When Kelly Cordes moved to Montana in 1992, the mountains carved the shape of his life. He discovered his passion for long alpine routes, soloing and teaming up with climbers who shared his enthusiasm.
“It was something that people damn near whispered about,” says Kelly, who first heard of Mt. Siyeh in the early ’90s. “It had this huge mystique and reputation about it.” Swaths of gray limestone he had never seen, besides in photos, lay dormant in his head, a thing of dreams in the realm of the impossible.
During the summer of 2008, now living in Estes Park, Colorado, Kelly devoted his efforts to cragging and improving his rock technique. In part, the routine was training for future objectives on his endless dream tick-list. But even when he road-tripped to Montana, Kelly’s long-wrought fear of Siyeh kept thoughts of the north wall from his mind.
Once he and Justin Woods were on route, however, some of his trepidation vanished. In a twist of irony, fifteen years of fear—and the exuberance that had guided him in the mountains since—had prepared him for the challenge. In his mind, he had built a monster that, in reality, was a place to recapture resolution.
In writing “Symphony in Siyeh” for Alpinist, Kelly discovered the paradox of the self. He recognized the need for each climber and non-climber to develop passion by pursuing self-gratification. Yet, at least for Kelly, that pursuit left him questioning at times.
“This need to continually up my level of adventure bears similarity to the rat-race real world stuff I dislike,” he says. “You know, ‘progress’ always. It’s like a constant discontentedness that surely relates to what Voytek Kurtyka has called ‘spiritual materialism’ in the need to ‘possess’ mountains.”
For Kelly, climbing Siyeh’s north face held meaning because it was something he had feared so long. It was memorable climb, not just because he had overcome an arcane fear, but also because such an experience offered a way “to tap into something rarely found within one’s self in everyday life,” he says. “A true ‘master of life’ can find that by staring at a sunflower or whatever—I’m not quite there yet.”
The original article, Symphony in Siyeh by Kelly Cordes appears in Alpinist 27 (pp 62-69) and is available in its entirety at: