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.

Noise Pollution (climbing communication pointers)

I’m not talking about those obnoxious damned car alarms blaring here all summer long. Though my god, it’s like the Estes Park summer anthem. Note to tourists: while you’re getting an ice cream cone, playing mini-golf or shopping for trinkets, kindly disable that fucking thing.

I’m talking about climbing communication, which could mean a couple of different things. Of course it’s the biggest problem between couples. So painful so often. We’ve all seen it:


High-pitched reply: “I can’t, you asshole, I’m scared!”

They sort of make up, but not really, and a day of toxic passive aggressiveness follows, casting an awkward pall over the crag. Cringe.

No, I’m talking about belay communications. You know, like when you’re at a climbing area and you hear people fully shouting into the wind. What are they saying, and, more importantly, why?! It’s not that complicated. And it’s much safer to keep it simple.

Verbal Commands 

You usually only need two words, at least in multi-pitch scenarios: On and Off. People typically say “On belay” or “Off belay,” but the “belay” isn’t even needed. Sure, there’s fine and good close-quarters quiet communications, like you look sexy in that harness, sweet cheeks “OK, gotcha” and so on. And on single-pitch climbs, you need to be sure the rope is tight (something I regret not doing once), and confirm that you’re ready to lower, and then be lowered. OK, so sometimes you need more than just two words. But the shit you hear at the crags, from parties far off the ground, boggles my mind:

“Blahbuizole la blahbubbla deviceblauh gizommele elephant!”


On occasion, sure, you gotta yell a phrase or a sentence – the rope got stuck or something. But you do not need to yell down to your partner, 200 feet below, that you’re gonna grab a snack now, or take a leak, that the snap-link is now through the thick webbing thing connecting your waist loops to your leg loops, or that you’re gonna put on your jacket. And you shouldn’t.

Why not? Because it’s unnecessary and confusing, and confusion leads to mistakes. Keep it simple and safer. It’s also a helluva lot less annoying to everyone else who has to listen to you shouting like an idiot. Sometimes there’s so damned much yelling that you can tell everyone else is just waiting to get-in a single word to their partner, like “Off!”

Keep it simple. Cut the fat. As Strunk and White say (rule #17; one that, I know, I would do well to remember): Omit needless words.

With beginner climbers, I suspect there’s some comfort in excess communication when feeling scared or intimidated. That’s fine, at least if it’s close enough to the ground to hear one another clearly (if you can’t hear each other well, beware that confusion-mistake paradigm). And still strive to minimize, or even eliminate, unnecessary shouting. How?

Hand Signals

You often don’t need words. You know, that tender look into another’s eyes says more than words ever could… Ahem.

Hand signals work great, and are invaluable in windy or otherwise noisy environs. Plus, I like the non-shouting aspect. It only works if you can see each another, of course. You often can. It’s simple: one signal for “on” or to affirm something, another for “off.” Ones my friends and I often use are a big, arm-vertical-overhead thumbs-up for “on”, and a horizontal slashing motion for “off” – like a slit-of-the-throat motion, or a one-or-two armed wide horizontal slash, like a baseball umpire signaling “safe” (which is a command that some climbers use for “off,” by the way).

Works like this: you finish a pitch. Anchor yourself in. Lean out (so you can see your partner) and do the horizontal slash. Your partner maybe affirms with a thumbs-up, maybe not (it’s not essential – if you know that he saw you, you know he’s going to take you off, so you can just wait a few seconds for him to do so), and takes you off. You pull up all the slack. Rope comes tight. That’s him – it’s obvious (at least if you have some awareness of the pitch length, and especially if you can see him). You don’t need to shout, you can see. He might give a big thumbs up to signify “that’s me.” Put him on belay. Big thumbs up back to him – he’s on. He climbs.

Even on single-pitch climbs, you get to the anchor and can give the big thumbs-up to signal you’re ready to lower. Your partner pulls-tight the rope, and you can lean back and splay your arms out to the side, or even point your finger to the ground. If you can see each other, non-verbal communications work perfectly.



Rope Signals

If you can’t see or hear each other, you can do rope tugs. But combine it with some climbing intuition, because rope tugs alone can be confusing. Sometimes, like on long pitches with lots of rope drag, you can’t very well feel the tugs at the other end, and can’t tell if it’s a deliberate tug as a signal, or if your partner is pulling up slack quickly. Yikes. Thus, it’s best to do multiple quick tugs to make it clear – three or four works well. I’m definitely not a fan of elaborate tug systems, like two tugs means this, three means that, etc – huge potential for screwups (wait, was that two or three, I couldn’t quite tell if the first was a real tug or not?). Plus, with some simple awareness it’s unnecessary – you should know the expected sequence of events, and the tug confirms each event.

Of course, if you aren’t sure then air on the side of being slower and safer by keeping your partner on belay until you’re confident you can take her off. Likewise, don’t start climbing until you’re confident you’re on.

So how do you do this if you can’t see or hear? Well, the best you can do is to think, and to feel the rope. Usually the person has gone a ways – probably far enough to be near the end of the pitch. There’s a clue. Then there’s a long pause, which also tells you something – she’s probably building an anchor. Hmmm, but what if she’s just at a cruxy move and stalled out? Then she yanks hard on the rope several times. Ahhhh, signal! And maybe you hear a barely-audible shout (“Off!” Not some confusing long-assed blahbuizole – underscoring why you should keep the commands, and the yelling, simple). Yeah, OK, makes sense, she’s off. Then she pulls-up slack quickly. (If you weren’t certain she was off, now you know for sure as you struggle to play out slack super fast while simultaneously trying to pull the rope out of your belay device without dropping it.) The rope comes taught to you. You quickly tug on the rope several times and wait, giving her a few seconds to put you on. Hopefully you feel the tugs back – but again, these tugs can get lost in the rope drag on a long pitch. So maybe you then move up a few feet while still clipped-long to the last remaining piece of your anchor (of course you should have it broken-down to one remaining piece already). The rope moves up with you. Sweet, yeah, you’re on, pull that last piece and climb.

Why not Walkie Talkies?

Do the people who use these also use code names? They should – “Red Squirrel to Weasel One, I am off belay. Repeat, I am off belay!” These things are generally stupid. Too much to go wrong, one extra bulky thing to carry, and, worse, most of the people who use them do so because they don’t know regular commands. They become thusly fucked when the predictable happens.

I was on the Bastille, in Eldorado Canyon, one time when the party next to me was using these. I’d hear stuff like, “OK, I’m at a nice place to stand now and I’ve placed three good pieces and equalized them and clipped myself in, so you can take my rope out of your belay device. Over.” I’m thinking, Uhhh, you mean “Off”? Jesus. Sure enough, higher up one of them dropped a walkie-talkie. They guy had no idea what to do next. Totally screwed. He just started yelling into the wind, like the above example: “Blahbuizole la blahbubbla deviceblauh gizommele elephant!”

Followed by, of course: “WHAAAAT?!?”

“I SAID, Blahbuizole…” Well, you get it.

End Note: Learn to communicate simply, concisely, and even without words – sometimes words work, but not always. Dial it in with your partner beforehand, and, as with everything, practice. Start practicing in places where you can hear each other anyway – the gym, or a quiet crag. The stillness of a quiet crag is a beautiful thing, anyway, and the skills will help you when you’re on the Enormodome in the wind. They gym ain’t so quiet to begin with, but even if you never climb outside you can still glow in the silent satisfaction of not sounding like yet another screaming jackweed.

Who Cares (or, Do You Give a Shit About Anything?)

Why not throw your garbage out the window?

I recently created a narrated slide show about climbing on Cerro Torre. (Link here, also embedded below.) It is not an exhaustive history. I selected a few climbs. If you want to know more about what I selected and why, read my post about creating the show.

A comment after the post got me thinking – it’s from a guy named Dave King, who used to race bicycles. The latest Lance Armstrong doping stuff just happened, and a pro cycling tour came through Colorado. Cool. Wait, riding a bike? For something other than utilitarian transport? Well, that’s about as silly as climbing. Or, shit, let’s think about it – baseball, fantasy football, golf? Golf? That’s the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard in my whole entire life. But people love it. Dedicate huge chunks of time and energy doing it, and play by certain rules. As with so many things.

Most of what we do makes little sense. Has no great benefit to anybody else. What, like working for that magazine, or for that real estate company, or that house-of-cards financial corporation that long-dicked the public means something, or is truly important? Bullshit. It’s as worthless to the world as climbing. Almost as worthless as golf.

But we do these things.

We play by certain rules, too. Or at least a code of behavior. We don’t throw our garbage out the window, even if nobody’s looking. Don’t huck our trash on the trail, even though it doesn’t matter in the global sense. We don’t nudge that stupid golf ball closer to the hole while our opponent is checking his stock portfolio on his iPhone(™). Most of us don’t, anyway.

I always thought people who littered their cigarette butts were pieces of shit.

We have things that we care about. That mean something to us. No matter how silly they seem to others.

Hell, even bowling has rules.

Perhaps the key is to maintain some perspective. So ya don’t pull your piece out on the lane.

Still, I wonder why and how people rationalize cheating. Here’s part of Dave King’s – the cyclist I mentioned above – comment:

“[R]iders will hold onto team cars on long climbs so they aren’t dropped or eliminated altogether from the race. I always wondered how they felt about it, later when they would finish with the pack or win a stage or place, knowing they had used ‘unfair means’ to remain in the race. Probably their minds had already justified it long before the act occurred.”

I wonder, too. Then again, I take a second and examine my own behavior.

Meaningless instance: When I boxed, I remember intentionally cracking an opponent with an elbow while fighting inside – I knew the ref was on our right, so I “missed” with a tight left hook and followed through, nailing him with my elbow – but that bastard was fighting dirty all along, kept hitting me low. He had it comin’. And hey, it’s a fight. [Tone being lost in the interwebs, I’m well aware of my rationalization.]

Meaningful instance: I care about the environment, yet I drive and fly all over, thus polluting the thing that I love. Ahh, but I don’t have any kids. Population is most certainly the root of our resource crisis. I can fly all I want. [Rationalization duly noted.]

Meaningful rationale: We have to draw some reasonable lines or we couldn’t exist. In the absolute realm, we are all hypocrites (at least anybody with enough of a pulse to have ever expressed an opinion on anything). In bicycling, people use fancy wheels, or whatever. Top riders dope in order to keep up with other top riders (what a can of worms that opens; lots of thoughts here). In climbing, we use some accepted aids that help us climb safely and efficiently.

Conversely, I find it moronic when people say things like, “If you used a car to get to the climb, then you have no right to complain about abandoned fixed ropes [usually left by the moron saying this].” Or, “If you’ve ever clipped a bolt, you can’t complain about the Compressor Route.” Right. Good one, Einstein.

It’s pointless to argue with those who lack a frontal cortex, or the critical thinking skills to discern between a breeze and a hurricane.

Within reasonable realms of life, I’m curious – what do you care enough about to do right? No matter how large or how small. What examples come to mind from others? Seriously, I’d love to know. There must be great, powerful, and hilarious stories.

Maybe things beyond the predictable stock answers (sorry, couldn’t resist, I’m getting jaded to the interwebs):

• Everybody will swear that their children are everything to them. (Regardless of how much you owe in child support and how often you leave them alone in the trailer park to drool over professional wrestling while you hit the titty bar…)

• Everybody will say that climbing doesn’t matter. Funny how often I see that on climbing posts, irony un-noted, or hear it from people who devote(d) so much of their lives to climbing that they scrounged for leftovers in Camp Four and considered performing unnatural acts down in the park for road trip money.

• Some old blowhards, who used to prioritize climbing but have since gained a few pounds and spent too much time behind a desk, will give that crusty snort and say, “Heh – well, I’ve done a laaawta climbin’, and I tell ya this climbing stuff you’re into don’t mean nothin’. One of these days you’ll find something that really matters [see first bullet point, above], and then you’ll…”

To be clear, I know that climbing doesn’t matter in the overall scope of the world. Don’t use this to shut-down your brain, though, because there is always a greater cause than the one you proclaim most important. Young people are dying of cancer. There’s genocide in the Middle East and Africa. Torture. People are starving. Unjustly imprisoned.

And still, most games, activities, and daily actions have rules or codes of conduct. Why? Much as with general life, they help maintain order. Give us a sense of structure. Maybe even of right and wrong.

Devout fishermen don’t fish with live bait, I’m told. Hunters don’t court their prey with a gut pile. (Yet they’ll tree a cat with dogs and then shoot it, which always seemed weird to me, though climbing surely has its nonsensical ways – my cousin hunted with his beloved coon dogs, and I always meant to get him to explain it to me (I love dogs, and I do stupid things, too, so I think I could get it), and also give him shit about not being more sporting, like, drop the dogs and the gun and stalk the cougar with a knife in your teeth, mano y mano, fair means, baby – to which, I’m sure, he’d laugh and reply, “I’m not stupid.” And he might add, “You should climb at your limit unroped, hippie – be more sporting.”)

Jim Erickson, a legendary climber in Boulder, still doesn’t use chalk, doesn’t rehearse moves, and doesn’t return to routes he didn’t onsight. Even in the gym. It’s just the game he likes to play, I guess.

Other examples abound. I’d like to hear some of them.

In a world of “progress” defined as continually making things easier to enable “success,” I can’t help but think that success isn’t always success, and failure isn’t always failure.

Seems to me that much of today’s world is uninspired, disillusioned. Commerce, consumption, apathy.

I remember an excellent article by Matt Samet, on the history of sport climbing in North America. He was talking about Jim Karn, a phenomenal climber also known for obsessiveness, his dark side, and throwing legendary wobblers. The great, understated quote from Jim years later: “At least I cared about something.”

I think it’s a wonderful thing, a privilege, to have something you love. Something you care about, even if it’s as worthless as everything else.

Reblog: Kids of the Times

After yesterday’s rant, I figured I’d post something a little less, a little less…less rant-ish. Been meaning to run this, which first appeared recently on Patagonia’s blog, where I write about once a week (you can click here to see all the shit I’ve written, total hit-and-miss, from stuff people (including me) like to crickets chirping). That’s why I don’t write here as much as I used to. But some things seem better suited for this space. While Patagonia is great in giving me free rein, well, I just kinda felt like maybe yesterday’s thoughtful composition might not be right for them. It’s a delicate dance. Anyway, as I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, I’ll try to remember to repost — reblog? — some of the ones that I like here. Hope you enjoy:

Kids of the Times

by Kelly Cordes

Silence. So rare, so nice. Four recent days of disconnected bliss – from the e-world, that is. But fully connected in more natural ways, like with climbing, food, friends, a river and beer. My only reading was on paper, not on a screen. It was nice, anyway, until a leisurely check of my phone messages upon our return snapped me back into the modern world. It was my sister: “You are SUCH a loser. Do you have any idea that you and that stupid mullet of yours is in the New York Fucking Times?”

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[The boat times, with CF Scariot (left), Kelly Cordes (reading) and Andrew Gram (drinking). Photo: Dan Gambino]

Whatever. I was still in namaste land, so I texted her that I’d have my agent return her call. Wait, what? Well I’ll be damned. Climbing all up in the Times. The Sunday Magazine had a photo essay on the Ouray Ice Festival, where I was working hard. Strange world these days. Especially how this increase in virtual connectedness can sometimes leave us feeling disconnected.

NYT magazine
[Screen grab from the online version of a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine.]
Anyway, I guess climbing is getting big. Ouray in the TimesAlex Honnold in People magazineConrad Anker on NPR. Which might also mean that a couple of Sundays ago 1.6 million people were like, “Who’s the old guy with the graying mullet and racing stripes in the hot tub with them kids?”I shouldn’t complain. It’s better than the pic on my Ambassador page. I barely remember that photo – Tim, one of Patagonia’s photographers, grabbed me as I stumbled toward the coffee maker after margarita night at our last off-site design meeting, and next thing I know I’m stuck looking like Cletus Spuckler. Couldn’t they have had the decency to airbrush-out the molestache? Well, at least they used the best of the crop. Some of the outtakes made me look pretty ragged.

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[Making Patagonia proud and the outtake from a rough morning. Photos: Tim Davis]

When I think about these things my only concern, as a washed-up climber, is how such media might influence others. I mean, what about the kids?

Like, say, young Hayden Kennedy. My god, what a crusher. Kids these days. Talked with him last week and he mentioned how he’d finished a rigging job and then headed to the desert, where he, like me, had a blast. Only, instead of coming out to tell stupid stories of creeping people out in a hot tub, he sent a longstanding project that’s probably the hardest route in Indian Creek. Since he doesn’t have Facebook or a blog (he had them, but got sick of it and canceled both; how many 22-year-olds do that these days?), you can read about it here (which includes a great video from Sender Films of Nick Martino working the line) – when you climb like that, word gets out.

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[Hayden Kennedy acclimatizing on Naisa Brakk, Pakistan. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

Speaking of Hayden, and speaking of modern media, anybody catch the recent two episodes of the Enormocast that he was on? It’s our friend Chris Kalous’s dirtbag-level podcast – he’s had a half-dozen or so episodes, and you can subscribe on iTunes. He often records out of his sketchy 1970 RV, and it’s a down-home, usually R-rated, authentic climbing life podcast. An old school podcast (is that a contradiction?). Just him and a guest – but he gets interesting guests, so they’re good b.s. sessions. I love podcasts, though I can never just sit and listen at my desk. Unlike my time on the desert-river trip, I get too distracted. But while I’m driving or on a walk, I eat ‘em up. Between the Enormocast, the Dirtbag Diaries and This American Life, you’re all set.

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[Chris Kalous peering out from the mobile world headquarters of the Enormocast. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

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[The Enormocast mastermind, Chris Kalous. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

And the episodes with Hayden discussing his Cerro Torre climb and subsequent controversial bolt removal are tip-top. Load ‘em on your iWhatever and save them for your next commute. Great words from the man himself, mature beyond his years, and with legit commentary and sharp wit from Kalous. In the first episode, Hayden talks about the climb, and his description of how it feels while doing a dream climb is the best I’ve ever heard. He articulates that feeling brilliantly, along with the bolt cleaning, and the tragedy and ugliness afterward. The second episode dives into the controversy, and Hayden speaks with far greater depth and knowledge than much of the commentary that dominated the immediate aftermath, most of it lobbed from those sitting in the cheap seats. Here we get the story from someone who wasn’t.

Not to imply that hanging in a hot tub was a cheap seat, of course. Which makes me think, why the hell wasn’t Hayden in the Times instead? Oh, that’s right. Because he was in the mountains, actually getting shit done while I was just talking about it. Damn, I hate it when that happens. But I love that I can listen, watch or read about it later.

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[CF Scariot just below a tower top in the western Colorado desert. Photo: Kelly Cordes]

Grumpy-O’s and the Ever-Falling Sky

Ever have one of those days where everything sucks? This sucks, that sucks, you suck, I suck. Some observations from a guy who, for no good reason, had a bowl of Grumpy-O’s for breakfast this morning.

Apple sucks. Microsoft sucks way worse. But Apple is becoming more like Microsoft every day. The reason people, like me, loved them is because their shit just worked. Windows, on the other hand, didn’t. You’d get these nonstop “software updates” that bogged down your machine, and then next time you went, say, to print a document, you get “Printer not installed.” Goddammmit, you motherfuckers, my printer worked just fine before this “crucial” security update you insisted I install. Too many “software updates” too often makes me suspicious. A buddy had a fine point when he ranted something like, “Hey, so if Apple is so great, how come every time I go in to their store for help, their ‘genius bar’ [most pretentious name ever, btw–Ed.] is so backed up that I have to make an appointment for the next day?”

And they’ve turned their phones and iPads into fucking sales devices for their apps. This shit costs enough to begin with, so quit trying to sell me stuff every time I turn around. Sell, sell, sell, indeed (by comparison, the climbing world is nowhere near as bad). And another thing (I’m not done yet), stop trying to track everything I do. When I turn off “location services” on my iPhone (yes, I’m sooo kewl, I have an iPhone, clearly making me a better person than the rest of you peasants) – because I don’t want, or see a need, for them to know where I am at all fucking times – yes, I mean it. I don’t need some stupid Windows-like pop-up asking if I’m sure. Yes, motherfucker, I am sure.

But Windows it still worse.

It’s like at the gas pumps, where you pay with a credit card, and they ask, “Do you want a car wash?” Why the fuck would I want a car wash? Hard though it seems to believe, I have some standards in life and the last thing I give a rat’s ass about is dirt on my car. No, dickhead (I’d love a list of the names those machines have been called), I just want to put gas in my car. That’s why I’m here. In the automatic pay lane.

Speaking of tracking, anyone remember Google’s *old* credo: “Don’t be evil”? They’ve been getting investigated, and getting lambasted, for their decision to track users over every fucking means possible. Sucky thing is, their email is way better than others I’ve used. Yahoo! blows (which is worse than sucks – just a little FYI there), for example. It’s a rough life, ya know, and I can’t be hassled to change-over from the Yahoo! email I’ve had forever. But they do, indeed, blow – Gmail works perfectly, controls spam, so why can’t Yahoo! do that? It can’t be that hard. The data-tracking-sellsellsell crew at Google can do it. I used Google Chrome for browsing, because I thought it was way more better. Firefox kept crashing. But Chrome bogs down all the time. I wondered why? Oh, I know, because you bastards are so damned busy collecting all my personal information that it slows to a crawl. The fact that, after looking at some backpacks online, I now get backpack ads on every site I go to is just plain creepy. I need to change.

We all (the “royal we,” that is…) buy into it, too. Hell, even Outside magazine (who I’m no fan of), and who’ve actually had some outstanding pieces lately, don’t even put their good stuff front-center. In the words of a writer friend: “Outside manages to turn us off with its stupid manfashion and hypemonster shit, but it uses that stuff to cover up its great journalism. Weird.”

Or, maybe not so weird in today’s world. Sellsellsell.

While I think Peter Beal was a bit alarmist with his “Sell, Sell, Sell” post (which generated retorts, counter retorts, follow-up posts, and all kinds of stuff on the climbing webs), I think it’s an important discussion. In the bigger scale, it’s endemic of our cancerous society with its all-important “growth.” It’s never OK to just make a decent living, is it? You have to keep selling, keep growing. And we’re all part of it, in various ways. Consume, grow, more, more, more. Somebody explain to me how this is possibly sustainable? Yet to suggest anything other than mass consumerism, like to suggest a possible homeostasis, is political suicide. So much for leadership. Instead, we consume ourselves.

Shit, now I’m drifting into serious stuff. It was easier to just be pissed-off and ranting nonsensical (even the Tea Party knows this).

Hell, the good stuff that worked just fine, like the old Apple products that I used while walking uphill both ways, get bogged down by fucking with everything in their endless effort to sellsellsell. Kind of like those used-to-be sweet jackets that [pick any company] made in the first generation, before the sales force hijacked ‘em and added 37 pockets and reinforcements and iPhone pockets and what-not. Then again, fortunately many companies still make real-deal items that work, which they often have to balance with the big-sales pieces that pay the bills, while picking and choosing where to abide by the wonderful notion expressed by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand and Stars:

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.

Anyway, I know I’m full of shit on many levels, a hypocrite just like the rest of us, and of course I benefit from technology and advances. It’s just that, sometimes, I wish the cancer of consumption and endless sales would exercise some restraint. Can’t there be some balance?

Instead, we are cannibals. Maybe I’ll have to re-read The Road soon. Brilliant book.

Rant over. Grump-O’s digested. In the words of the immortal Kenny Fucking Powers: “Fuck this noise.” I’ve got it too good to just bitch and then sit around. I’m going climbing – just for some balance. Looks like a beautiful afternoon in the Park.

Quick Tip: Rig, rap, repeat

There are many ways to avoid the cluster, both on ascent and descent. Covering terrain quickly is at least as much about efficiency as it is about climbing fast. Or, in this case, rappelling fast. Granted, like anyone, oh how I love the Aussie Speed Rappel…. I only do it, however, when rapping out of a helicopter with an Uzi to cleanse the world of evil.

For now, I’m envisioning a world cleansed of descent epics. I’m working on some posts with pointers on rapping-off efficiently, and tips to avoid stuck ropes – so often folks bumble the descent (I’ve done it plenty).

In the meantime, here’s a quick pointer on a useful clip-in-and-rappel setup when doing multiple raps, especially steep raps. You need a double-length sling (appx 48″, which I usually have on my harness for building anchors), although a cordalette (tied-off to shorten it) will also work fine, as will two shoulder-length slings hitched together.


A. Girth hitch the long sling through your harness.

B. Tie a figure-8 knot in the middle of the sling (an overhand would work, but with a skinny sling it cinches up so tight that it’s a bitch to untie afterward). Adjust knot distance as needed. Make sure the knot is well within arm’s reach of your harness.

C. Put your belay device in the near loop of the sling (the one closest to your body) – this is your rappel loop.

D. Put a locking ‘biner on the far loop – this is your clip-in loop.

The setup.


  1. Clip-in to the anchor with the locker on your clip-in loop. If you want to be in closer than this, just clip into the near loop and clip that to the anchor. Fine to tie another knot to make a “pocket” for another clip-in option.
  2. Put yourself on rappel. You’ll be rappelling with an extension in this system – I often prefer rapping with an extension, as it tends to be “clean,” away from your body and pack straps and such, and it gives superior braking power and control on steep rappels. If you use a friction hitch backup, it’ll have to be below the device with this system.
  3. Unclip from the anchor, and rappel away.
  4. At the next rap station, just clip your clip-in loop into the anchor. Then take yourself off rappel.
  5. Repeat.

In use.

The same deal can be rigged in other ways, of course – if you don’t want or need to rap with an extension, for example, just hitch a shoulder-length sling through your harness for clipping-in to each anchor, and rappel directly off your belay loop. Or use a daisy chain (remember that it’s life-and-death important to avoid cross-clipping daisy pockets; a P.A.S. eliminates this concern), though I don’t usually climb with a daisy, for a couple of reasons that I can explain another time.

Most importantly, however you do it, do it efficiently. With a quick, safe system. Don’t cluster-fuck it every time with a mess of quickdraws linked together, clipping and unclipping from your harness, a rat’s nest of this rigged to that, etc. Figure out something that works, is secure, and has minimal steps. Rig, rap, repeat.

Language, Cerro Torre and Twirling Hippies

Before the Cerro Torre drama erupted, I was in my local Estes Park Public Library, renewing my library card. It’d been awhile since I’d been in and they have a new, modernized system. Of the various institutions struggling to adapt to the e-era, libraries probably have a lot to consider. People still read (fortunately), still want information, and libraries need to remain relevant in the internet age. Of course they still house mostly books, and I love libraries, and I like funding them with my taxes. I know, call me a “socialist” – er, maybe not here, as there’s probably minimal overlap between Fox News viewers and readers of this blog.

Which somehow reminds me of a great article in The Onion. I don’t know how they do it every week. Then again, given the charade of American politics and pop culture, they’ve got an eternal source of material. Hell, half of it mocks itself, doesn’t even need satirizing. One of their recent articles especially cracked me up: “GOP Completely Fixes Economy By Canceling Funding For NPR.”

Back on track: So the woman handed me my new library card, along with a nice little informational pamphlet, and, in her indoor voice, mentioned their “Gathering Times.” I’m pretty sure it was only in my head that I barked, in my Kenny Powers outdoor voice [about 12 seconds into the below video], What the fuck’s a gathering times?! “Oh,” she said, lowering her indoor voice to a whisper. “The hours that we’re open.”

Now wait a second. If libraries are places of words, which they are, and ostensibly intelligent and well chosen words, used to convey meaning, then WTF are they talking about? Furthermore, gatherings happen, by definition, in groups. Groups aren’t quiet. Libraries are supposed to be quiet.

I know, it’s just a word. At least it isn’t “off belay” (oops, splat).

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug,” – Mark Twain, 1888.

Besides, language evolves. For example, I can imagine two new terms emerging from the recent Cerro Torre events (if you’ve been living in a cave or if you have a life, and don’t know what I’m talking about, click here for my take on it – I’ll try to post an audio version of it soon, since I’ve been playing with audio; Colin Haley wrote a great post, as did BJ Sbarra in his short & sweet “Cerro Torre for Dummies“; there’s also lots of uninformed garbage out there, stuffed with revisionist history and blatant inaccuracies):

• To “Maestri” something could mean to make a mess of a place. Before blasting me with hate mail, remember that, whether you agree with the bolt chopping or not, Maestri trashed Cerro Torre. This is indisputable. A freakin’ 300-pound lawnmower engine bolted to the flanks of the most beautiful spire in the world, hundreds of bolts littered near perfect cracks, thousand of feet of fixed rope, etc. Usage example: “Man, those dillweeds who made the ‘Sport Park’ in Boulder Canyon totally Maestri’d that joint.”

• To “KennedyKruk” something could mean to try to clean said mess. Say you’re in a Himalayan basecamp, which are all too often litter piles (side note: I have never understood how people can go to these gorgeous places, claiming to be drawn by their beauty, and then trash them). Usage example: “Man, this is bullshit, how can people do this? I’m gonna get a garbage bag and KennedyKruk this mess.”

Or not.

Colin Haley descending the Compressor Route, with its namesake obvious. Photo: Kelly Cordes

Regardless, words have meanings, and, my above tangents aside, we should use them in appropriate relevance to our topics. Some of the language used with this Cerro Torre fiasco is absurd. It’s fine to care about things, it really is. Climbing included. But let’s keep some perspective, for fuck’s sake.

Some pro-chopping people have used the Berlin Wall analogy, noting that we often tear down historical wrongs, and that merely being “historical” doesn’t make something sacred (I agree). But where does an analogy go too far? If you’re going to use this particular comparison, for example, I think you need to make abundantly clear that it’s just an example, and that you’re not comparing bolts on a mountain to a murderous regime, of course.

A usage that makes me cringe is the “rape” of Cerro Torre. I agree that Maestri’s actions were atrocious (within the world of those of us who care about climbing and care about the mountains). Maybe I cringe at this because I’ve used this term myself in the past. But I won’t anymore. It’s wrong.

As the inimitable “Chewtoy” wrote on an Alpinist thread:

“How do you ‘rape’ a mountain?

Do have a wife, daughter, mother?

Do you read the news?

Do you know what goes on around the world to our sisters?

Can’t we have a discussion about the culture of climbing without making grandiose comparisons?”

Speaking of which, a widely-read Italian blog post, which I found fairly absurd, was actually titled Taliban on Cerro Torre.” Taliban?! The Taliban butcher people, stone-to-death and mutilate women, and commit horrific human rights violations. Have you lost your mind? We’re talking about bolts on a mountain here. Again, it’s fine to care, it’s good to care. It’s fine if you think the Compressor Route shouldn’t have been chopped, and to argue your point. But goddamn, let’s keep some perspective.

In observing the responses to this whole fiasco over the last month+, I think that irrational language often works against those who use it. It makes them look out-of-touch with reality, makes them easy to dismiss.

Some Onion-worthy irony: Some folks have been calling the chopping “so American.” Jason is Canadian. (Not to mention the dubious issue of blaming actions you don’t like on someone’s nationality, or of holding Hayden responsible for the imperialism of George Bush, among others). I hear ya, though: Yeah, yeah, whatever dude, Canadian, ‘Merican, same thing. So fucking American.

Whew, my head hurts.

Back to something easier: Before this Cerro Torre deal blew up, I’d been thinking I might have a word with the folks at my local library. Maybe suggest, to be excessively wordy, that they go with “Open Hours.” Or, to be even more excessively wordy, “Hours of Operation.” Either would correctly convey the intended meaning (as would the simple “Hours”). But “Gathering Times?” Rather than people coming to read books, my local library might find itself faced with a marauding band of twirling hippies holding a patouli-oil drum circle in their lobby. They should be more careful.

But come to think of it, compared to this Cerro Torre drama, a little gathering time sounds pretty nice right now. Maybe that’s what the librarian actually meant.