to a lemon, lemon to a lime, one round lime and half a fresh lemon. Plus a baby orange. Fresh squeezed, 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. A cheap hand-squeezer gizmo on a good lime will yield about two ounces of juice. You can also cut it in half, hand squeeze it hard, and mine it with a fork (poor-man’s juicer). Expect a bit less juice from the half lemon and baby orange. Stir the juices.

For each squeezed lime, add some agave nectar. How much? Hell, I don’t know. A squirt or two. This is art, dammit. Besides, if you make it too sweet you can always re-balance it with more tequila.

About half mix max, and at least half alcohol. Put everything in a shaker (a Nalgene works well) with some ice, and shake the sweet bejesus out of it. Vigorous shaking enhances the taste. Seriously – like it blends the agave-carbon chains into the, uh, (-OH) groups of the alcohol much more better. Adjust to taste, and remember that taste testing is fun. After all, as climbers like to say while they spray, it’s really just about the experience, you know?

Shaken, not stirred. Rocks and salt. And, as we know well by now, for fuck’s sake no umbrella.

kc - herradura-cointreau marg IMG_3837

Another Round

Sometimes, on a good day, I’m able to accept my injuries as the price of admission. I wouldn’t call them essential costs, but they cost me nonetheless. It’s curious, how pushing beyond ordinary survival and into places scary and unknown enriches life. Even becomes an expression of life itself.

Yet so often one slip, one mistake, one random moment of bad luck can change or end everything. For the first fifteen years of my climbing life I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Which, in some regards, makes the last five all the more challenging.

Since that perfect storm of a moment on February 1, 2010, I’ve had four surgeries on my lower leg and ankle. On Tuesday, I’ll have what I hope is my last. It’s the last real option, of the reasonable orthopedic options on the market (I don’t do snake oil). We’re fusing my ankle. After the prolonged recovery, I should be able to walk again without pain, without my tibia and talus grinding together with every step. Honestly, I’ve forgotten how that feels. It’s like a distant fantasy.

Some mornings, when I wake I stall on the edge of my bed, contemplating the distance to the coffee grinder in my tiny cabin. When nearly every step of every day includes pain, it grinds you down.

My range of motion will be somewhat reduced after fusion. But it’s already severely diminished, with the smaller joints of my foot compensating, and I’ve adapted OK in terms of technical climbing – my footwork isn’t any worse than it ever was. I just can’t walk far enough to partake in the greatest joy I’ve known: climbing in the mountains.

Anesthesia is so strange. One moment you’re there, and then you’re gone. You wake without realizing you missed a thing. My first time under, before my spinal fusion nearly ten years ago, I masked my nervousness with jokes. Joking not only masks fear, but sometimes it works. I remember feeling good – perhaps deluding myself, tapping into that requisite skill for alpine climbing and, sometimes, for dealing with life. I lay on the operating table, chatting with the good Dr. Wieder and his staff, when someone asked if I had any questions. Last words, you could say. They were about to put me under. I glanced around the room, and my eyes caught the warning sign on the door. “Oh – there is one thing,” I said, raising my index finger and looking at each of them before parroting the sign. “Remember…only YOU can prevent operating room fires.”

“We gotta change that sign,” someone said.

Several hours later I woke up. They’d cut me open, grinded this and moved that, harvested bone chunks floating in my spine to make the fusion material (no hip drilling needed). I knew nothing. I woke wondering when they were going to start. My smart-ass comment was that last thing I remembered.

It’s like a slice of your life is removed. Like a piece of cake, a sliver plucked away and gone, and then you’re back in. It’s not like sleep. When you sleep, you dream. Or if you don’t dream, somehow you know you’re still there. Still here. You roll over, scratch your head, steal back the covers from the one you love, then blissfully drift away again. Anesthesia is different. You’re gone.

I’ve gone completely under eight times – nine come tomorrow – plus some sedations for minor procedures. Bad luck, maybe. Along with a lot of good luck.

I’ve come to view anesthesia,  necessary as it is for life, as preparation for death. To bring me come closer to acceptance, to peace, when the time comes to embrace the eternal nothingness beyond.

Until then, when I wake I’ll do my rehab like a fuckin’ champ, like I do every time, because it brings me closer to returning to the life that I love.

So, here we go again. Another round. One step closer.

Dancing Skeletons

The other day I started writing a post about photographs, and then I stumbled upon this Memorial Day photo. The unmitigated grief in the image brought me to tears, and so I’m writing about today, which is every day.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy BBQs and a day off of work. Maybe we should, because we have so much to be thankful for. Holidays in the U.S. can be gross, though – Christmas being the worst, as I ranted about in 2010 and 2011 – because we tend to forget the meanings. Veterans and those close to them might accuse me of the same, as, on Memorial Day, I choose to remember people I’ve lost regardless of how they died.

memorial day

Memorial Day also makes me think about life.

Two years ago I wrote the piece below from my mom’s place, where my sisters, niece, aunt and I gathered, along with mom’s hospice nurses. Last week I saw my sister Jill and her family again, as I do a couple of times a year. They now have a boy, who’s nearly the same age as Fia was when I wrote the post. Emmett rolls around in the dirt, breaks stuff (yup, definitely a boy) and walks in what appears to be a constant state of forward falling (complete with frequent wipe-outs, which often segue seamlessly to him rolling in the dirt or on the floor, making some sort of mess, and finding it hilarious). Fia is now three and a half, climbing trees, talking up a storm and developing her personality, a wonderful mix of sensitive introvert and a little babble box curious about the world. She’s just like Jill was at that age – god, has it really been 40 years? – and quite likely the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my life. “Mama,” she told Jill the other morning, “Can you please take the toothbrush out of your mouth so we can have a conversation?”

It’s almost incomprehensible to ponder the cycle of life, how fast and slow it happens, how we are nothing and everything in the passage of the greater universe and our individual universes.

About a month and a half after I wrote the below post, my friend Bean died. He was 38. Fuckin’ cancer. Unbelievable, and so ironic, given that he’d easily used up nine or more lives in the mountains. A couple of months ago a young friend, Kevin, only 24, died also of cancer. I will never understand life’s incomprehensible cruelty when young people die. And I can’t even think about children with cancer, or I disintegrate into a sobbing mess. Yet it all starts with the beauty and the possibility inherent in birth. Just the other day, it seems, Tommy and Becca let me hold their newborn son in the hospital, and again a few weeks later, as he slept on my chest and I stared at his minuscule fingers and his closed eyes, I marveled, alternately chuckling and drifting through thoughts about the mysteries of the universe. 

I haven’t tried to count the number of friends I’ve lost in the mountains, though more will someday die of disease, old age and what we call natural causes. Last summer my cousin, my age, drowned, along with his best pack mule, in his beloved Missouri River. His girlfriend tried to save him, but he was trapped in a whirlpool and with his last breaths, before he went under, he shouted and swatted her away so that she wouldn’t die, too. I didn’t know what to say to my aunt – his mother, my mom’s sister – and I still don’t. I know only that my feelings of loss will never approach the eternal void, the indescribable and permanent sorrow, of a parent who lost their child.

Yet the weirdest thing of all is to reconcile the simple truth, the reality, that death will only continue, because it has to. One day – the blink of an eye, really – it will be me, my sister, even her kids and then theirs, a thought so impossible I feel wrong for even thinking it. But this is the natural cycle of life, and the simple reality that time is all we have. At its heart, and not to sound trite, maybe it explains why I climb: because nothing makes me feel so alive, so at peace that I can dance with the rhythm of the world. I am forever grateful for the privilege and the freedom to pursue the life that I love.

A few weeks after I wrote the post below, my mom drifted away and died peacefully. I think of her sometimes, though maybe not as often as I should. I don’t know what “should” means. Maybe it’s just a sign of closure, of peace. And in death, I am certain, she finally had the peace that so often eluded her in life.

Hemingway wrote (A Farewell to Arms):

“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.”


Memorial Day (originally published on Patagonia’s blog on May 27, 2011)

Kelly staring into the Black, and the Black staring back. Photo: Steve Halvorson

Kelly staring into the Black, and the Black staring back. Photo: Steve Halvorson

I like the idea of dancing skeletons. They seem happy and free. I like dancing, too, though I don’t do it much, at least not in public (be grateful; I just do the same disco moves over and over again while sporting my whiteman’s overbite). But I love the idea – movement for the joy of movement and expression. Kind of like climbing, in a way. Probably just as absurd, too. Imagine Martians coming down and watching people dance. Or watching people climb. And skeletons, well, let’s be realistic. All of us die. In climbing and any adventurous realms of living, we might die sooner than otherwise. No guarantees, of course.

The Memorial Day weekend and the label art on a tequila bottle inspired these babbles (and a margarita recipe, of course). Which also leads me to apologize: I’ve received some flak for not giving kids’ versions of my margarita recipes, and for that I am truly sorry. Thus, in today’s post I shall include my well-researched kiddie version. I even asked my sister about it – right now I’m hanging with her and her adorable 18-month-old daughter, Fia, who’s fascinated by everything in her vast little world, so soon I’ll have her sample it.

Jonny Copp and two old friends on the Kahiltna Glacier, AK, 2003.

Jonny Copp and two old friends on the Kahiltna Glacier, AK, 2003.

This seems to me a great weekend to celebrate the cycle of life. The Memorial Day holiday originated for those who died in military service, and was traditionally observed on May 30 (my mom’s birthday!), though for me – and with full respect to the original idea – the holiday has even broader implications. It makes me remember everyone I’ve loved, no matter how they lived their lives, including their willingness to embrace risk or do things that are so easy to look back upon and second guess, because everything we do – the good and bad decisions we make, the experiences we have, the chances we take – are all a part of us, and make us who we are. For all of that, I am grateful.

And I’m grateful for my mom – she’s the reason I’m down here with my sisters, niece and aunt – with her quirky humor and wild streak. Hell, the phone rang yesterday, she answered and told the bill collectors, “No. I’m busy dying right now.” Wild-living, hard-charging, too often in too much trouble, but always full of love and now back in her home at last, no more hospitals, thanks to her dear friend who helps care for her, and for the wonderful, compassionate people of hospice.

It’s a good weekend to celebrate, to be thankful for all that makes us who we are, and to be thankful for the fact that we live such great lives that, on a daily basis most of the year, we can take for granted all that we have. All the way until we are nothing more than dancing skeletons.

kc - espolon IMG_3136

The Memorial Day Marg:

Espolón tequila: reasonably priced, 100% agave (of course – never forget that, despite marketing hype of mixto and gold blends, 100% agave is THE baseline), surprisingly good for the price. And who can’t love the label?

Limes: get ‘em fresh. Invest the $4.99 in a manual juice squeezer, and if you start by rolling the limes to soften ‘em, and maybe even microwaving for about 13 seconds per lime, the juices come plentiful. Work hard and you should be able to get about 2 oz. of juice per lime.

Agave nectar: Sweetener made from the same plant tequila comes from – perfect. Just a couple of squirts per squeezed lime tends to do it. Adjust to taste.

Lemon & orange: squeeze some of each. Or, if you’re lazy, just get it from the store.

Marg: About half tequila, and half the other stuff. The other stuff is mostly lime juice, with that squirt of agave nectar and a splash of lemon and orange juice. Adjust to taste – I can’t describe it down to the milliliter. After all, life is art, damnit.

Put it in a shaker or water bottle or anything, and shake the bejesus out of it. Pour it over ice. Salt if you have it (doh, I spaced it at the store last night).

Kiddie version: At long last, with apologies to my sister and all the parents out there for my delay, I present the kiddie version: more salt, less tequila.

Chicken Clip (ice pro pointer)

Since shattering my leg nearly three years ago, I’ve been unusually scared of ice climbing. Ice never particularly scared me before; I love the ephemeral medium, the psychological control and judgment required, the wildness and beauty of the backcountry in winter. The adventure.

Granted, when scratching-around in the alpine of RMNP you rarely get enough ice to place screws, but when I can, lately I’ve used what you might call the “chicken clip.” It’s an old technique – nothing I invented – that gives a little more security when doing the pumpiest part or ice climbing: placing screws. Consider it temporary pro, not real pro. Certainly not whipper pro. But it can provide an extra margin of safety.

Goes like this:

1. Place your tools solidly. Let go of your “free” tool (the one you release in order to place a screw), clip a quickdraw to the hole in its spike (assuming your tool has a hole in its spike…), and then clip the rope to the draw. It’s obviously not for holding a shockload fall – ice tools aren’t made for this. But if your tool is in good ice it should hold body weight if you have to hang.

kc - screw1 IMG_3765(LR)

2. Place the screw.

kc - screw2 IMG_3770(LR)

3. Move the draw from your tool to the screw. Since the rope is already clipped to the draw, presto, now you have real pro.

kc - screw3 IMG_3774(LR)

To vet the idea, I first checked with a couple of AMGA guide friends. Check. Good idea, they said, but don’t let the technique lead to false confidence, which leads to big problems of its own. Excellent point. Leading ice isn’t like sport climbing – it is not OK to fall. Don’t push it that far.

Next I checked with some friends at Black Diamond who oversee product testing and development. They said they recommend the technique to buddies. Cool. But again, be wary of false confidence. This won’t make you a better climber. Do it right. Get your tools in solidly. This isn’t real protection; it’s a (solid, when done right) hedge against falling off when in the sometimes vulnerable spot of placing pro.

Kolin Powick, who runs BD’s quality control and testing program (and who does a ton to further our collective knowledge of safety systems and gear), told me:

“Clip to spike is fine.

BD spikes are burly.

Don’t clip to a pommel.

They’re as weak as you are. Maybe even weaker if that’s possible.

That’s a good tip.

Of course the ice is always the question.

Picks could shear with a dynamic load like that.”

Nearly everything in climbing has advantages and disadvantages, and this technique is no exception. I think the plusses generally outweigh the minuses, but decide for yourself. Perhaps play with it on ice that’s well below your limit. Some considerations:


• Added security with minimal energy cost. The only extra step is a small one: moving the quick draw from your tool to the screw.

• If you slip-off while placing a screw – a time when you’re vulnerable, due to only one hand on a tool and the mounting pump, and potential body wiggle while turning the screw – it can prevent the whipper.

• If you pump-out while placing the screw and need to clip-in to your tool, you don’t have to do the frantic and dangerous fumble of trying to clip-in while pumped. You’re already clipped in, and can call “take.”


• If you have to clear-away more ice for your screw placement, it’s a hassle because the spike of your “free” tool has the draw, with rope, clipped to it. So first you have to move the draw back to your harness (or someplace else) temporarily, while you use that tool to clear-away ice. This costs energy, which could increase fall potential.

•Possible solution: chicken-clip your draw to the spike of the tool you’re holding onto (rather than the “free” tool”). This can be awkward, though.

• Not all ice tools have strong end-to-end strength. I didn’t survey the various companies. I only asked my friends who design and test the gear at BD, since I use BD tools.

• NOTE (important!): don’t confuse the plastic pommel for the spike. The pommels can break at surprisingly low forces. Some of the tests on various pommels, and returns to large retailers from breaks, are rumored to be quite startling. Bill Belcourt, who’s in charge of hard goods at BD, told me: “Our philosophy from the beginning was that the pommel was the replacement for the nylon leash, and it should be as burly, even though there is no standard saying it needs to be.”

• If you weight the rope, you essentially have a pulley system (like a top-rope) off your tool, which is more force than if you clipped directly from your waist to the tool with a runner. Granted, a stretchy rope holding body weight on a well-placed and strong tool should still hold.

• If you slip or fall and your tool breaks or shears out, you’ll fall farther. How much farther? About twice the distance from your waist (point of your tie-in knot) up to the clip-in point (where the rope goes through the bottom ‘biner of the draw clipped to your tool). In most cases, this will be an additional couple of feet. Could be enough to smack a ledge. Or to clear one. Ice climbing falls are usually bad, so the question: what’s the probability of the system failing, and if it does, what are the likely consequences of a slightly longer fall? No way of knowing. No formula. To me, it’s a slight hedge in safety, via fall prevention, that’s often worth using.

• Beware of thinking this makes ice climbing safe. It doesn’t. If you get on something way too hard for you, it can be bad news. Get complacent, even on easier stuff, and it’s still bad news. Don’t develop a false sense of security – the number one rule of ice climbing absolutely remains: don’t fall.

Times I Chicken Clip, times I don’t:

• I do it if my tool is placed in solid ice, especially if I’m scared (happens often).

• I do not do it if my tool is in mank, or a wobbly placement (which you try to avoid when ice climbing, but it happens). Then, I save the sliver of energy, breathe, and try to climb more delicately.

• I don’t do it if I’m climbing with keeper cords (the elastic leashes that go from your waist to your tools), which I often use on long routes, where dropping a tool could be serious. Most keeper cords will hold body weight if you have to hang, though they won’t hold a fall – a friend snapped one last season, for example, when he fell.

• I rarely do it if the ice is exceptionally complex, like lots of undulations that I know I’ll have to clear to get the screw in. Ideally you chop these away before placing the screw, but often I mis-judge how much ice I need to remove.

Most importantly, climb well, and don’t fall. Get out, get comfortable with the medium. And, when it makes sense, hedge your bets on the safe side. Maybe this pointer will help.

Ready: New Day, New Year

Past, present, future. We never know the future, of course, and we strive to enjoy and appreciate the present. The present that soon becomes our past.

We are all dying. Day by day, we inch or catapult closer. How much, we don’t know, which only underscores the importance of now, each moment, each day, day by day.

I’m not big on celebrations. I don’t really even like my birthday, for some reason. And I dislike Christmas, not because I’m an atheist (which I am), but because of what it has come to represent. To those who believe in the meaning of the holiday: respect. To those for whom it becomes a time of stress and materialism, I find it gross. And New Year’s, too – not my favorite, because, really, it’s just another day. Not a day to convince yourself that this year, unlike the X-number of years past, you will magically, somehow, muster the motivation you inherently lack to do something you proclaim to be important. No, if it were important, the superficies of a random day’s resolution won’t make you do it. It won’t. You’ll do it if it’s important to you, January 1 – or November 13, or March 4, or whatever – be damned.

One thing I love about the holidays, though, is the time off. I love how people use it as a time to do what we should all probably do more: work less, play more, and appreciate the things that make today – what will soon be yesterday – worthwhile. Worth living.

At the end of each year we get some cool lists. I generally dislike lists, too. Surprise, surprise, I know. Fair enough to wonder: what don’t I dislike? Hard to say. But generally, I dislike things that are stupid and fake. I like things that are real.

The year-end “Best Of” compilations of the arts give me great enjoyment via a nearly endless stockpile of engaging reads, viewings and audio.

The best audio I heard in 2012, or perhaps in my life, was Terry Gross’s interview with author Maurice Sendak. Sendak was born to Polish immigrants, and most of his extended family died in the Holocaust. He grew up to become a celebrated author, winning the National Book Award (among many accolades), writing and/or illustrating over 100 books, primarily children’s books, which often had a dark edge as real as life. Brilliant and real. His best-known work was Where the Wild Things Are.

The piece aired on May 8, 2012 – the day of his death – and it still makes me cry when I listen. Sendak was near the end of his life, he knew that his circle was closing, and his voice and his words conveyed a depth and a poignance and, above all, a beauty that eloquently encapsulates the time that we have. He speaks of life, its futility and its wholeness, its meaning and not, the reality of death and his mind as an artist.

Here is the link to the full audio piece (you can download it there, too, for later listening). Embedded here:

Here, and embedded below, is a brief and beautiful illustrated video that an artist named Christoph Niemann produced with short clips from the audio.

All the best for today, 2013, and every day. When our time comes, perhaps we can speak like Sendak:

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”


The Penguin (handwarming tip for winter climbing)

Do you hate ice climbing? Yes, yes! It’s scary and stupid and cold, you guys. Oh, but wait! Once your fingers are warm, it’s all puppy dogs and rainbows out there.

Been meaning to post this simple, effective tip. I remembered it yesterday, when, instead of being in the rock gym, for some stupid reason we climbed outside. It was six degrees.

Cold fingers are cold and miserable, so we often wear thicker gloves, which makes fumbling with a gear a major pain and is more pumpy. Can feel like you added a full difficulty grade to the climb. I rarely lead with thick gloves, btw – even in the cold – here’s a post for those with cold hands and glove dilemmas. And here’s something I wrote awhile back on Patagonia’s blog, with some tips for dressing for winter climbing.

Climbers practice a variety of techniques to warm the hands, and possibly offset the onset of the dreaded Screaming Barfies (the perfectly descriptive term for when your hands – or toes, whew, that one really sucks – get frigid and then re-warm). Some things are obvious, like keeping your belay parka on for as long as possible (a post on that here), bringing a hot thermos to the crag, shoveling-down calories, or saying “fuck this” and going home to drink booze.

Active techniques include the well-known Speedskater, and my personal favorite, the lesser-known Penguin. Whereas the Speedskater is easy to perform, it carries the risk of throwing you off balance, which can lead to your cruel and untimely death, and it requires space – won’t work at hanging belays, for example. The Penguin, on the other hand, is technique-intensive (including the facial expressions, of course), but it’s worth it. Don’t know how it works, but it does. For me, it’s a magical instant handwarmer. I’m dead serious. Got my technique down and everything – which is more than can be said for my video editing skills. Anyway, it helps make ice climbing less miserable and more fun. I hope it helps, and feel free to post-up any good tips you have.

Notes from November

Quick notes from November:

• Learned a new term at Thanksgiving: “Meat Sweats.” The Caldwells hosted a great dinner, and after stuffing ourselves to discomfort, our friend Patrick expanded our vocabulary. I love learning a term that I didn’t know I knew.

Patrick enlightening us at Thanksgiving.

• Had the immense honor of interviewing Tom Hornbein a couple of weeks ago, for an oral history project organized by the Estes Park Museum and Estes Valley Library. I admire Tom, and can only hope to age like he has – he’s 82, still gets out hiking and climbing, is so insightful, and so damned sharp. Impressive man. He also wrote one of my favorite climbing literature passages, in his book Everest: The West Ridge. He describes the view from their brutal, unplanned bivy at 28,000 feet on their descent from the FA of the West Ridge, and first traverse of the peak, back in 1963:

“The night was overpoweringly empty. Stars shed cold, unshimmering light. The heat lightning dancing along the plains spoke of a world of warmth and flatness. The black silhouette of Lhotse lurked half-sensed, half-seen, still below. Only the ridge we were on rose higher, disappearing into the night, a last lonely outpost of the world.”

Tom Hornbein and me after our interview.

• Once again, on Black Friday I did not buying a goddamned thing. I do not buy the religion of mindless consumption that’s become a defining American value; never have, it’s a doomed road, there must be a better way. We’re all part of the problem, solutions aren’t easy, but the Black Friday madness represents our very worst. Better: get outside, walk, climb, breathe, spend time alone or with loved ones, give something away.

• Instead, on Saturday I tried to register to be a bone marrow and stem cell donor with Be the Match. It’s free and incredibly easy to do, though their health history form dq’d me (hardware in my spine), so I made a financial donation. It’s such an important program, please check it out. So easy, and life saving. I went there with thoughts of my friend Kevin Landolt. He’s a climber, skier, and a fine young man, 24 years old and with a very aggressive form of leukemia. I admire his honesty and courage – read some of his blog posts, they’re intense and extraordinary– facing death isn’t a bright and cheery thing, it turns out – and I wish him all the best the world has to offer. Our health, our friends, our families, our ability to enjoy being outside and doing things we love are what we should be thankful for. Fuck Black Friday. Register. Help. Those are true gifts.

• November has been fantastic in Estes Park, and Colorado in general. Rock climbing one day, ice up high the next. A few photos scattered below.

Longs Peak.

• Obviously (given my Nov 5 post), I’m psyched on the election. But I’m glad it’s over, so  that we can go back to mere congressional bickering, and even less-important bickering on Facebook. Along those lines, I have to chuckle at my friend Rich’s directness – we’re about as far apart politically as possible, and the guy certainly wouldn’t be accused of Tasty Talking. I think that all of us who cared about the election were getting worn thin. But I liked one of his Facebook posts not only for its succinctness (and his lack of filter), but because it’s how I’ve sometimes felt like replying to moronic online comments (i.e. The ones I disagree with). The blessing and the curse of the internet: No barrier to entry.

Rich began: “Because of the First Amendment I can say this: If you don’t like my political posts…blow me.”

South Platte.

• For all our dysfunction, we live in a pretty damn good country. Let the troglodytes in Texas secede.

Whiners. Especially after they shat-us Bush. To borrow from Rich, hey Texas…

• My cankle is coming along – still making progress, pretty cool, though sometimes still a bummer. I’m trying. Saved some money, kicked down and “bought the fucking ticket” (worthy story behind that phrase…coming soon, someday) to Argentina. Who knows if I’ll be able to climb like I want to or not, so we’re keeping things flexible, but Patagonia’s a good hang regardless. Side note: cabin for rent in Estes Park during the two worst glorious months, January and February.


• Getting older blows in many ways. In others it’s great – if you’re smart enough to realize that you’re not smart enough, you’ll continue to learn and grow. Gain wisdom. I love this sentiment from Muhammad Ali: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

• I hope you’ve all recovered from the meat sweats, and that you’re doing valuable things this holiday season, every season, and every day. At this devilspawn time of year, when unabashed consumerism reigns supreme, remember to remember the important things. If you want somewhere to start, read this – it’s Kevin’s latest post.

Weasel One thinking light thoughts after a resounding “crrrrack!” on Chasm Lake.

Tasty Talking

[This post comes from the end of my September trip to Europe; I’ve got a ton of notes, and ideas for several posts, but haven’t gotten around to writing them. I’ve just been talking about writing. Tasty talking. Here’s one, anyway–Kelly]

In the security line at the Boston airport, at an ungodly six a.m., through bleary eyes I stared at this TSA lady reciting the procedures with a semi-autistic mix of cheer and robotics. I blinked hard and stared, zombie like. Was she real? Plastic smile. Perfect hair. Sing-song words: “I’d like to ask you all to please remove your shoes and liquids, and to remember that we request…” and so on about the rules, on a never-ending loop. Wash, rinse, repeat.

What is this tasty talking?!

One of my last stops in Europe was at the house of my friend Marko Prezelj, who’s like a Slovenian version of a real Chuck Norris. When Marko does pushups, the earth moves (among his countless world-class ascents, his and Andrej Štremfelj’s ultra-committing alpine-style new route on Kangchenjunga South ranks as one of greatest of all-time). Marko has a great mind, sharp intellect and insight, and a manner that, well, sometimes some of us might consider a little bit direct. I like it. Probably because sometimes I’m too far the opposite.

What the fuck did this lady mean, “I’d like to ask you to…”? She doesn’t really mean that. We don’t have a choice. This is not ‘Nam, there are rules here. It is not a request, it’s an order. If I don’t comply, I don’t fly. Fine. So why this tasty talking?

The “tasty talking” term comes from Marko’s classic blend of Slovenian-English and his dislike of sugar-coated bullshit. It can take different forms. I got the original story over wines (plural because we drank several bottles, and they were different varieties).

Marko Prezelj (left) tells the story of Tasty Talking to Urban Novak and me.

Goes like this: When he was in the Charakusa Valley with a crew of American climbers (Doug Chabot, Jeff Hollenbaugh, Steve House, Bruce Miller and Steve Swenson) in 2004, in the mess tent one night the always cordial Swenson politely asked Marko to please pass this plate or that, then the salt, and then to please, if he wouldn’t mind, to also pass the pepper.

Marko can be impatient. This isn’t always a bad thing. He gets shit done. And it’s just the way he is – I remember first meeting him in France, year ca 2000, and as we climbed a multi-pitch ice route, his version of a belay transition went as such: I was on a ledge off to the left, bringing him up the first pitch. He cleaned the screws. Figured he had enough for the next pitch, so why waste time? He might’ve said something – if so, it would be like, “I keep going” – before continuing straight up the middle of the next pitch, not veering the slightest toward my belay. If not impatient, at the least Marko is direct.

So the salt and pepper weren’t far from Steve. He’d have to reach a little across Marko to get ‘em himself. Steve, polite. Marko, impatient. And trying to eat. The whole trip, all the Americans had been courteous to the point of sickly sweet, at least in Marko’s eyes. Cultural thing, perhaps. Anyway, the final request – for the pepper, or whatever it was – triggered a rant that birthed a classic term among Marko, the American crew, and our mutual friends:

“WHAT IS THIS TASTY TALKING?!?! You want the pepper. The pepper is right here! Why this ‘please will you pass’? Take the fucking pepper! No more tasty talking!”

Two routes in the Charakusa now bear the tasty talking name, by the way: “Tasty Talking” and, appropriately enough, “No More Tasty Talking,” both on Naisa Brakk.

Naisa Brakk is the pyramid on the left. The sun-shade ridge facing the camera, starting from a notch midway up (reached via the gully on the right), is Tasty Talking (House-Prezelj-Swenson, 2004). A couple of days later, Bruce Miller and Marko started the ridge from the base (lower left) and continued up TT, calling the full line No More Tasty Talking.

Lady, just tell me to take my shoes off.

In the West, we have a tasty talking culture. (No surprise from my vantage point, I admit, living merely an hour from the People’s Republic of Boulder, home to polite invitations that should perhaps be amended to consider asking people to please stop being so pretentious; but now in *Boston*, for fuck’s sake?!) Everything – even the negative – is framed in the positive, we’re all winners, and soon our lies aren’t lies they’re just misrepresentations and different ways of looking at things. We try to make ourselves look better than we are, and the little lies become so common that we hardly notice. It’s dishonest.


“Some people say: If you have nothing nice (tasty?) to say, say nothing. I can fully respect that in the usual complicated life where we have to be clowns, gladiators, posers, prima-donnas and other characters, if we really want to prosper. In the mountains, when we play our game honestly, I learned that only clear/simple communication works.

“I like climbing also because of its difference from popular pretending culture where instant attractiveness to others is a norm. Dishonesty and hypocrisy, covered with so-called good manners or politeness, creates fake emotions and stimulates vanity. I don’t like that in alpinism.”

Hayden Kennedy climbs Tasty Talking, Charakusa Valley, 2011.

But climbers can be every bit as bad. Maybe worse. Depends on the person – you, me – and how we want to be. We see this dishonesty in climbing reports where the climber/editor/publisher conveniently omits inconvenient details. In my 12 years editing the AAJ, I had to straighten-out plenty of bullshit. And, in general, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read that someone got to the top – only the “top,” it turned out, wasn’t the real top but, rather, the place they retreated from. Or a headline reading that they freed the route – only buried in the details was that they used a point of aid, or did it on top-rope – but hey, c’mon, we’re all winners here, and if the rock would have been dry they could have freed it…. It’s bullshit talk.

Other times, tasty talking isn’t really tasty, but an attempt to be civil. Cool. At least it starts that way. But too often we’re unable – or, worse, unwilling – to say what we mean, say what we want, to tell it like it is. I do it, too.

Important note: You do not have to be an asshole to stop with this tasty talking. You can still be a nice, decent person, and not be full of shit.

So I think Marko has a point. At its best, tasty talking is inefficient and annoying. At its worst, tasty talking is like passive aggressiveness mixed with dishonesty. If you didn’t reach the summit, don’t tell me you reached your personal summit. Tell me where you retreated from. (Then wax-on about what it meant to you, if you wish.) If you couldn’t do the route on top rope, don’t come down and spray that you can hike the route next time. Shut up, pull the rope and send. If you failed, you failed. You’ll fail at more important things in life.

And if you’re telling me to take my shoes off, don’t frame it in some long-winded request. Tell me to take my shoes off. Say please if you like – one extra word isn’t horribly inefficient, and it makes me feel all fuzzy inside.

Remember that classic scene in Pulp Fiction, with Mr. Wolf and John Travolta? “So, pretty please, with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.”

When tasty talking becomes the norm, words become a riddle of intent, and lose their meaning. Words exist to convey meanings. Maybe a little less tasty talking might not be such a bad thing, and so I invite us all to perhaps consider what this man is saying (if we don’t mind, of course).

Enough of this tasty talking.

Election Rant

Warning, brah: This post has nothing to do with climbing.

I don’t know why I care sometimes. It’s such bullshit. Except it’s important bullshit – we’re talking about who runs the country. Actually, corporate money rules the country, so I guess I’m off track already. At least it’s almost over. For now. The endless campaigning – which starts about two years before the election, thus half a president’s first term is spent campaigning for his second term, and if he gets a second term then, finally, maybe he can actually muster up the balls to do something – isn’t merely annoying, but it costs such unfathomable amounts – the latest I heard, this morning, was a record $6 billion spent on congressional and presidential races in the 2012 elections cycle – naturally makes me wonder, what incredible good could be done with that money?

Anyway, some election thoughts:

• It’s all such tasty-talking bullshit, both the things we vote on and expect of one man (I hope it will soon be a woman, as she might be more reasonable), as well as the campaigns themselves. And I despise that voice – you know, the campaign speech voice they all do. Obama, whom I fully support, adopts that twangy tone when trying to sound folksy. Romney does the classic-standard-stupid firm pronunciation game, that sound when you know applause is coming and you deepen you voice to a tone where your words are meant to sound like they’re etched into concreted blocks. “I AM KELLY CORDES AND I WILL GET THIS COUNTRY BACK-ON-TRACK!” (Raaaaaah, raaaaah, whooooo, raaaaah, raaaaaaah!)

That last part was crowd noise, if you didn’t know.

• Which reminds me: I hope caps lock will disappear now that the election is nearly over. Note to those using it to make their points on their Facebook rants: It’s obnoxious. It doesn’t make you look smart. Rather, it makes you look like a raving zealot. While that may appeal to fellow raving zealots, all of whom already agree with you, it turns away the reasonable person.

• Actually, here’s something that relates to climbing: Businessmen Romney and Ryan want to sell-off our public lands to the highest bidder. Imagine condos and country clubs and strip malls in your favorite climbing areas (almost all of the areas we climb are public lands). Gross. Business has a place, so does government and collective enjoyment of our shared resources.

• Here’s a head-scratcher: Veterans who were fans of Bush – I mention it here because Romney and Republicans clearly seem more prone to war-mongering. By the way, the U.S. already spends more than the next 10 countries in the world combined on military spending – where are all the “small government, reduce spending” Republicans on this one? And on a philosophical note, has anyone else ever wondered why a country might need such an enormous military? (And no, you moron, it is not because the rest of the world hates us for our freedom.) One might logically think that the truest way to support our troops would be to avoid putting them in harm’s way unless absolutely necessary. Yet is there anything more sinister than sending our people off to die and to be maimed in war over lies, as Bush did? Pure, unabashed evil is what that is. Someone please explain how that constitutes support. Seems not only repulsive but even treasonous to me. Let’s support our military: don’t send them to war unless absolutely necessary. It’s important to have a level-headed, non-evil president. Author and economist John Kenneth Galbraith put it best: “War remains the decisive human failure.”

• While I’m at it, how can so many religious conservatives be Republican? Take the last Republican president – tell me, please, what is Christ-like about preemptively bombing people to smithereens? Murder is a sin, I do believe. And what of the poor? The Republican party seems to have outright disdain for the poor, as if being poor is a character flaw or a moral failing. The Bible makes over 700 references to helping the poor.

• It’s essentially a popularity contest, but, I’d argue in my support of Obama, one in which the person’s ideals and values matter. Everyone makes promises they can’t deliver. It’s a terrible part of the game, one that’s all about telling voters what they want to hear (no matter how non-sensical and unrealistic), and telling it with aplomb. If anybody spoke in facts, they’d never get elected. So, we’re all a part of it. Good podcast on the topic here, from the Freakonomics guys. But Romney, holy shit, his constant “I have a plan for…” talk, and his incredibly vague, incessantly repeated “five-point plan” takes it to new levels. So he’ll magically create 12 million jobs and jump start the economy overnight, cut the deficit, improve education, maintain the services we all rely upon, and do it all while slashing taxes (especially for the rich, of course – a strategy that has never worked for the economy, by the way, despite the “trickle-down” theory). He really should just add a sixth point: And everybody gets a pony. To be sure, being president isn’t easy. It’s not all puppy dogs and tickle fights. But Romney must be smoking crack. I’m reminded of what Mike Tyson used to say about his opponents’ talk of how they had a plan to beat him: “Everybody has a plan – until they get hit.”

• To those voting on such simplistic things like 7.9% (or, fuck, 6%) vs 8.1%, or on who they’d like to have a beer with, or the notion that a good businessman would equate to a good president, I’m reminded of a quip I heard once. Something like: “The problem with democracy is that everyone’s vote counts the same.”

• As an aside, and while I truly feel badly for anybody who’s out of work and hurting, it’s odd to me that 8% unemployment is suuuuuch a horrible thing, yet if it were 6% it wouldn’t even be much of an issue. Lemme get this straight. Right now, in the U.S., 92 out of 100 people have jobs. Horrid, unfathomable, this president must go! (As if it’s all his fault, and not to mention that our unemployment rate isn’t bad on the worldwide scale.) Ahhh, but if 94 of 100 have jobs, then he’s a superstar?

• The world is complex and ever-changing. Now that the economy isn’t in a bubble anymore – by the way, does anybody ever consider that the very fact that it was a bubble means, well, umm, of course it won’t last – some people say they want Romney because they want a “businessman” to run the country. Morons! Being president, it turns out, is a lot more complex than being a businessman. So different that the two have little to do with one another. Being president requires vision far beyond the destructive drain of being beholden to quarterly shareholder profit statements. But if we want to get into the simplistic notion of businessman-as-president, let’s look at some examples. Past presidents with vast business experience include some of our worst, like George W. Bush, Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover. Examples of some past presidents with little or no business experience: Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Harry S. Truman (well, he was a failed businessman). In other words, some of our best. And, of course, the best U.S. economy in modern times came under Bill Clinton, whose only skill in business came in the business of womanizing, and who raised “job-killing” taxes on the rich. Turns out that being a “businessman” has little to do with being a good president. In fact, if we want to look at correlations, it’s better to not have a corporate-businessman-guy like Romney as president.

• I have zero problem with making the most well-off pay proportionately more in taxes. Then again, I’ve never thought greed a trait worthy of aspiration. This current state of the wealthy paying less than they have in decades upon decades (thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts for his rich buddies) is bullshit, and most independent economists place huge blame on those cuts as major contributing factors for our budget problems. Turns out that, if you don’t make the million- and billion-aires pay more than the poor, well, surprise, surprise, revenue tanks huge. Part of living in a civilized, balanced, and fair culture means that the rich pay way more than the poor. And, ya know what? Paying 38% of your income when you’re a multi-millionaire still leaves you a millionaire. Don’t be a greedy and ungrateful bastard. Look to third-world countries with complete slums and armed-guard gated homes (I’ve been there, I’ve seen them) to see what happens to a society’s balance when the rich are allowed limitless greed, and everyone else is left to battle for scraps.

• Isn’t it illegal to flat-out lie in ads and stuff? It should be. Maybe it’s just not enforced, or maybe the ability to lie is simply requisite to being a politician. Or maybe making such a law would be decried as “big gubberment” by Republicans.

• Anybody else notice the irony of people shouting ‘Merica! (typically accompanied by a blindness to the historically-shown plague of nationalism, as if the country you’re born in somehow ensures greatness regardless of your ignorance) and complaining about rising unemployment – especially compared to our glory years of innovation, education and economic expansion, back when we were fueled by the sharpest minds and policies ensuring more fairness and equality than our current shift toward a nation of haves and have-nots – while supporting Republican candidates who don’t support education? Cut spending on education, and bitch about our losing ground? Hmmm. Irony, anyone?

Reminds me of that classic Onion front page after Bush got re-elected. It had a picture of him waving to the crowd, and the headline read: “Bush thanks nation’s poor for again voting against their own self-interest.”

• I know that most of you won’t have made it this far. You come here to hear me babble about climbing, not politics. I understand, and politics make me grumpy, so I must say: too bad. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. You don’t have to read. ‘Merica!

• OK, OK, enough. To me, Obama is the logical choice. The New Yorker’s endorsement says it better than I ever could. Vote. Actually, one last thing comes to mind – the similarity between elections and alpine climbing: I’ll be happy when it’s over.

Real Winning Phrases

Damn, I can get lazy. I got back from three weeks in Europe recently – Italy, Slovenia, Austria (and driving in Germany) – talking and climbing with some of Cerro Torre’s greatest climbers, and making a bunch of new friends. Great hospitality, and fascinating conversations. Got to climb with my old friend Rolando Garibotti, as well as Ermanno Salvaterra, Silvo Karo, David Lama, and Doerte Pietron. Heard thoughts and stories from the 1974 first ascent of Cerro Torre from Mario Conti (the only remaining living member from the climb; he and Casimiro Ferrari led the entire route). Also spent great time with Italian climbing historian and author-editor extraordinaire Mirella Tenderini, as well as Ragni di Lecco hardman and great guy Fabio Palma, mind-bending translator Luca Calvi (holy shit, fluent in 22 languages!), Elio Orlandi, Alessandro Beltrami and his family, and the legendary Heinz Mariacher. Had the pleasure of a day with Marko Prezelj and his family, during which Urban Novak joined us for some tasty talking (more on that to come). Even met and talked with Reinhold Messner himself (spoken like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, of course).

Whew, helluva trip. I took a shitton of notes. Have plans to write some posts about some of it. Have other posts in the works, too. If I can get my slack ass to finish ‘em.

Problem is, this combo of actually going climbing (though I’m far better at just talking about climbing), combined with my afore-mentioned laziness, infused with some writer’s block, and a touch more laziness, has conspired against me. I need some motivation.

We know what I think about motivational propaganda – here’s my take on New Years’ Resolutions, for example, and here’s an old rant about those stupid motivational posters.

But time changes. People change. I find myself making an about-face on teamwork-style posters, anyway. They’re kind of like motivational posters, because good communication can inspire and, shit, who knows, even motivate? I saw this poster in a building a couple of weeks ago. It said, “Winning Phrases.” In the spirit of teamwork, I made some minor tweaks — just turning them into real-world versions of regular workplace communication, really. Does this make me a champion?

Nothing like a little procrastination to help drum-up motivation. Maybe those posts I’m working on will magically finish themselves.

Click to enlarge.