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The Kids Rock, 9/13

By Jim Herson

Heeding Anne's always insightful counsel, in this case that the East Buttress of El Capitan might not be ideal for a 10 year old, I took a 20 year old up this exposed Valley classic. Albeit in the form of two 10 year olds.

If indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words, than prepare yourselves for a torrent of photos. Because there is no other way to capture the verbal assault that is the Alex and Connor climbing show!

Even normalizing for my unabashed parental pride, Connor is simply the best. So you can imagine how my entire world view was rocketed when the well grounded, soft spoken Alex went syllable for syllable with Connor!!?? I wouldn't have thought it possible had not my ears still been ringing Monday morning. These kids can yap! Which is noteworthy coming from a guy who has climbed with Erika, and Jeffery, and even shared a campsite with Jeremy. I've earned my listening cred! Or so I thought. Because nothing could have prepared me for the verbal barrage of these two little chatterboxes. And nothing could be cuter.

Alex is a local climbing phenom who crushes in the gym. It was high time to get all that climbing talent on some long Valley granite! So in late August I marched the kids up the steep, hot Cathedral Gully

for Alex's first multi-pitch climb on the historic Higher Spire.

The kids, lost in their chatter, did not share my apoplectic desire to beat the scorching sun to the base. It quickly became clear that the Sisyphean task of getting them to stop yapping and focus on hiking was not going to happen. And so tapping my inner zen, I resigned myself to a very hot climb with very talkative partners. I could not have been more wrong. Not about the incessant yakking, obviously, but that the temperatures were reasonable and the climbing was a blast!

A super fun first multi-pitch climb for Alex, although I wasn't able to determine how she does with exposure. So lost were they in their giggling little 10 year old world, that they never noticed that they had left the ground. Nevertheless, the transition to multi-pitch for Alex was a total non-issue.

With only a short 2nd day available, and after the traditional complimentary delicious cup of Ahwahnee hot chocolate, we ran up Serenity and Sons of Yesterday.

Fortunately, in late August, in the blazing sun, the sea of humanity that camps out on these climbs took note of the temperatures and sought out cooler climbs. Actually, it turned out to be delightful up there. And the kids shredded it! But mostly they just talked.

Never have two climbers had so much fun on a climb where the climbing was so completely incidental to the fun! Listening to those two little munchkins, and their astonishing yap-a-thon, was hilarious. (Says the guy who gets agitated having his mountain solitude disturbed by anything more than the bare essential of belay grunts.) You just can't find better big wall partners than this:

At the end of September we headed back to Yosemite for Alex's 2nd weekend of multi-pitch climbing. Alex continued to set the partner bar even higher with a delicious batch of homemade biscotti!!

This thoughtful partner thing was new to me. In my excitement I might have accidentally sent a gloating email to the few remaining hardy souls over 14 still willing to climb with me, about the yummy biscotti and the need to up their game. Probably shouldn't have done that.

Continuing where we left off, we noisely marched back up Cathedral Gully to the Northeast Buttress of Higher Rock (NEB).

My inner zen, while maxed, impressively held it together as the kids, lost in their verbal marathon, certainly weren't buying into my time pressure concern. It's just that I thought it would be nice to start a grade IV with two 10 year olds before 11am. We didn't. But we did enjoy the climbing!

Until we didn't.

My inner zen finally cracked. In my rush as I was racing up the first chimney on the NEB -- it was already 3pm and we, by which I mean me and me alone, were racing against a nighttime gully descent with two tots -- I dropped the pack.

"Dad, you were much more controlled when we dropped the pack this time."

OK, two things:

1) Dropping the climbing pack shouldn't be such a frequent occurrence that it needs qualification.


2) The first rule of rock climbing is that until the pack hits the ground, dad gets to express a bit of fustration at watching his favorite puffy and unbacked up, project critical, work phone sail into oblivion.

This 2nd point happened in early spring when Connor and I attempted the East Buttress of El Cap. We were flying along until the wind shifted and a cold Horse Tails Falls soaked us. In our haste, the pack went the distance and I might have expressed momentary regret about the loss of my precious puffy.

Back to the NEB and the unfortunate jettison of the pack with all our food, water, shoes, headlamps, and warm clothes. Normally not a concern. It's just that I hadn't been terribly successful so far in selling the kids on the wonders of the "Kids should be seen and not heard" school of thought. It didn't seem likely that they'd keep mum about an all-night hungry/thirsty epic, that pushing on was sure to be, from Anne. So we rappelled. Not that it would have mattered either way.

It is fiercely debated among linguists who need to get out more, as to whether the Yupik Eskimos or the Sami Scandinavians have more words to describe snow. Either way, it points to the utter inadequacy of verbal communication. For nothing matches the expansive descriptive powers of non-verbal communication among the oldest of married couples. I just walked in the front door and said "Hi Honey. We're home. What a wonderful climb!" and Anne leveled me with a death glare that howled "How could you think of rappelling off the NEB on two rusty pitons with two 10 year olds without leaving a backup cam!" Denial was futile. Hopefully the NSA never discovers such a powerful surveillance technique.

My gut wrenching decision to leave a $5 sling did not come easily. As I was contemplating how I could possibly justify not leaving a cam and what feeble holding power might remain in the two rusted out pins -- and thinking this was the one time I miss climbing with Greg so that I could rap first with a cam backup -- I clipped one pin and watched in astonishment as the pin fell into my hand. Whoops. I would like to be able to say that this shocked me into reasonableness but it would be pointless. Anne would just look at me and know that next I did a hairball sideways traverse to a bomber bolt which the ropes almost reached and, with some top secret shenanigans, down climbed with the kids. It cost me a sling though which obviously I've moved past.

Maintaining my facade of normalcy has its challenges. Like going through the painful playdate formality of asking Alex's parents what time she should be home. I wasn't sure why, other than for plausible deniability, but Anne assured me that I needed to ask. What she forgot to mention, though, was that when Alex's dad said "Any time" he probably didn't have in mind a 2am return after rappelling the East Ledges of El Cap in the dark on a school night.

Unrattled by our aborted NEB, and after a leisurely delicious cup of Ahwahnee hot chocolate, the next morning we strolled on over to the East Buttress of El Capitan.

The kids did their talking/hiking thing to the base while having fun locating all the wall climbers on the face.

And then giggled their way up the climb!

It is theorized that frogs placed a pot of cold water and slowly heated to a boil will eventually meet an unpleasant end. You, gentle readers, are the frogs. I've been slowly, imperceptibly ratcheting it up on these pages until now a "I climbed the East Butt of El Cap with two 10 years olds" is met with an anesthetized collective shrug from my formally well adjusted readers. Nevertheless, being "belayed" by two distracted 10 year olds did grab my attention. And yet, it could not have been more fun. The kids rocked it!

A chatty nighttime descent of the East Ledges and we were back at the van and then home a good 6 hrs before the Monday morning school bell rang.

While it's almost not noteworthy to mention that partner extreme thirst thing, I did up my game this time by not having any post-climb water in the van. This was fortunate as the exhausted, dehydrated kids quickly zonked out in the back of the van after dinner and on the drive home I finally got to enjoy some blissful silence. A blissful silence with a big, huge grin having just spent a wonderful weekend with two awesome little climbers!


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