The Chief Speaks

I’d planned a margarita recipe post, but sometimes these gems arrive and you have to act. At the end of my Opener post, I mused about how some things never change. Indeed…it took him a week, but The Chief responded. Put down your coffee if don’t want to spit it onto your keyboard. Ladies and gentlemen, The Chief speaks:

That is funny as hell, hope you also post a photo or two of yourself with that greasy little “LA Waiter” ponytail you used to sport.

Upon getting lost trying to find the face, we bumbled further until gaining the upper rock wall, where recent storms -- we hadn't been following the weather, of course -- had blanketed all of the holds. We got lost again. Then benighted, and I got hypothermic. The Chief pulled me through, we topped out in a full-on blizzard, descended and promptly started hiking the opposite direction of the trailhead until some hikers turned us around.

Upon getting lost trying to find the face, we bumbled into the upper rock wall, where recent storms – we hadn't checked the weather, of course – had blanketed all of the holds. We got lost again. Then benighted. A major blizzard hit, and I got dangerously hypothermic. The Chief pulled me through, we topped out, descended and promptly started hiking the opposite direction of the trailhead until some hikers turned us around.

Ahh, gimme some time and I’ll send on my own recollections of the notorious “Sketchy Kelly” on that strange but awesome trip…I have vivid recollections of eerie, dream-like fumbling shenanigans high on the face in the dark, with only one working headlamp? My god we were eager.

I was especially proud of our immediate departure back to MT with no sleep after that soggy epic, fueled by whiskey and espresso, talking non-stop driving 80 as you struggled to catch some shuteye. Strange days indeed.

For some reason I am also reminded of a certain trip to Whitefish to my brother’s house where we crawled in the window, you were forced to ingest dangerous chemicals, promptly passed out like a hobo in a snowbank, only to suffer the indignity of my shithead brother positioning his pitbull’s butthole in your face as you dreamed of alpine glory…real classy, eh?

I love the photo of me by the pod, really shows what a swaggering, oily, self-indulgent hair-farmer i was back then…good god man, amazing I could even find the time to take a break from wheedling my old ass into some college girl’s bedroom (remember when i lived with [NAME REMOVED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT] and her two 20 yr old roommates? Real impressive for a 28 year old unemployed drifter).

“Hey baby, damn you are fine, I’m a great listener, hey, any way I could stay at your place till I figure out my next cool scheme? I got this great idea of importing tiny rugs from India with fractal geometry designs on em, I’m gonna be rich, and if you play your cards right, you could be right there with me…burp”

Months go by….there I am, unemployed, wandering around in my boxers, checking the fridge, draining the last drops of cheap wine into my piehole at 9am, making the other college girls nervous as I lurk outside the shower (girlfriend is at class, of course), rifling through their dresser drawers looking for weed…really classy.

“What, what?” The Chief and the High-Speed Pod getting searched – again – at the border.

“What, what?” The Chief and the High-Speed Pod getting searched – again – at the border.

Ahh, those were the days. Sitting around, jobless, on a weekday, around 11am, day after day, watching the 33 degree stinking drizzle come down…truly an enlightened state aptly known as “waiting to die in Missoula…” and damn was it taking a while! good god, what a time warp. Remember my favorite Missoula expression: “Rip van Winkle Boulevard?” you know, the run-down shack where the best years of your life disappear into a murky useless haze, and you wake up one day with a long white beard, wondering where everyone went??

However, after a few months of lurking in the stinky drizzle, we would occasionally muster the sheer nervous energy to leave the college girl’s mattress on the floor, put the bong down, stop drinking for a few hours (at least until we tied into the 18 pack on the drive up the Parkway), and go north for some kind of “adventure.” I have some hilarious photos of cragging on seracs (real smart) with Bradlar and Keir, they are both wearing orange construction helmets and weird plaid shirts, Keir is using ski boots and absurd, horizontal point “spoon-style” crampons, hacking up the brittle glacier ice with a handful of half-driven screws below…

More on all that later. I almost forgot for a moment that I actually have a job these days….

ps What are you up to this weekend? I am flying to the front range tomorrow to hang out with my awesome, smokin-hot, quirky, brilliant-artist and hilarious girlfriend (yeah, so what if she’s 27, I don’t want to hear any crap from you) for Halloween. Man, things have been so amazing with her, haven’t been so interested in a woman in years, we just spent a blissful few days in Indian Creek, yeah it helps that she leads 5.12 cracks too, “Yeah baby, get that rope up there, daddy needs a toprope lap….” HIYAAAA

–email from The Chief

Chasing the Holy Grail: Winter Climbing’s Glove Problem

Techie Alert…article published on climbing gloves for long ice and alpine routes:

Chasing the Holy Grail: Winter Climbing’s Glove Problem

By Kelly Cordes

For all the advances in gear, one clear, “last great problem” remains for the serious winter climber: gloves. What does everyone want? The holy grail, of course: Warmth, waterproofness, and dexterity. Just like we want gear that’s lightweight and durable, low-fat ice cream that tastes like real ice cream, and parties without hangovers.

Click to read entire article

***Additional content (super techie alert now…):

While working on this article, I emailed several friends, all very experienced and better climbers than me. Gloves are truly the crux of the winter climbing system, and I got way into it, learning more about glove construction, limitations, possible solutions, all that. As I did, my first draft grew into a nearly 2,000-word beast that I had to cut to 750 words. In the long draft, I had excerpts from my friends’ replies to my asking about their glove systems. Many of the replies had some great info, tips that’ll help the winter climber. I’ve gotten their permission to run their replies here – many thanks, Duncan Ferguson, Will Gadd, Colin Haley, Kevin Mahoney, Raphael Slawinski, and Freddie Wilkinson! Click to read their replies.

Takashi Sends

Just returned from a great weekend in Joshua Tree – not much personal climbing, but that’s OK. Sometimes it’s not about that.

The Friends of Joshua Tree puts on this cool little event, and Patagonia sent me to teach clinics and do a slide show, ironic as it may seem since the event is named “Climb Smart.” Midway through my show, it struck me that all of my best stories – the ones you naturally tell when giving a show – have very little to do with being smart. For the clinics, though, I tried my best to help and to teach, and I brought my A-game safety-wise, which I can do – after all, I’m the guy who Josh Wharton accused of “AMGA-ing the anchors” on Shingu Charpa. (“Sorry dude,” I remember saying early on the climb, “I’ll make ‘em sketchier and faster” – he was right…)

The coolest things about these events are the passionate beginners. Un-jaded and ego-less, eyes wide open, trying their hardest. Everything new, the opportunities unlimited – it’s the beauty of the beginner’s mind. I love it when people have personal breakthroughs, those “Aha!” moments. Such moments are universal, no? We all have them at our individual levels in our individual pursuits, and someone else usually helps us. Remember some of yours? What have they been?

Takashi-Mike Jtree

Takashi and Mike at J-Tree

A young man named Takashi came to the J-Tree event – it was his second time climbing outdoors (his first was at last year’s Climb Smart). He’s polite and quiet, smiles a lot, and has a thick Japanese accent that’s stuck with him since immigrating to the U.S. 12 years ago. And he’s game. I think he took all six clinics over the weekend. Many others skipped out, taking breaks to head for the shade – understandable, as it was unseasonably hot and all of the clinic climbs roasted in the sun. Takashi kept smiling, sweating bullets, and kept climbing. The last clinic of the weekend was a bouldering clinic, put on by an awesome guy named Mike Duncan from Black Diamond. Takashi took Mike’s clinic last year, too, and kept trying a particular boulder problem, but he never got it. This year he tried again, with Mike’s coaching, and then he tried some more. Still, no dice. Hot, sweltering rock, and the end of a big weekend. Late in the day, everyone else had packed-up and left. Takashi, seemingly reserved by nature, thanked Mike for his time and politely retreated. Except Mike would have none of it, insisting that Takashi try again. One more try. And so Takashi smiled, gently nodded his head, and took a big breath. He dipped into his chalk bag, stepped onto the rock, and tried his hardest. “C’mon, Takashi, you can do it,” Mike whispered. Mike cheered as Takashi stuck the crux hold and topped out. As the afternoon sun baked the Joshua Tree landscape, Takashi stood atop the boulder, pumping his fists into the desert air and smiling to the sky.


The New Yorker recently ran a painfully funny satirical piece about social media and publishing in the modern age. Yes, it’s mayhem. Time to jump on board. So, I got my Facebook going (hate to admit it, but it’s addictive) and even Twitter (no idea how to use it). Not that chaos is anything new. Reminds me of going climbing, actually, especially the early days back in Missoula, when we knew nothing and threw ourselves at everything. Nobody epitomized the ideal better than The Chief, and somehow I keep returning to a trip we made to the Canadian Rockies…

His dented, pea-green hatchback with its plexiglass side window sped way too fast into the Canadian border patrol station. The interrogation began immediately. No “hello,” no “where you going,” nothing. First words:

“When was the last time you smoked pot?” the woman cop in the booth asked The Chief.

The twitchy redhead, with his scraggly, unkempt beard, long hair and tattered clothes snapped his head to the side.

“Oh, dude. Like, years, man. Years!”

The Chief back at the High-Speed Pod after an epic ascent, and bumbling descent, of the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell, ca 1996.

The Chief back at the High-Speed Pod after an epic ascent, and bumbling descent, of the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell, ca 1996.

God damnit, Chief, I thought, burying my head in my hands.

“Please pull into the port on your left, sir.”

The Chief’s continued, incessant chatter answered the search-guard’s questions before he finished asking them (yes, The Chief had been through this before). The dirty-sock stench wafting from the gear-pile trainwreck in the back of the small car elicited only a sigh. The search cop’s head hurt from the Chief’s ongoing barrage. He just wanted it to stop.

“Well, I guess you’d have to be pretty stupid to bring anything across, eh?” said the guard.

“Yeah, that’s right, man, I mean, look at me! Dude, like, you don’t think I get searched every time I come up here? And another thing—”

“—OK, ok, enough, just…stop. Yeah, eh, so…just be on your way.”

We hopped in the High-Speed Pod and sped up the Icefields Parkway, The Chief not missing a beat.

“See, that was my plan – hey, grab me another beer, will ya? – I knew that he was going to ask about…” and on, and on, and on.

Johnny Cash bellowed through the speakers, competing with our prattle over climbing objectives and the regular sound of cheap beers popping open (this was back when we were all stupider than we are now). We sped north, trying to decide.

A-strain? Exit pitch missing.

GCC? Too big, too far.

Humble Horse? Wait, which one’s Diadem?

Edith Cavell? A 4,000-foot north face, only 5.7. Plus, the guidebook said something like, “A competent party can climb the face comfortably in a day, given an early start from the parking lot.” Competent, early…sounded like us.

We rolled in to the trailhead in the dark and drizzle, low clouds obscuring the face. We set the alarm for 3 a.m., woke at 4:30, stumbled toward the face and promptly got lost. Thirty hours later we were still lost.

And so it continues. When I feel like it, and maybe sometimes when I don’t, I’ll post stories, rants, and random thoughts. Like it or not, the world is changing, no? But maybe some things never do.