Chapter One

From time to time here I’ll post book-related content, from material that didn’t make the final cut but that I still found interesting, to stories from my writing process, as well as short passages. For starters, here’s the opening chapter — which, I suppose, qualifies as a short passage. The second chapter is considerably longer, and rewinds time to the fierce competition among Italian alpinists and expats in the 1950s, and to days even earlier, back when time began in Patagonia.

 

LOST TIME

The howling Patagonian wind calmed to a whisper. The afternoon sun beat down and I blinked hard against
 a haze of exhaustion, the kind of blink where a black screen seems to linger behind your eyelids and you wonder how much time you lost.

I stared past thousands of feet of golden granite disappearing beneath me. A vertical mile below flowed the Torre Glacier, bending, cracked, cracking — growing and shrinking with the years. At its terminus, only
 a short way down valley, it calves into Laguna Torre and flows into rivers feeding forests and rolling pampas.

Scattered estancias dot a landscape where not long ago pumas and wild horses roamed. A giant condor soared overhead, riding the thermals. Sheep grazed on the barren grasslands that extend eastward to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cordes - P1010043 LRA hundred feet above, enormous structures of overhanging, aerated ice, vestiges of Patagonia’s brutal storms, held guard over Cerro Torre’s summit. They loomed like multi-ton sculptures pulled from a land of fairy tales, like whipped cream frozen in place, jutting wildly outward in gravity-defying, wind-forged blobs. On the opposite side of the mountain Cerro Torre faces the Hielo Continental, an Antarctic-like world comprising massive sheets of flat glacial ice that spill into the Pacific Ocean.

Just before sunrise, thirty-some hours earlier, we had started climbing. We raced up ephemeral ice beneath a sérac, then weaved through gargoyles of rime. We fell short of the summit as the sun set and the wind roared, and we shivered away the night in a snow cave in the starlit blackness of Cerro Torre’s upper crest. Come morning we struggled over the summit, and then started down the other side. Both of us carried only ten-pound backpacks, but we also carried fantasies, a dose of self-delusion, and a shred of hope. Without those, we’d have never left the ground.

I blinked again, and my gaze returned across the landscape, from the distant pampas to the beech forests surrounding Laguna Torre, to the golden granite falling away beneath my feet. And then to the rusting engine block on which I stood. The only stance on Cerro Torre’s headwall. A 150-pound, gas-powered air compressor, a goddamned jackhammer lashed to the flanks of the most beautiful mountain on earth. Above and below ran an endless string of climbing bolts — ancient two-inch pegs of metal drilled into the rock and spaced to be used like ladders — courtesy of the compressor and a man possessed, that for four decades allowed passage up this impossible tower.

The wind remained at a whisper. Exhaustion pulsed through my bones and I stared into a clear, cobalt sky, and knew that we’d been lucky. Calm around Cerro Torre never lasts.

7 thoughts on “Chapter One

    • Thanks, Tõnis. I hadn’t seen that review — very cool. Of course I loved the good words (hard to beat this:”‘The Tower’ by Kelly Cordes is one, if not the best modern mountaineering book I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time.”), but even more, actually, I liked that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed my past writings. Just because it shows that he certainly wasn’t coming from a biased perspective!

      • I am so excited for this book, honestly. I was going back and forth about waiting to order until I knew I’d have the time to indulge fully, but Dane’s review took me over the edge. He is one honest mofo, if he loves it then its worth it no doubt. So stoked for all of this positive publicity for you, Kelly!

      • I am so proud of you. Based on the chapter you posted and the Dane’s review a Great book and not because you wanted it to be great but because it is honest and straight from your heart! Looking forward to be able to order it in Europe!
        How is your recovery, feeling good?

  1. Thanks so much, you guys. Really appreciate it.
    Recovery has been going great, thanks. Which reminds me, I need to catch up with those comments and all the good wishes. Super nice of everyone. But yeah, feeling great, and uncharacteristically optimistic! I will be eager to get off of the crutches, though…

  2. Really good read, Kelly — maybe consider adding a Jack Reacher character on the Eiger (oh, that’s been done)?
    Great lunch.
    Rueben, Estes .

  3. I’m about halfway through The Tower now and it’s wonderfully engaging. I’d read it all in one big go, but since I’m constantly busy taking care of my three young kids so I grab a bit when I can. I’m approaching it like a good bottle of scotch… savoring it a bit at a time. Thanks for such a comprehensive read.

    I really appreciate the great route descriptions (so key to this story, of course) and the excellent color photos. Often, in mountain literature, I get so confused about what is where. It can become a literary whiteout. The photos and route annotations are very helpful. I an constantly referring to them.

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