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.