Civility on the Interwebs, Little Weenies and Old Farts

Nobody ever thought I’d say this, but I like it when people communicate in reasonable ways on the Internet. At least when it’s regarding something I wrote – otherwise, since I don’t have TV, I kind of like to sit back and watch the fracas. Such a barrier exists with Internet communication that it’s easy to be a dick – just browse any number of web forums or comments sections. I’ve been guilty as well, no doubt. I think it’s just the distance. We’re more willing to be rude from behind the windshield of our vehicles than we’d be on the sidewalk, for example. And then get behind a computer, with all the tubes and microbes and gizmos and whatnot creating relative anonymity, and it’s no wonder mayhem rules the interwebs.

But I liked the tone of most of the commentary I got from my latest Cleanest Line post. It’s about adventure and the younger generation, and I hypothesize and navel-gaze over whether or not today’s youth are as inclined toward real-deal adventure (however you define that…). To be clear – as I’m pretty sure I was in the post – I’m not saying they’re weenies; I’m not saying they’re Gods. The young guns climb crazy hard, that’s for sure. It’s part of a natural evolution. It’s also undoubtedly true that, as our society grows increasingly mechanized, automated, and comfortable, each generation – overall, mind you – becomes less willing to embrace discomfort. Isolated examples don’t prove a larger point (“Yeah, well my buddy rode his bike naked to the North Pole, so your assumption is asinine!”). And maybe embracing discomfort – like the willingness to suffer for far-flung fantasies and adventure – is nothing but stupid. Intellectually, sure, it’s stupid. Why suffer? Well then, why ever leave the couch? (Aside from trips to the fridge, of course.) But somehow I’m unconvinced that the couch, or necessarily striving for comfort, equates to any sort of universal wisdom. I feel like something gets lost.

I’m drifting, but I wanted to re-post what I wrote. It’s below. At least as interesting as the text, though, are the replies. One thing that struck me is how some folks latched onto a single morsel and ran, even sprinted, with it. Like parts touched a nerve. That’s a good thing, I think. But sometimes I was like, “Uhhh, dude, I never said that. Sorry that your momma didn’t breast feed ya or whatever.” I suppose we all sometimes read things however we want to read them. Including, perhaps, our own writings.

The replies are spread over the original TCL post and the Facebook posts on my page, Patagonia’s, and Alpinist’s (they posted it, too).

Admittedly the topic doesn’t truly matter. It’s just fun to think about – I think so, anyway. Hope you enjoy it, or at least maybe fish some good chunks of lint out of your navel.

Choose Your Own Adventure 

Jim Donini, mid-approach in search of virgin climbing terrain in remote Chilean Patagonia.

While gazing into my navel and pulling lint the other day, I wondered about adventure. It seems to me that, based on my admittedly unscientific observations of news reports and the ascents I encounter in my American Alpine Journal editorial job, refinement ascents are all the rage. By refinement, I mean something other than bona fide first ascents and new routes. Things like fastest ascent, new enchainment, first alpine-style ascent, first one-day ascent and first free ascent with its endless sub-denominations (onsight, redpoint, continuous free, team free, individual free, and so many that I can’t keep them straight – and, notably, as with everything that is a work in progress, the standards keep shifting).

I don’t mean for “refinement” to sound derogatory. You can’t fault today’s climbers for the reality that fewer obvious virgin lines exist. But we’ve got so many more advantages now, why not make the extra effort? Why aren’t the young whipper snappers doing like the royal “we” did? Uphill both ways with frostbitten toes and an 80-pound pack, baby? (80?! Hell, we had 100!) Well, for one, it’s probably true that the young whipper snappers aren’t as inclined to trudge to the middle of nowhere – they’re too busy climbing hard.

It’s just a shift. Things evolve. And who’s to say that a first free isn’t an adventure? (Though there can be little dispute that, all else equal, heading onto previously untouched terrain presents a much greater element of the unknown.)

It’s pretty freakin’ amazing how hard some of today’s younger climbers climb.

And still, I’ve wondered if the younger generation is more or less inclined to adventuresome expeditions.

Not that we have any way of knowing. Sure, fewer of today’s climbers go on far-flung adventures when viewed in proportion to the total climbing population, but that’s because the total number of climbers has grown by a shitton (spell-check always flags that word, but I’m pretty sure it’s one word, not two). Yet in absolute numbers, I know from my AAJ work that plenty of young climbers still head off the beaten path to chase windmills, and I love it. Maybe they just don’t make the headlines so much, and most of climbing’s surging popularity naturally comes from those drawn to the more accessible realms. Whether or not this reflects shifts in our increasingly modernized and comfortable lives, the fact remains that it’s relatively easy and enjoyable to safely dabble in bouldering, cragging and gym climbing. Type I fun – what a concept. And some of those “dabblers” get damned good. It feels good to be good.

Kelly roadside cragging on Redneck Hero, at the River Wall, Lyons, CO. Photo: Tommy Caldwell

So maybe climbers are just getting smarter. I mean, is there value in suffering for the hell of it, or in adventure for adventure’s sake?

I don’t know. But I know that some people prefer the blue tape route, and I like it, too. Along with my Facebook, quick access to climbing, and high-speed internet. Yet I still squeeze my limes by hand.

We all choose our battles.

If true that today’s generation is less inclined to go remote, that’s OK. Think of the bright side: You know how most people who visit national parks never leave their vehicles or go farther than like 200 yards from their SUV? Unreal, right? Absolutely. And a damn good thing if, instead of pontificating about the old days, you want to get away from the masses and have yourself an adventure.

Homemade podcast test

I’ve started messing around with audio — cutting edge stuff, and one of these days I’ll bet people will even use video cameras for storytelling — and recorded my “Like the Old Bull” post. I think this means I turned it into a podcast. Something like that. Might help you get to sleep, or even entertain while driving somewhere. Especially if you hate to read (“Reading is stoooopid.”).

Language warning, of course: rated R. Length: 5min, 18sec.

Audio Player:

Download (let it load, save it, put it on your phone or mp3 player and listen later):

Cordes podcast 1-8-11 (Old Bull)

Like the Old Bull

OK, the joke I linked to. Here goes:

There’s this wise old bull and an eager young bull standing atop a gorgeous hillside, looking down at a herd of pretty cows, and the young bull goes, “Hey-hey Dad, let’s run down and fuck one of them cows!”

“No, Son,” the old bull says, “Let us walk down, and enjoy them all.”

Confused? Well, you see the old bull was telling the young bull that… Oh, wait, confused on what I linked from. It’s linked on my next post on Patagonia’s blog (on Monday, I think), where I mostly write these days and where, in spite of me, they have standards. In respect for those standards, I figured that joke might be a bit inappropriate (subbing-in “make sweet love to” didn’t have the same effect). The post is my latest in a multi-part series on this aging bullshit. I hate how everyone uses it as such an excuse – yeah, stand around the water cooler and say “Well, you did hit [insert your most recent decade]” and every time you or someone else says it, it reinforces itself and, well, just shovel-down another bag o’ Cheetos.

My recent spate of injuries prompted the aging series. I haven’t written much about it here (been lazy with the blog), but in mid-October I destroyed my shoulder. Here’s the initial injury post. It’s hard for me to reconcile – I mean, the broken leg was a total fluke; my smashed face and head this summer the same (sure I should have worn a helmet, but I’d have still ended up with the stitches in my face, and who the hell does that to themselves on a wildly overhanging sport climb, anyway?); and my shoulder? Well, initially Dr. Hackett – a phenomenal surgeon in all regards, from taking his time and explaining, to his world-renowned skills, to his & his staff’s emphasis on rehab – called it a “perfect storm.” After being in there, however, and seeing the carnage that had to have come from years and years, he called it a “time bomb.”

Damn, I’ve been in denial for a long time. It’s true that parts wear out, and I’m an idiot because I’ve often ignored the fact that with each passing year of my hammerhead mentality I reinforce bad habits, improper movement patterns, strength and flexibility imbalances, and lead myself closer to injury. Harsh realities later – with perhaps some bad luck – I’m catching on, refocusing on total body maintenance. Gotta milk as many miles as I can, and I’m grateful for the memories and experiences those years of wear and destruction brought me; far better than having let my dreams pass me by, sporting a beer gut and bitching about my age.

I suppose we all bring some things upon ourselves.

A month has passed since surgery, and this week I got out of my shoulder sling and began PT – very gently. PT hurts like a bitch but I’m psyched on it, and I’m finally feeling non-psychotic again. I’ve had enough of this, it’s gotten way old, even with the injury cliché people tell you, and that I’ve told to others: “You can use this time to focus on things you don’t normally do.”

Fuck that, I want to climb.

It strikes me more than ever how climbing and physical activity outdoors keeps me sane and keeps me happy (damn, with my leg I can’t run; with my shoulder I can’t ski or bike). This round has been rough, and I haven’t had nearly the positive attitude I had when I shattered my leg. Besides, the major repair with my shoulder – rotator cuff, labrum, and joint capsule surgery all together – worked me hard. Not just the pain and immobility, but this last month of constantly disrupted sleep, the “night pain” phenomenon, and those motherfucking evil opiate painkiller drugs, I’m done with them. No mas. They seem to work for me at first, and then after awhile they just make me dark and psychotic, inducing nightmares and hallucinations, making me think I’m losing my mind. I stopped taking them during daytime hours maybe two weeks post-op, but the pain-induced sleep deprivation made me like a zombie, so I’d take one or two at night, but I think it created a double-whammy – still lousy sleep (which makes you crazy) and then some sort of opioid build-up (which makes you crazy). I felt poisoned. Earlier this week I decided that a little night pain is the lesser of the evils, and finally I’m clear-headed again, and even starting to get some decent sleep.

Anyway, time for another round of shoulder exercises. Slowly, gently, rehabbing the shoulder, thinking ahead toward spring and those delicious days of walking into the hills, maybe now with a little bit more wisdom. Maybe a little bit more like that old bull.

Baby Jesus and the Gimpy Heathens

Thank Jesus and the Baby Jesus, it’s over. No more of that shitty music playing everywhere, the retarded decorations, bah humbug, and no more tacky Santa and Baby Jesus manger yard sets. Best of all, an end to what the holiday has come to mean to most Americans: unabashed and mindless consumerism.

As an aside, the whole virgin birth thing (not to mention parting the Red Sea, walking on water, and a host of other magic tricks) never added-up for me – the dots simply don’t connect, and I don’t believe it any more than I believe in the Easter Bunny. I do, however, give props to the creative storytelling.

“You stay,” Craig said, shutting the dogs inside. I was at his place in Fort Collins to take him to the hospital. Tally looked at us with sad eyes and perky ears, and Charlie, Tally’s brother and absolutely the sweetest dog in the world, thumped his Santa Claus cast against the floor – every time he goes in for a cast change, the vet school students paint a new design. “Man, Tally’s got the worst farts,” Craig said. “Afraid she’ll drive away all the hot nurses.”

Profess piety? Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Give to the needy. Help someone – even if they believe in a different fairytale than yours. Be grateful. It’s weird how, on an individual level, an overwhelming majority of people seem good and without malice. Yet about half the population (or more, based on recent elections) support policies and politicians that ensure the richest get richer while the needy suffer. An overwhelming percentage of these people claim to be Christian (most Americans claim Christianity, and more so on the conservative right). I’m no Bible expert, so correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m pretty sure it goes, “Love thy neighbor” – not “Fuck ‘em.”

I’m convinced that, as a collective people, our greed and hubris will consume us. Yes, Merry Christmas, reality.

Anyway, Charlie’s leg cast comes victim of an idiotic chick’s unleashed Pitbull-mix’s (yes, he, like your Pit mix, had never done this before…) completely unprovoked attack on him in a city park this fall. For the rest of Charlie’s life, he won’t run, and Craig made him a trailer for his bike so Charlie could again feel the wind in his face.

Before Charlie’s leg, as Tally suffered mysterious health problems that included loss of vision, they’d still chase the ball in the yard. Craig describes Tally chasing around, but sometimes running into things, unable to find the ball. After a few rounds, Charlie stopped going for the ball himself and would lead his sister to it, until she was so close she could see it, pick it up, and together they’d run back to Craig in a double bundle of unchecked happiness.

I feel sad for them, but they don’t seem to feel sorry for themselves. I look at Craig and his dogs and remind myself that I’ve been a whiney bitch about this shoulder thing, and my pissy Christmas attitude isn’t helping.

“Maybe we could’ve brought Charlie, tell ‘em he’s your service dog,” Craig mumbled as we hobbled toward the hospital doors. “Huhuhuh.” Yeah, funny guy. Like that gimpy bastard should talk. He’s the only one of my friends more fucked-up than me. I was driving him to his third neck surgery – he’s probably had a dozen overall – and around to help with recovery. As to his wisecrack, OK, sure, I still limp a little, with those three plates and 20 screws in my right leg, and my left arm hangs in a sling from a massive shoulder surgery three weeks ago. As we walked I stopped and bent over, twisted to the side, popped my back a bit like I do – remnants from my 2005 spinal reconstruction – while Craig tried to turn without moving his head and neck. I caught a glimpse of myself in the hospital doors, and saw that the strands of gray hair added a nice touch to my five-day scruff and mullet, which had overgrown the remnants of the stripes I shaved in the side of my head. OK, maybe I could use a service dog.

The people at check-in asked Craig if he had a helper and driver. He tried not to laugh and kind of nodded in my direction. Long silence behind the desk.

“OK, sir,” the cheery old woman suddenly said, “We’ll just need you to sign here, and here’s your guest pass.”

“Is there a bar in this hospital?” I asked, just for effect. She smiled and laughed – a holiday-induced nicety? – if so, cool, I can get behind anything that gives us an excuse, or reason, to be nicer to one another, or to connect with those we care about. (Which begs the requisite question: What have we become that we need a reason for that?)

A few days later, back at Craig’s house, he struggled to walk though excruciating pain as the dogs bounced around, tongues flopping, wiggling their butts – neither have tails – completely unaware or unconcerned about their conditions. Craig tried to herd them together and I set the timer for our Gimpy Christmas photo. Charlie smiled, his Santa Claus leg cast tapping on the floor, and Tally wiggled with joy, her latest round of chemo helping her feel normal again, completely unaware or unconcerned with the incurable bone cancer that’s not only giving her nasty farts, but that will take her life in a few months.

I had to smile, because at least someone had the spirit, and those little rascals didn’t even know it was Christmas.

Braggadocio

What’s a blog for, if not to brag? Well, a lot of little people have helped along the way and Big Daddy Cordes want to thank to all of them, but most importantly I am famous: type “mullet stripes” into Google images and see what you get. Very first image. Numero Uno. Little did I know that searching for ideas would lead to such sudden, complete fulfillment. God bless the interwebs. Here’s a screen shot:

We just re-did my stripes this morning, and the mullet is coming in nicely. Since my recently fucked-up shoulder (which is actually doing well, at least it feels good, though I’ll know more when I get the MRI results back) has me almost assuredly delaying my trip to Patagonia, the silver lining might be that I can better grow-in the mullet (to say nothing of the creepy mustache). It’s a sign of cultural respect, that’s all: every dude in Argentina rocks the mullet.

I was to leave for Patagonia in a week, and was going to climb with Tommy, as I’m quite certain I can jug anything he can lead. Man, the guy is inspiring, and I just wrote about his and Kevin Jorgeson’s current project here. For those who don’t know, they’re trying to free-climb a line up El Cap’s Dawn Wall — crazy steep and blank, stacked with 5.13 & 5.14 pitches, about seven of each in the line’s 30 pitches. They’ve been working on it for three seasons, trained their asses off, and Tommy told me he’s sure that it goes — just not sure if they can do it yet. But they’re trying, which is way more impressive than coming up first on the interwebs for having a shitty haircut.

Yeah, in the words of Kenny Powers, fuck this noise — it’s time to go train.

Joe Puryear

Damn, this doesn’t get any easier. Guess somehow I wish that it did, or maybe I thought that it would.

I’m not talking Election Day, sick as I am of the ads and incessant bickering, though I hope everyone votes. Sorry for the political dive, but I’ve got a point and a connection here: Too much of the problem with today’s world is the feeling of hopelessness. Who gives a fuck, right? I mean, corporate influence, power, dollars, rule all. Seems like nothing has anything to do with doing right or helping each other. Easy to just tune out.

So we do what we can when we have the chance, and try to help in real ways. (And yes, I voted, too.) You can be nice to the person next to you. You can help the person who needs help.

We can help bring Joe home. Joe Puryear, a friend and one of the most accomplished alpine climbers and adventurers of recent years, died last week while doing what he loved in remote Tibet. His climbing partner, David Gottlieb, last saw Joe with a huge smile, flashing the thumbs-up sign before going ahead (they were unroped at that point, on easy ground) to scout the route on unclimbed Labuche Kang – but David then rounded a rock outcrop and saw where a cornice had broken off. Joe was gone.

Joe was a star in my book, one of many I looked up to: intelligent, humble and unassuming, funny and unbelievably accomplished. He was more of the unheralded type, seemingly disinterested in hype. Not unwilling to share his adventures in words and photos, though – he’d just do it refreshingly, without ego. And yet the guy ripped it up in the Ruth, sent all over the Alaska Range, rampaged the Desert, and did three major first ascents of previously unclimbed peaks in Nepal in the last two years.

Joe (L) and Mark Westman -- Mark: "Early Morning Spire, summer of 1996. The days when filthy white long johns and tights were cool. To us."

I first met Joe and his longtime climbing partner and dear friend Mark Westman, another unheralded badass, in the Ruth back in 2000. I’ve kept in touch with both, seeing them here-and-there over the years, and I’ve relied on them for key info for the AAJ. Joe wrote the definitive guide to the Ruth Gorge for the 2006 AAJ – did it for free, as do all AAJ contributors – and later published his phenomenal guidebook, Alaska Climbing.

I really admired Joe, even though I didn’t know him all that well. I have a memory of him and Michelle near the Kesugi Ridge trail in Alaska back in the early 2000s, after one of my trips, I can’t exactly recall the details, I guess I’m getting old, not sure if they picked me up hitchiking or if we just ran into each other or what. I think it was soon after they’d met, but I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter, really. But they were lovely, and they married on the Ruth Glacier in 2004. Michelle wrote about Joe the other day. It’s beautiful because such openness and love doesn’t find us every day; the lack of regret, lack of bitterness, and the genuine appreciation of someone who lived fully. Of course the irony is always the same: the very thing that helped make him who he was, who we loved, also took him away.

Joe and Michelle at their wedding reception.

Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going here. I just know that nothing in life, no matter how short, is more precious than living beautifully, but my heart aches for Michelle. She and some of Joe’s family are traveling to Asia to bring Joe’s ashes home. It’s expensive, bringing him down, cremating him, the travel, and if you can help even just a little (I did), please consider it – if you can’t, you can’t; most of us don’t have much, but maybe we can skip a beer or marg or meal to help out, or just help anyway and toast that beer or marg to Joe, and send our love to Michelle and his family.

Here’s the link, with the donate button on the upper right:

http://climbtibet.blogspot.com/

And let’s remember these words – Mark Westman wrote them the other day, thinking about Joe:

“Do that one last pitch together. Have that beer. Stay a little longer. Say what needs to be said. Cherish your friendships and every last ounce of life. My alpinist friends, watch every step, and don’t ever lose your fear in the mountains.”

Joe Puryear, RIP. Photo by Mark Westman.

Fightin’ in Kentucky

Quick post here, as urged by my sister. She’s smart, I’m not. She read my TCL post about my dislocated shoulder — yeah, fuck, fuckfuckfuck, I dislocated my shoulder two weeks ago and I’m supposed to leave for Patagonia in four weeks, but recovery takes three months, fuckfuckfuck — and she liked the post, asked if I’d linked to it from here. Uhhh, well, I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. I’m a busy guy. “If not, you’re a douche,” she said. Ouch. The WebTV-Baby Lady is calling me a douche. But don’t she know I got shit goin’ on? Right now, for

Life imitating art?

example, as I type, I’m swilling a marg, drowning my sorrows, preparing to go out for Halloween. Fortunately I don’t even have to dress-up — cheapest, easiest costume ever thanks to my new haircut and stylin’ ‘stache.

My buddy Craig is telling me about Halloween parties growing up in Kentucky, and just said, “We got into a big fight this one time, like six on six, and one of us was a parapalegic — and he’s the one who started it, cracked a guy across the head with his crutch.” His story ended with, “And that’s when I realized I couldn’t fight while intoxicated.” He just told me that my Halloween “costume” is what started the topic of fightin’ in Kentucky.

Anyway, I know this is the lamest post ever, but a much better one, the story of my shoulder, can be found here.

What's to come for me over the next couple of months.

We’re Not Breaking Up

I swear it’s not you, it’s me…. I just, I just, I have a lot on my mind right now. Like climbing, drinking margaritas, climbing, a new bottle of Cabo Wabo Anejo, and some work. Priorities.

 


Professional athlete.

 

OK, that’s my slack ass apology for not posting in forever. Well, um, I’ve been writing regularly for someone else. Patagonia’s award-winning blog, The Cleanest Line. I just forgot to link this to that, because perhaps my sister was right about the effect of my new haircut (She goes: “Seriously, Kel, it makes you look mentally challenged”). This is sweet, I’m psyched. I make my living as a writer. I am not a “professional climber,” nor do I deserve to be. Yes, I have some sponsors, and I’m hugely grateful – nobody owes me shit for going climbing – but that’s not how I make my living. Momentary side rant: Michael Jordan was a professional athlete.

 

Not a professional athlete.

 

If you still live in your parents’ basement or in your truck, and earn less than a janitor for going climbing, you are not a professional climber. I’m talking being paid to climb; not paid to write, or to take photos, or to guide, or to work in a gear shop or have a paper route on the side (the kid – or pro climber – delivering your papers is not, for example, necessarily a journalist,). OK, now I’m laughing – that seemingly ubiquitous “pro climber” claim cracks me up like a scene from Waiting for Guffman. Anyway, my primary, meager living comes from writing and editing (and if you’re reading this drivel, you’re surely thinking like those folks who see modern art and go “my kid could do that”).

The Cleanest Line is awesome, but they wanted more climbing. Given my pathetically one-dimensional nature, it seems a good fit. I can blather-on endlessly about the wonderfully worthless world of climbing. Granted, for my TCL posts, I’ve had to tone down the f-bomb (fuck) and I probably won’t rant against other companies (like I did here, here, and here, for example), and my clown suit jokes probably won’t make the cut, either, but I can do such things here if I get the urge.

 

An obligatory, random climbing shot. It's from a route we climbed about 10 days ago -- was so psyched, given my leg. I've got a summer of recovery post coming (if I get around to it...).

 

What I want to do here is post updates about my TCL posts, like a little bit about the stories, maybe some stories behind the stories, and so on. We’ll see. Maybe I can at least remember to post a link when I do a TCL post — shit, I’ve been writing for TCL for two months now, and this my first update here. Oops. I hear a little voice: “Dude, if writing is your living, then you are quite possibly the worst businessman in the world.” True enough.

A couple of notes on some of my TCL posts:

• My most recent post: Going Up. It’s basically about desire and the secret to hard climbing. I’ve always thought of it in the alpine sense, and on my best alpine routes I’ve seen it in my partners: badasses like Jonny Copp, Scott DeCapio, Jim Earl, Colin Haley and Josh Wharton. I’m seeing it in other realms of climbing and in life as well, and will write more on the topic soon.

• The post before gave a sort of update on my recovery: Just a Five-Minute Run.

• Sometimes I’ll be TCL’s editorial voice introducing a climbing story, like in the three-part series about Tommy & crew’s China trip. Here’s part three, Tommy’s superb trip report.

• Yes, the margarita recipes are there. The good folks at Patagonia insisted on it. I’m like, “Really, you guys sure? I mean, I don’t drink many margaritas…” Here’s one (my opening post), and another. Reminds me, it’s about time for a new one.

• They’ve got my posts filed under my name, so if you’re suffering from insomnia and want to read them all, here you go: http://www.thecleanestline.com/kelly-cordes/

Hey, anybody ever see that Onion headline a few years back: Internet Outage Sends Nation Into Spurt of Productivity. Well, for all four of you who read my blog, so long as we don’t suffer an internet outage I’ll do my best to try to keep distracting you – if not here, then at least over at www.thecleanestline.com. Not that I’m trying to diminish productivity and bring you down to my level, no, no – I’m just all about spreading the love. It’s not me, it’s you.

My Thick Skull (and drink recipe)

Here I’d been thinking that I had nothing to write. And then I fell on my face and head. Yes, leave it to me to make the safest climbing possible – overhanging sport climbing – as dangerous as possible. Was at Wizard’s Gate, with my friends Quinn and Wes, was feeling good – all of us were climbing well. Anyway, I jumped on a hard (for us) sport route, and at the steepest part I pitched off, and my body was fairly horizontal but I think my foot stayed on the hold just a little longer, thus launching me into a back flip, and somehow along the way the rope spun me and I swung back into the wall head-first. Smashed my head and face, blood dripping into space, gnarly. Fortunately my neck is fine and I didn’t fracture my skull.

Really, I felt fine. I lowered, Wes put a sweatshirt on my head and we walked out, freaking people out on the trail, and thought about just going to the bar – fuck it. But we went to the ER first, good thing – 13 staples in my head and 14 stitches in my face and mouth. Just what I need – I got uglier.

I was not wearing a helmet. I’d been getting complacent when cragging on good rock – stupid, yes. But maybe not? I have no problem attributing blame to myself, for sure, but overhanging sport climbing without a helmet, on good rock, must be the single safest form of climbing. I’ll bet the “if you’d have worn a helmet” thing is, maybe, what? one in 10,000 with this scenario? Seriously, just stay inside. No, for real, stay on the couch and watch TV. Nothing will hurt you there. Then again, had I broken my skull or neck (though the helmet wouldn’t have likely prevented a neck injury anyway), that one case would’ve been catastrophic. Makes me shudder to think about. Just like if my rope would have cut and killed me – also extremely rare – I’d have wished I’d been climbing on double 11mm ropes. I don’t want to be defensive, but I also hate how anytime there’s an accident, every douchebag in the universe tries to jump to one single thing that would magically be the panacea for all evils, accidents, and tragedies in the universe (and such reactions often seem suspiciously close to the shallow self-justification of “Well, you wouldn’t catch me don’t that” – yes, you’re right, we wouldn’t, because you were inside on the couch). It’s weird, like, sure, a helmet would’ve helped some. I almost surely wouldn’t have the staples in my head (the least of my worries…), but would probably still have the gnarled-up face. So, IF I had worn a helmet, it’d have helped. Yet IF I didn’t have such a thick skull – who’d have thought it’d such an advantage? – I’d have been fucked. Better: IF I’d have been a better climber I wouldn’t have fallen. I’ve got more to say about all this, and I might ramble-on about it later.

For now, I will say that, in thinking about why I don’t always wear a helmet (aside from the bigger picture of thinking about times where it’s really not needed – like, almost always on overhanging sport climbs), a lot of it comes down to comfort. Wearing a helmet sport climbing feels cumbersome, as would climbing with double 11mm ropes. A new, wussy modern phenomenon? Ha! Get a clue. Half the old-schoolers never wore helmets even in the alpine because they weighed more than three days’ food. We base a lot of things on comfort. We don’t want to make things such a hassle that it removes some of the aesthetic feeling we love from these activities, even things like sport climbing (oh no, am I about to lose my alpine merit badge by saying this?). That’s why the dudes spouting “You always [insert helmet or whatever the ‘rule’]….” are poseurs, and they always have been, and they always will be, because anybody who’s been around knows that “you always” doesn’t exist. Situations vary.

My new helmet: Trango Skull Cap.

So, here’s my pitch for super light, low-bulk helmets. Because you’re more likely to wear them. I have a Petzl Meteor 2, but it’s significantly bulkier than their original one, and I don’t wear it that often. Pathetic of me, I know. I also know of zero people who’ve had head injuries from leading sport routes without a helmet. So forgive me. And, still, it damned near happened to me. Allow my dumb ass to provide the example: If it’s light enough, and low-bulk enough, maybe I’ll wear it. Just for those outlier instances – like last Tuesday. I’m glad it wasn’t worse, I’m glad I’m not drooling on myself, and I’m glad to get back out there doing what I love. Thank you, Malcolm Daly – a longtime pal and badass climber, who works at Trango – for the helmet. It weighs nothing and it’s super low-bulk. I’m hoping it’ll help keep me going, loving life, for as long as I can do it. Thank you, too, more immediately, to Wes and Quinn for taking such good care of me last Tuesday.

The QuinnWes Shake:

Wes and Quinn at Wizard's Gate.

After I splatted, Quinn and Wes not only remained cool and careful, ensuring I was safe on the way out, but they also hung with me in the hospital and then at home – they made the below spiked milkshakes and even stayed the night, just to be sure I didn’t have a closed head injury that’d show later (highly improbable, but the doc said it wasn’t a bad idea to have someone stay with me just to be sure). A few times throughout the night, Wes even got up and came to check on me. Thank you. I’m grateful for my friends. I wasn’t allowed to eat solid foods at first, due to the cuts inside my lip. So, the margarita and milkshake diet – doctor’s orders.

Now it’s Monday. Margarita Monday at the Cordes cabin. But for the rest of the un-acclimatized margarita world, perhaps something a little softer might be good – you know, ease into the work week. Softer can be good, like when you bust your face and head open. Thus:

Shake #1:

Bailey’s Irish Crème liquor (creamy, beige…)

Strawberries

Bananas

Vanilla ice cream

A little water (or more Bailey’s)

Shake #2:

Same stuff as above, add or subtract what you will. Instead of Bailey’s, use Disaronno (an Italian amaretto liquor)

Mash it up in the blender. It’s a delicious, refreshing, summertime drink. Drink. Get up the next day and do what you love. Think about whether or not to wear a helmet.

Laziness

My god was I lazy yesterday. And all week. Never one to rest on my laurels, today I pushed it and went even lazier. Perhaps even challenging The Dude himself in the running for laziest man worldwide. Today I fell asleep mid-day with Motörhead blasting in my headphones. Now that’s lazy. Or maybe it indicates that I’m really really tired, from such a stressful week? Yeah…

Much like alpine climbers who stop wherever they feel like it and try to claim a completed route – the “modern ascent,” “new bail,” or proverbial “end of the difficulties” – I’m looking for a justification for my failure.

I came up with three possibilities:

1. I inexplicably ceased margarita consumption for the last several nights. Likely a record of some sort. It’s not even that I’m trying to cut back – after all, nobody likes a quitter – but I just haven’t felt like drinking. Weird, likely a shock to my system, but some things defy logic, like crop circles, curling as an Olympic sport, and Dolly Parton’s titties.

2. Did my biggest gimpy hike yet earlier this week – to Sky Pond and back, which is 9 or 10 miles round trip. My awesome PT, Jeff Giddings, had encouraged me to push myself a little and see how it felt. Everything I’d been doing had been feeling great, so leave it to me to then overdo it. Made good time on the way up (decent gimpy time, that is – I used to do personal trail-run time-trials there, damnit), but took twice as long coming out, and was hobbling pretty hard by the time I returned to the parking lot. It was a little much just yet. OK, now I know.

By the way, anybody notice that the farther you get from the trailhead, the cooler the people (usually)? It baffles me that people can be so rude in such a spectacular place. Must be an indication as to how unhappy they are, but I wish they wouldn’t be such dickheads. “Excuse me, comin’ thru!” with a big smile and a “How’s it goin’?” too often results in a scowl and an unwillingness to clear the trail. I’d think they’re just offended that a dorky gimp is passing them, except it used to also happen when I’d run the trails. I don’t get it. In the past, it used to so annoy me that I’ve come soooo close to lowering my shoulder into someone (the thought then makes me laugh, and I go back to enjoying myself), but I’m kinder and gentler now. It probably especially annoys me because I go to places like this to escape people like that. I know, I should feel sorry for them and rise above it. But I’m still not ruling out the shoulder check option. Namaste.

3. I sent my stupid little “proj” last weekend. This, in my temporary new life as a sport climber, perhaps justifies my subsequent laziness. At least I’m not as lazy as Josh Wharton (he might try to defend himself with “Ohhh, but I have a broken back and wrist,” but buck up dude!). Josh and Erinn, his wife, just moved to Estes and, more importantly, they got cable TV. I always did like them. This project of mine is a whopping 70 feet or so, probably easier than Scotty D and I think it is, and is one of three lines up by some crag we got lost trying to find and that we know absolutely nothing about. Don’t even know the names or ratings of the routes, just that this line was the hardest of the three (via its direct variation, anyway – there’s a JV way around the hard part). Neither of us could onsight it on our first few tries. Several days prior, I flailed again, Scotty sent, and then I broke off a key hold off, making it harder. So, I maintained, Scotty hadn’t really done it. Nor had Wharton. Thus, clearly, I needed to send.

Erinn and Josh, on their merry way to the crag (me: "I think it's this way...yeah, yeah, I've been here before, I swear").

Last weekend I called up Josh: “Hey dude, how’s the back? Yeahyeah, anyway, can you belay yet? No? Oh. Uhhh, say, what’s Erinn up to today?”

The long-suffering Miss Erinn had probably thought she got some respite from belay duty, what with Josh in the Stormtrooper suit, but hey, what are friends for? I’m classy like that. Here’s the damnedest thing: Erinn says she likes belaying. Finds it relaxing (every climber guy just said, in unison: Duuuuude, does Josh know how lucky he is?!). She’s an elementary school teacher, meaning she deals with chaos all day every day, and so she says it’s peaceful to simply be in a beautiful place with her husband (or her husband’s deadbeat friend…so I hope), enjoying the surroundings. No shit. How cool. And somehow, I felt good climbing that day, too – maybe it rubbed off. Namaste.

**

That Motörhead video I linked to, up top, is so good I’m embedding it. Quite possibly the best ever metal song — or whatever genre you call it — fuck it, as Lemmy himself is known to say, “We are Motörhead. We play rock and roll.”