Why kneepads? A little advice from our friend Chuck Odette



Chuck Odette on Ego Boost (13d), Maple Canyon

Maggie Odette, on Killer Bees 13d at the Hurricave, Utah (photo Carlos Romania)


Chuck Odette and his wife, Maggie, retired in June of 2015, sold their home and hit the road to "live the dream" of climbing full time/year round! At the advanced age of 60 (his words), Chuck has experienced his fair share of climbing and the injuries that come with it. Here's a little story he told us about why he started wearing kneepads.


"The Old Man and the Knee… 

When I started knee-barring, back in the early 90’s, knee pads were pretty much nonexistent. It didn’t take long to realize that bare skin on rock was quite painful, often resulting in bruising or tearing of skin. So, our solution was to wear heavier denim jeans which seemed to work okay for obvious, easier knee bars.

In 1997, I started working Slugfest, my first 13d. It’s an amazing climb located in China Cave (Logan Canyon, Utah). I was a much younger, less wise man of 41. This route required climbing a 45-50 feet of a very steep approach section rated 13c, leading to a nice knee bar rest prior to the final 10-15 foot V6 redpoint crux finish. Without the knee bar rest the climb was exponentially harder. I was close to redpointing the route after a couple of months of hard work. During my cool down at the end of a nearly successful day on Slugfest, I noticed my left knee beginning to swell. By the time I arrived home that evening it was nearly the size of a basketball and I couldn’t walk on it.

Using my remaining healthy leg, I hopped back out to my car and drove to nearby Logan Hospital emergency. With extensive examination including x-rays, several long probing needles and painful joint manipulation, the ER doc determined that I had ruptured the bursa sac under my knee cap. The on-call orthopedic surgeon arrived later that evening and during his exam noticed a scab on my knee. This prompted him to question the origin. I explained how I was using my knee for a “rest” on a difficult steep rock climb that I was pursuing. His face immediately contorted, and he began a long lecture (for which I’ll present the short version) about the obvious dangers associated with putting pressure on soft knee tissue against extremely hard rock. He finished by strongly recommending that in the future, I should make every attempt to pad and protect my delicate knees or avoid the use of them altogether.

It took two months for my knee to heal enough to begin climbing again. In the meantime, I had been to Rifle and noticed that the smarter climbers there were using homemade knee pads with rubber on them to protect their knees and gain better purchase while knee-barring. Since that time, I’ve never used my knee or thigh on a rock climb without wearing a pad for protection. Two months of painful hobbling around on one leg was valuable aversion therapy!

PS: I did red-point Slugfest later that year wearing a knee pad with nice fat layer of sticky rubber protecting my delicate knee."

      ~ Chuck Odette 

Read more by Chuck and Maggie @ gravitychronicles.com 

images by Maggie Odette and Carlos Romania

heather johnson
heather johnson