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Childs' Play, 6/12

By Jim Herson

To paraphrase, just because I'm paranoid about Child Protective Services doesn't mean that they shouldn't be after me. In particular, the mandatory reporting requirement for select professions has been terrifying. That Drs Christine and Sam might one day compare their versions of these Monday morning trip reports to the non-redacted versions received by the rest of my climbing junk mailing list would be uncomfortable at best. But the mandatory reporting is a fascinating concept and did force me to feign an awkward surprise last week at the first deafening crack of thunder halfway up Fairview with Kara's little climbing buddy Clara and her dad, Ed, on their first multi-pitch climb.

Ed's new to Meadows climbing so I certainly would have mentioned that there was only one possible reason we had the Regular Route on Fairview to ourselves had not my morbid curiosity got the best of me. You see, Clara's dad is a police officer and I just had to see if he was required to report himself. And so I might not have mentioned the part about late afternoon thunderstorms while we'd be halfway up a 900' cliff with three little kids being a sure thing. When we eventually managed to survive and top out, I gleefully turned to Ed and asked "So, do you now have to report yourself?" "Yes I do." But before I could gloat at my ingenuity he quickly added "And I have to report you too." Ouch. Hadn't seen that one coming.

But before almost being zapped on Fairview, Kara and I sizzled on the West Face of El Cap.

You want a big, hairy, audacious linkup Alex Honnold?! Try the game changing Disneyland->Snake Dike link! That the intersection of the Disneyland/Snake Dike demographics being the NULL set {} did not deter Anne, is a testament to how desperate Anne is for real rock after 13 dry years. So Anne chaperoned Connor and his little buddies to Disneyland while Kara and I played in the Valley before we were to hookup for Snake Dike. That's right. Anne went to Disneyland and I got to climb the West Face of El Cap. And you thought pregnancy was inequitable.

While Anne did heroic battle with the Anaheim madness, Kara and I headed to the Valley, our first trip in way too long. Nailed the Alpine Start which for us meant 8am. Hiked up the west side of El Cap. Cached Kara at the base of the West Face and then set off to find the base of the West Face. An hour later, after a seriously dicey scramble up the entire gully and almost topping out on the rim, I returned to Kara and we started the route. Having actually done the route numerous times, this isn't as impressive as it sounds.

The hour delay caused by my gratuitous gully trashing was a bit unfortunate given the sizzling temperatures as it was an hour of critical shade. No biggie except that it turns out the six months and sixty degrees since our last outing made for a surprising difference in hydration requirements. Luckily, Kara doesn't drink so our 2-lts got us through most of the excellent but warm climbing before running dry. Truly a magnificent climb despite the unrelenting, ferocious swarms of silverfish. But mostly I had to question the necessity of my early morning gully exploration as the delay caused us to rush this classic beauty with not enough time for Kara to work out the cruxes. Super fun for sure. We'll be back!

The El Cap buzz worked its magic on Kara. She was hyper chipper and amped on top despite having her tongue pasted to the roof of her mouth by the lack of moisture. I relayed the story of Greg's herbal inspired self-inflicted epic where they drank all their water on the first day of a sizzling south facing wall and were reduced to licking wet moss on the descent. Kara was horrified. However, after slogging down the East Ledges a ways, I noticed she was eying the moss with slightly less resolve. By the time we got to Zodiac and found discarded water she guzzled it, something she had declared outrageously disgusting just a few dry hours earlier.

But before being fried on the West Face, Child Protective Services pretty much had a slam dunk case.

Connor and I kicked off the season with some excellent moderates at Lover's Leap. We'll be back as it's the ideal place for the kids to learn to place gear. Good, solid, plentiful placements on beautiful lines. Unfortunately not the solitary mountain experience you might imagine and so Connor got to quickly hone his simul-climb-passing/ask-for-forgiveness-later technique.

Connor crushed it and never stopped smiling (or talking):

Although I might have wanted to keep the gear slings a bit shorter:


Reunited in the Meadows with Team IKE [Ian, Kara, and Elizabeth] and Connor for a gorgeous rump up Crest Jewel on North Dome.

The Palo Alto Mommies Club considers anything less than pre-algebra preschool child endangerment. They are somewhat less accepting of north facing winter walls with tweens. Arranging playdates as of late has been particularly challenging. It had been a lonely exhile until John Scott rescued me, or at least deflected the wrath of the PA moms, by simul-climbing with a 13 and 10 year old in tow past a stunned party on the holdless smears of the runout Crest Jewel. Pulling that stunt in front of Anne made me look particularly upstanding. Thanks John!

Crest Jewel may not be ideal for simul-climbing with kids but it does have position!


That she didn't flinch at the 91F with 20% thunderstorm forecast is a testament to the length of the lines Anne endured at Disneyland. However, we were being joined by Clara and Ed who are nice people. Not that that's ever deterred me before but Anne felt it best not to abuse such potential great partners for a climb not on El Cap. So after the waterless West Face, Snake Dike was put on hold and we rendezvoused in the Meadows where Clara and Ed were introduced to multi-pitch climbing on the stunning Hobbit Book. A bit nostalgic too, as it was Anne and my first Meadows climb.

Hanging belays with a party of six using three remarkably similar orange, super skinny for maximum tangleage, trail lines made for excellent rope management training. Untangling these three skinny orange trail lines in a thunderstorm the next day on Fairview made for even better rope management training.

Fairview was Clara's first real multi-pitch. While she styles it in the gym, this was her intro to crack climbing so what better way to dial jamming technique than in a thunderstorm high off the deck? Gripped but focused, Clara sorted things out and sent! An intense first experience which left her depleted halfway up where Ed quickly rebooted her with 4 day old moldy pizza. Now that tweaked me! For years I've been experimenting on combinations of sport gels, bars, and other well marketed sugar to keep the kids motoring. We finally converged upon some seriously overpriced gummy bears. After 13 years in this game you'd think I would have figured out that kids+pizza=happy? Doh! The pizza worked its magic and we topped out!

Despite the revisionist tough guy posturing

Connor said, after a particular ominous thunder clap, that he was "Very very scared." A marked improvement from the hysterics and mayhem that ensued after the last time I had the kids halfway up a cliff as a terrifying thunderstorm came booming over the crest. Ed said that after one particularly loud clap let loose, Connor went quiet for 30 seconds. Ed's a liar. Like a shark who needs to be in constant motion, Connor can not breath without talking. Or at least he does both with equal frequency.

Everyone but Connor and me had to head home after Fairview. We got to play on such Meadows classics as South Crack and the Great White Book. You'd think I'd have learned not to say things like "Wow, you sprinted up that pitch!" to my literalist son. Sure enough the next pitch he broke into a flat out sprint sending in about 1/10th the time it took his dad to block out who was belaying him and lead it.

The next day we hiked out to the absolutely stunning Direct on Eichorn Pinnacle.

Connor is a wonderful little boy with astonishing powers of concentration, although not necessarily on the task at hand. Connor's a big picture guy. On a recent ski trip, after reading a book on power plants, he spent the entire drive up and 10 mile uphill slog explaining his new renewable energy power plant design. A solid design which seemed to lay waste to the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics. The point is, power plant design requires some serious focus. Focus such that one might not notice the loss of his left snowshoe?!

Designing perpetual motion power plants while unencumbered by his left foot now sinking a foot into the snow with each step is part of Connor's free spirit charm. Endearing although not necessarily a trait you'd seek out in a 53-lb belayer. That Connor, at age 8, would be given the important end of my lead cord was not something I would have predicted. But the joy of climbing with such a delightful little guy helped block out his questionable focal priorities as a belayer. Although having him show up at the belay with a huge smile and his helmet on backwards didn't help.

Connor fired the Eichorn hike and climb and sprinted back to the car in record time although it was aided by his sheer determination to get to the grill for ice cream before closing.

But most importantly, the next day after Fairview Clara declared that she had had fun! That sort of strong selective memory is big wall gold!!!! And so with an unseasonably cool forecast the next weekend the kids jumped at the chance to head back for Snake Dike. More impressive was that Anne was game too!? That's right. The weekend warrior rock star is back!

So we headed back to the Valley where I can't remember a cooler, (relatively) uncrowded, gorgeous summer weekend.

We continued to work on their wide technique

before heading off for Snake Dike. Connor quickly put to bed our biggest fear that he couldn't handle the hike, a substantial undertaking for such little legs. He absolutely sprinted it. Never underestimate the desire to keep up with big sister.

The climbing was great fun, the position outstanding, and -- the absolute stunner -- the route was empty? A real treat for Snake Dike first timers Anne, Connor, Clara, and Ed. A great day! In a testament to how dreadfully long it's been since Anne's climbed with me, she seemed taken aback by my single TCU "anchor" for a party of six. She must not have noticed most of the lobes on the TCU were engaged? But again, a brilliant day!

I guess I was a bit too enthusiastic about how impressed and proud I was of all three kids for bouncing back from a frightening Fairview to style Snake Dike. Because suddenly Anne laughed "Hey, enough about the pipsqueaks! How about this 50-something desk-jocky big mama who's been reduced to redefining 'exercise' as taking the long way down the hall to my next meeting keeping up with the kids uphill *and* downill!!" Point well taken. Equally impressive though, is this new generation of non-whiny climbers. Certainly not cut from the same cloth as us grumpy-pants forbearers!

And so while a proper linkup still awaits, sending Disneyland and Snake Dike within a week, plan B, with a sizzling West Face and thundering Fairview thrown in for good measure, was fun.


Frantic with such a small window left before she heads off to music camp, Kara and I snuck in a one last outrageous outing, a few days of life affirming beauty at the truly incredible Incredible Hulk. What a strategic blunder! Now we'll spend the rest of the summer somehow being disappointed climbing spectacular high sierra peaks as they can't possibly measure up to the flawless white granite and crystal blue, windless(!?) days we were treated to at the Hulk! Just gorgeous back there. As a bonus, John and Elizabeth joined us for the first day on the Red Dihedral where we honed our synchronized leg flags.

And Kara and Elizabeth pioneered the all important keyhole passing technique! [John and I barely fit through this thing (separately).]

Yes, that's a gummy bear on Elizabeth's forehead. No, I can't possibly explain why Elizabeth would wear a gummy bear on her forehead the entire climb.

The girls crushed it while yielding nothing to Connor on the verbal front.

John had to head back to work while Kara and I stayed on for a few more days of sublime climbing. Those of you familiar with John's work/play lifestyle will forgive my utter joy in finally getting to write that last sentence.

With having the best chunk of Sierra granite basically to ourselves, Kara and I had a blast on the magnificent Positive Vibrations

and the spectacular Sun Spot Dihedral.

Simply put, I know of no better ~10 pitch climbs at the grade. Just spectacular. Spectacular position. Spectacular rock. Spectacular climbing.

In a logistical tragedy, we then ran out of fuel. No biggie but we then also ran out of toilet paper. So game was called and we sadly hiked out a day early. After all, I have my limits. Just kidding. Certainly for an extra day of climbing I would have feed my daughter un-rehydrated soupy cold oatmeal and dry, stale ramen in the pre-dawn cold for an all day climb and then requested she not poop. But I would have had to report myself.

Headed back through the meadows where Kara lead most of Cry'n Time Again.

Next to the line for Space Mountain, there is no more terrifying sight than watching your kid lead a runout! Notwithstanding the PG rating, the moderate grade, the big beefy ASCA bolts, and the fact that the kids danced up this Meadows classic three years ago, watching Kara lead the [minor by Tuolumne standards] runouts of CiTA was heart stopping gripping. Plans for the BY have been placed on indefinite hold.

Like tax evasion taking down Al Capone, it's ironically anti-climatic that, after all our wonderful/hairball adventures, it was agreeing to let Kara lead a bolted classic that finally required me to turn myself in.

-Jim

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