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.