“Dude, what happened to your face?” That’s the most common email subject line from my friends recently.
Editor’s note: It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce The Cleanest Line’s newest contributor, Kelly Cordes. Most of you know Kelly from his photos and field reports in Patagonia catalogs, his ambassador bio, or his video Somethin Bout Nothin. Some of you know Kelly as senior editor of the American Alpine Journal, and a regular in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Patagonia and Pakistan. Kelly’s going to be covering the climbing beat for us. Please say “Hi” or ask him about his face in the comments. Did I mention he pours a damn fine margarita?
What the hell, let’s get things started with a little good-natured carnage. Kelly just got uglier. Since I’m recovering from a broken leg – an explosion of my lower leg nearly six months ago – I’ve been trying to get my gimp ass into overhanging sport climbing. It’d be good for me, since I haven’t done it much and am weak like kitten. Good for my leg, too, since I can’t walk far yet. Ahhh, sport climbing: aesthetic movement, nothing to hit if you fall. Fatty bolts. Chicks in sports bras. And, now, my bloodied and mangled face. Leave it to me to take the safest form of climbing and turn it into something dangerous.
[Quinn Brett warming up. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
So, two Tuesdays ago my friends Quinn and Wes came by and we headed for a terrific local Estes Park crag – gorgeous setting, perched above 10,000 feet, cool summertime temps. They carried all the gear (the approach is harder on my leg than the climbing right now), and I gimped along behind for the 40-minute uphill hike (OK, a little long by sport climbing standards, so I’m told, but it’s a nice walk). We did a few of the classic routes on the vertical and slabbier face, and then afternoon showers rolled-in so we scooted to the “The Alcove” – a wildly overhanging section of the crag, where the rain lands 30 feet out from the climbs. Did the easiest route without problem, then moved onto a harder one (still probably just a warm-up for good climbers), knowing we’d flail and tag-team it. It’d be good for us, we’d work on it. Yeah, overhanging sport climbing on solid rock, the safest thing you can do next to staying on the couch (which isn’t safe either, not in the long run, but I’ll save it … seems I’m nobody to lecture about safety right now). I didn’t even bring my helmet – no need. Right. More on that another time.
At the steep part, with my body nearly horizontal, of course I whipped – but not just a normal whipper, a flying pirouette whipper with full spinning back layout, like the famed Iron Lotus jump in the award-winning film Blades of Glory. When my arms came off, I think my foot stayed on a second longer, launching me head-first into a backflip, and, somehow, along the way my inner thigh caught on the rope and spun me, head-first, into the wall, face-plant pile-driver, WHAM! (That’s how Quinn said it sounded, anyway, though she said it also sounded hollow, which makes sense.)
[The Alcove area, with X marking the spot of my whipper. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
Blood ran down my face and dripped into space. Wes lowered me, and he and Quinn looked freaked. Wish I had a picture. But I felt fine. Seriously. Incredibly grateful it wasn’t worse, but fine. Through the whole deal – including the 13 staples in my skull and 14 stitches in my face and lip – it never hurt, I never lost consciousness, never felt dizzy. I’ve got a thick skull.
At the parking lot a group of some 15 people stood, staring, full-on mouthbreathing, sporting the dumbest looks I’ve ever seen. In fairness, I probably looked pretty stupid as well. They just stared. Not one asked if they could help. But several blurted the same thing: “Whaaat happened?!?” Ah yes, for the love of carnage.
As I stuffed my pack in the trunk and they kept asking that damned question, and kept-on mouthbreathing with that dumb look on their faces, I turned, stared back at a person on the left, jerked my head and stared at a person on the right, then lurched forward a step before extending my arms outward and running toward them and their frightened children, roaring, “Gggrraaaaaarrrggghhhhhh! Braaaains! Braaaains!”
Then we hopped in the car and talked about where to go first: the ER or the bar.
Welcome to The Cleanest Line’s climbing blog. I’m winging it, but they put me in charge.