• TNB: Climbing's Big Mistake
  • TNB: Trad Dads and Dad Bods
  • TNB: Do the Right Thing
  • TNB: Big Wall Soloing Sustenance – Cookies vs. Bugs
  • TNB: When Your Rope Falls Off—and 5 Ways to Prevent the Nightmare
  • TNB: Before I Die - What Would Climbers Think?
  • TNB: Raphael Slawinski - Firsthand Account of Everest Earthquake
  • TNB: Point Break - Sharma, Andrada on the Big Screen
  • TNB: Muscle Shoals - Rock and Soul
  • TNB: Naked Soloist is Saner Than Me
  • TNB: The Hard Climb to Heaven
  • TNB: Summer Camp
  • TNB: Suicide in Our Sights
  • TNB: Ethan Pringle's 10 Tips for Sending Your Project
  • TNB: Hawaii Rocks - Totally Aloha
  • TNB: PointGate - Why Comp Climbing Is Not The Future
  • TNB: My First Epic
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Avoid Braking Bad - The Art of the Soft Catch
  • TNB: #Dawnwall and The Creation of Alex Honnlove
  • TNB: Vision Quest - Benji Fink and Mexico’s Steepest Big Wall
  • TNB: The New Dawn (Wall) of Climbing
  • TNB: The Top 5 Weekend Whippers of 2014 (Plus the Comments)
  • TNB: 10 Tips for Jolene Kay, Professional Climber (and Hot Actress)
  • TNB: The Story Behind the Craziest of Rescues
  • TNB: The Risk of Climbing
  • TNB: How to Get Stronger by Doing Nothing for 5 Minutes a Day
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Improve Your Footwork
  • TNB: In Praise of the Weekend Warrior
  • TNB: Joe Kinder Visits the World's Hardest Cave
  • TNB: Celebrating Insomnia in Chamonix
  • TNB: Run, Rabbit - Hermann Gollner, 71, Cranks Pump-O-Rama (5.13a)
  • TNB: Five Best Photos of 2014
  • TNB: Clip Like A Pro - 5 Tips from Sasha DiGiulian and Sean McColl
  • TNB: Five Things Every Gym Climber Must Know About Climbing Outside
  • TNB: Still Jeff Lowe
  • TNB: Moving Over Stone With Doug Robinson
  • TNB: Wheels Up—The Top 5 Climbing Rigs
  • TNB: Is K2 The New Everest?
  • TNB: Things—Besides Us, That Is—That Fall
  • TNB: When Homemade Gear Works, Sorta
  • TNB: The Outsiders
  • TNB: R.I.P. Homero Gutierrez Villarreal - The Padrino of El Potrero
  • TNB: A Short Talk with Sierra Blair-Coyle
  • TNB: Ian Dory, Ninja, or The Craziest Thing I Ever Seen
  • TNB: The Best Crag Dogs of All Time
  • TNB: 5 Ways to Make People Love Your Routes
  • TNB: Hudon and Jones, and Don't Forget It!
  • TNB: Climbing's Tribal Rites
  • TNB: Sasha DiGiulian and Alex Johnson On How to Be a Modern Pro
  • TNB: Is Dean Potter A Bad Father?
  • TNB: Silly Places We’ve Slept - Tales of Unplanned Bivies
  • TNB: Forgotten Hero - Frank Sacherer 1940-1978
  • TNB: The World-Class Weekend Warrior – Martin Keller Climbs V15
  • TNB: Everest Sherpas No Longer Willing to “Grin and Bear It”
  • TNB: Hardheaded Helmet Lesson Learned
  • TNB: Six Most Awesome Jobs for Climbers
  • TNB: The Coolest Climbing Deal Breaker
  • TNB: Sharma and Glowacz Send World’s Steepest Rock Climb
  • TNB: An Encounter with a Legend - Patrick Edlinger, Plus A Whipper Vid
  • TNB: Six Things Every Climber Should Do Before They Die
  • TNB: Falling from the Top
  • TNB: Weekend Whipper
  • TNB: Band of Crushers
  • TNB: Charlie Porter, We Hardly Knew You
  • TNB: Climbing's Greatest Route Names
  • TNB: Hot Women Die and Have Sex on Everest
  • TNB: The Great Tragedy at Carderock
  • TNB: Thoughts On Death, and Last Words
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Big Story
  • TNB: Next Level? Honnold Pushes the Game on El Sendero Luminoso
  • TNB: Jeff Lowe Invented the Sport
  • TNB: The Most Popular Weekend Whippers of the Year
  • TNB: If Ondra Isn't The Best Climber In The World, Who Is?
  • TNB: Storm Years or Typhoon? The Biggest Issue in Climbing
  • TNB: Jim Bridwell Speaks
  • TNB: Honnold's Biggest Solo
  • TNB: Death on Forbidden Peak - Was the NPS Complicit?
  • TNB: Ice Climbing Goes to Sochi Olympics
  • TNB: When Gear Attacks
  • TNB: 8a.nu: The Best Climber in the World is the One with the Most Points
  • TNB: Shutdown: Illegal Climbers in Yosemite—Ninjas or Criminals?
  • TNB: Who is the Best Climber in the World?
  • TNB: The New Courage in a Rucksack
  • TNB: Unsolved Mystery - The Ten Sleep Shooting
  • TNB: The Pad Problem - Honnold, Kehl on Headpoints and Highballs
  • TNB: Travels with Delaney Miller - National Champ Turns to Rock
  • TNB: Jail Food and Booty
  • TNB: Love on the Road
  • TNB: Is Pakistan Safe for Climbers?
  • TNB: Flash Floods, Climbers and How to Get Out of the Way
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Level
  • TNB: Best in Show - Brand New Gear from the Outdoor Retailer Show
  • TNB: Adam Ondra Ties the Knot
  • TNB: Under Pressure - Trotter and Honnold On How Bets Can Help You Send
  • TNB: The Tragedy of Tito Traversa
  • TNB: DR's Crazy Brain Puzzle. Get It Correct or Else.
  • TNB: What Happened To Climbing Films?
  • TNB: Cry of the Colorado Fussy Snivel
  • TNB: Mystery Solved!
  • TNB: The Mystery of Moses Tower - Help Answer a 25-Year-Old Question
  • TNB: No Such Luck
  • TNB: Erasing Midnight Lightning
  • TNB: Mayhem - Crawling, Balling & Brawling on the Evere$t Soap Opera
  • TNB: Watching the Boston Marathon
  • TNB: Chasing the Devil's Snort
  • TNB: Born-Again Gumby
  • TNB: Super Unknown - Austin Dark Horse Establishes 5.14d in Random Texas Cave
  • TNB: Fearless?
  • TNB: The Big Freaking Deal, Ain't Bouldering
  • TNB: Honnold's Achilles' Heel
  • TNB: He's Either Crazy or a Poet
  • TNB: The Fish Cheat and the Prince of Climbing
  • TNB: A Letter from Santa... I mean Sharma
  • TNB: Traveler's Advisory - El Potrero Chico, Mexico
  • TNB: A Year Ago - Athol
  • TNB: Gun Control
  • TNB: What's the Problem?
  • TNB: Derek Hersey's Magic Carpet
  • TNB: The Apprentices
  • TNB: The Jungle
  • TNB: Klem Loskot is Back Climbing V15 and 5.15
  • TNB: Eliminated
  • TNB: The Hurt Locker
  • TNB: The Perils of Sport Climbing
  • TNB: Baddest Climb of the Year
  • TNB: Crossfit Misfit
  • TNB: Eating People and the Real Seventh Summit
  • TNB: Bring It On, Bitch!
  • TNB: What Would Warren Harding Do?
  • TNB: The Curse Of The Bandit
  • TNB: Reality Pro
  • TNB: Chris Sharma and The Art of Jeep Maintenance
  • TNB: American Dirtbag
  • TNB: How Not To Climb 5.12
  • TNB: Project FAIL
  • TNB: The Backwards Future of Climbing
  • TNB: The Death of Progress
  • TNB: The Da Vinci CO
  • TNB: The Philosopher King
  • TNB: Spam Alert
  • TNB: Bad Genes - The Different Types of Gumbies
  • TNB: Mouth Wide Shut
  • TNB: Outside Reality
  • TNB: The Day I Saved Jésus
  • TNB: My Pad, Your Problem
  • TNB: House Rules
  • TNB: Five Things I Don't Hate About Climbing
  • TNB: Metro-Pointing
  • TNB: Beast in the East
  • TNB: Artificial Intelligence
  • TNB: To Boldly Go Sprad Climbing
  • TNB: Self-Destruction
  • TNB: Soul Sport
  • TNB: Nine Pitches
  • Video Spotlight
    First Repeat of Jeff Lowe's Metanoia on the Eiger North Face
    First Repeat of Jeff Lowe's Metanoia on the Eiger North Face
    Whipper of the Month
    Weekend Whipper: Alastair McDowell's Los Indignados (M7) Screamer
    Weekend Whipper: Alastair McDowell's Los Indignados (M7) Screamer

    TNB: The Perils of Sport Climbing

    By Alison Osius

    Six surgeries in 13 months is a lot, and a lot of recovery and painkillers, and Kelly Cordes will tell you he was a little whacked even before that .An alpine, ice and rock climber, Kelly broke his ankle and pulverized his tib-fib ice climbing. He tore his knee. He destroyed his shoulder.But the worst insult was yet to come." Leave it to me," he says, “to take the safest form of climbing and make it as dangerous as possible."

    Beginning to walk again after three leg surgeries, he went sport climbing: to enjoy the safety, the stonker bolts, the soft and welcoming air you fall into.

    Kelly took—this was three months after the pilon fracture—a spinning, somersaulting, feet-flying whip from a heel hook on an overhanging 5.13a. The inside of his leg somehow caught on the rope, and splatted him, face-first, into the wall below.

    In the ER, Kelly recalls: “The doc got sick of me cracking jokes while she put 13 staples in my skull and 14 stitches in my face. Before she closed up my head, I wanted to ask her if she could stuff some more brains in there.”

    God! Who gets hurt sport climbing? Um, a few of us.

    I've taken a beating lately. Two years ago I was at a local sport crag—had just been sitting on a boulder, eating a sandwich—when hit by an airborne rock. It was dislodged not by a climber, but someone in a youth rehab group that had walked up past us, which in itself was surprising, since there is no real trail. The boy then started climbing up the choss on the other side of the gully. I have already described this, in our Ascent 2011, but the rock bounded down and across the gully and hit me, spinning me around and knocking me 20 feet downhill. The rock stopped when it hit the side of my pack, which was 10 feet below me, though I ended up lower than it. Aside from cuts and minor injuries, I got a cartilaginous injury to the ankle that is still a problem. But my head wasn’t bashed in, so OK.

    The rock that hit the author, finally stopping against my pack, in Thompson Creek, Colorado. Photo: Andrea Cutter.Each time I go to that area, Lower Thompson Creek, I glare at the couch-pillow-sized rock, now embedded in the trail. I point it out to friends, who gasp and say they didn’t realize it was that big (it’s not like I didn’t tell them); like a museum guide, I dart around, pointing out the tiny three-inch-wide tree I cowered behind, and the spot below where I landed.

    I did just such a dramatic re-creation, in fact, last summer for Will Hummel, a brand-new intern I was taking out for a few pitches. There also, Will and I found a stranger on our intended route, but it was over the person's head, and I suggested the two easier routes just uphill, then turned my attention to Will as he led up. I didn’t notice that the guy and his friends had passed the routes and, even after the wall ended, continued up and across the gully. I've never seen anyone go there except for these two times.

    When I heard the shouts of “Rock!” and the crashing, all I could think was, “I can’t BELIEVE this is happening again.”

    I looked around—again—for somewhere to go, locked off the belay, and dove for a niche in the wall 10 feet downhill. As if in a nightmare, I reached it but, as the thudding neared, couldn’t turn the corner because I’d sucked in my jacket along with the rope, now taut and too stuck to ease out. I pulled with all my weight, trying to stretch the rope, and shoved in, scraping my face in the process. The rock rolled to a stop on top of my flaked rope (ruining it).

    Young intern Will watched the whole thing from above: "The noise was so loud I thought a whole cliff had collapsed, and I was going to be fishing three or four bodies out."

    I said, "I really can't believe it happened twice."

    He said, "Yeah, and they're getting bigger! Next it'll be"—he pointed to the grand-piano lunch rock—"that one!"

    The crate-sized lunker that next tried to get me, below flanked by Amanda Ramsay. Photo by the author.Bounding Rock #2 is still there. On my next visit, my friend Amanda Ramsay and I sat comfortably on it to put on our shoes.

    Then at Rifle I got a rope burn, two inches long and so deep it wouldn’t close for three weeks, streaming pink fluid; a teenage boy, and bear in mind that teenage boys love gore, recoiled at the sight, saying, “That looks like something a zombie would have!”

    Latest was when I took the new Trusting Young Intern (TYI), Gentrye Houghton, out to New Castle on a sunny day, and, just off the deck on a roof on a brand-new route, snapped a hold that hit me in the face and split my lip. She was yanked up, and we collided.

    John Sherman, a boulderer, used to have a bumper sticker saying, “Sport Climbing is Neither.” Now I see him at Rifle, have climbed with him there. I love the relative safety of sport climbing. Sometimes I wonder how much—with more demands on my time than in yore, and less acceptance of risk—or in any case how hard I’d even climb anymore if it weren’t for sport climbing. I go trad climbing two or three times a year, on moderate routes. I’m not, ever again, going to test myself by trying to climb, say, 5.12 above little nuts tweaked in sideways. I'll still happily push it above a chunky bolt.

    “It amazes me that any of us are still here, really,” Kelly emails me, “when you think about how easily things can happen: even the difference of a few millimeters between lowering or catching someone (someone’s hand half an inch this way on the belay device), and dropping them (hand a little too far that way). Those things happen, of course, but sometimes I'm surprised they don't happen more often. Kinda impressive really, given the innumerable opportunities we have to fuck up.”

    One funny thing is, Kelly did return and send the route, though it took some effort.

    The other funny thing is, we all keep going back. There are so many ways to make things safer. Check each others’ knots and belay devices. Belay carefully. Talk about whether someone will be lowered or rappel; double check everything at the anchor. And how many times must this magazine write: Tie knots in the end of your (belay or rappel) ropes?

    Tie knots in the ends of your (belay or rappel ropes)!

    Nathan Welton in Penitente Canyon.  This magazine once ran an image of Nathan Welton upside down, like a cartoon character, on a sport route in Penitente Canyon.

    Later Nathan strolled into a climbing shop in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, and saw, next to the helmet rack, that photo on display.

    He tells me, “The crusty old owner it came up to me and said, ‘Would ya look at that fuckin' muppet, mate? That right there's a great reason to buy a helmet. That guy's a bloody idiot!’ I didn't tell him it was me.” Nathan crept out, head bowed.

    From Kelly, an irony: “After all the stupid shit I've done alpine climbing, none of [the injuries] came on an alpine route.”

    Sport climbing is such a safe strata in our world, a mile away from the other end of the spectrum. Yet even as safe as we can make the sport, it still carries some risk. Weird things can happen. Some people embrace risk in climbing. I don’t, not at this stage. I’d remove all the risk if I could. Instead I just try to manage it, every way possible, vigilantly.

    We go back because—testing ourselves, concentrating, figuring things out, being with friends among the most beautiful landscapes in the world—we get that much out of it.

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