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Half A Half Dome, 11/26/11

By Jim Herson

It is a surprisingly thin line between nurturing a child's wanderlust and a restraining order.

Mathematicians, not given to hyperbole, prefer the term "transfinite cardinal" to describe large numbers. Like really big. Like the number of different shades of non-gloss basic white paint the corner hardware store feels compelled to stock. Or the number of wildly diverse, diametrically opposed, scientifically proven parenting philosophies. The latter, being transfinite, is just slightly larger than the number of bay area children.

Hedging our bets, with a limited sample size of two, we embraced the extremes in what we like to call 'differential parenting'. Thus Connor goes to what we affectionately refer to as the 'Bubble school.' A safer, more nurturing, "whole child" environment you can not find. Not that I'm not sympathetic to the sandbox emotional complexities of a 2nd grader. But I'm thinking the two full time counselors for 100 of the nicest, most well behaved, and coddled over 5-10 year olds have a bit of spare time on their hands. They fill it with things like sending home 3 page memos on coping strategies for the emotional trauma associated with the unfamiliarity of the new eco-designed-out-of-recycled-baby-panda-hair play structure. Kara, by contrast, goes to the local, hard bitten, down trodden, public middle school. There the teacher marches in on the first day and bellows out in her most empathetic drill Sergeant nurturing tone "You are 7th graders and you smell!", whereupon she launched into the most creative and terrifying lecture on puberty and personal hygiene. The precipitous drop in Redwood City water pressure that evening followed the next morning by 93 of the sweetest, cleanest smelling 7th graders ever assembled suggests a rather effective alternative to tip toeing around the emotional eggshells of puberty.

Similarly, Connor gets to do a gentle 300' approach and enjoy a gorgeous, friendly, casual romp up Royal Arches on a warm, delightful fall day while Kara gets to grind up the treacherous approach slabs for 4hrs, teetering under a crushing load, to kick steps up the ice encased NW face of Half Dome in late November.

The results are unsurprising. Kara quietly gets it done while Connor is comfortable expressing his feelings that perhaps not everyone on Royal Arches is progressing at an optimal pace. The good natured Royal Arches parties were thankfully forgiving when the 8yo punk spewed "Come on dad! Why are you waiting for these guys! Just pass them!!" Or at least more forgiving than when Chan pulls those shenanigans.

Diplomacy skills aside, Connor did great on RA. We had a blast while rudely passing six parties although I would not have thought it possible to talk that much and climb. And I climbed with Jeff!

The North Dome descent gully provided challenges for the little guy so the next morning we chilled and had a blast tooling around Yosemite Falls

with some outstanding caving

before enjoying the 300yrd flat approach to Nutcracker which he styled but mostly he just chatted.

As a way to introduce him to "belaying" I anchored two long loops in the rope which he was to untie as they became tight while I climbed. And so 100' out when the first loop became tight the "Whoops! I untied the wrong loop!" was not comforting although no worse than the usual nonsense my partners pull.

Since Half Dome last summer, Kara has been one busy child which tragically did not include granite other than a stunning labor day hike/climb up Charlotte Dome . Between soccer, cross country, bouldering, flute, piano, and a crazy amount of homework -- a standard carefree slacker childhood these days -- I, admittedly with a bit of melancholy, had to accept that Kara's interests might have moved on. But then with a small window in the soccer schedule and a gorgeous forecast she jumped at my suggestion of picking up where we left off with a one day ascent of Half Dome.

To paraphrase, you don't climb on the weekends you want, you climb on the weekends you have. It now being late November, Anne greeted my HDiaD brainstorm with slightly less flexibility and accommodation than a congressional debt commission. She thought it prudent to wait six months for longer, warmer days. Honestly, for such a smart woman she has some wacky ideas.

Clearly Kara would have to go it alone in securing mom's permission. After 25 years, any hint of my complicity would have been like having Anthony Weiner advocate for unfettered internet access. Regardless of the merits, we just weren't going to help our respective causes. Things weren't looking promising when I excitedly showed Kara the stellar Thanksgiving forecast. "Yeah, but mom showed me the Half Dome webcam and pointed out all the snowy ledges." After 25 years I would have been worried had Anne not launched this predictable preemptive strike which I easily rebuffed by pointing out "Yeah but 90% of the face has no snow!" Armed only with reasonableness, Anne never stood a chance. Because beneath that responsible maternal thin veneer lies a climber. Kara, admittedly with dad's prodding, pulled out the bambi eyes and the motherly facade quickly melted away. Permission was granted with a large sigh "To climb in the valley and use appropriate judgment in route selection." The HD gear was hastily packed.

Actually it was more complicated than that. First we submitted to binding arbitration. Unfortunately Ashok's look of astonishment that I need ask if HD in late Nov was a good idea required I recuse him on grounds of excessive rationality. As usual when in such a bind I went to my goto man Greg which is sort of like consulting with the Octomom on birth control. Anne, who feels strongly that Greg need not be consulted in matters beyond beer and bubbly, was not swayed by my argument that Greg is his company's new Safety Officer! I'm not sure what that entails though, as his wife Annie was howling with laughter when she tried to tell us about it.

Captain Safety came through as expected pointing out that it technically wouldn't be a winter ascent. Well, ok, actually it was the bambi eyes that clinched it.

You'd think somewhere in those endless parenting tomes they'd have mentioned navigating the emotional minefield that is racking up for a winter wall with your tween daughter. Because raising a child in today's entitlement culture requires some major spine!

While Greg was correct in noting that this technically wasn't a winter ascent, he came up short on his prediction that the slabs might be a bit moist. They were, in fact, covered in some heads up verglas.

They probably had been "moist" though earlier during the unseasonably warm afternoon when we had planned to arrive. Unfortunately we got off two hours late. Then circling back 15 minute to retrieve half the rack didn't help. Nor did circling back 2 hours to retrieve my wallet. Which is to say we headed up the slaps with 0:45 minutes of daylight left, three weeks before the winter solstice.

The bottom fixed lines were still fine

but things got spicy as temperatures quickly plummeted

I would have strongly preferred to have taught Kara how to kick steps in daylight on a slope with a slightly less severe consequence for slippage. And with shoes studier than her old beat out pair of running shoes. Indeed, a well ventilated old beat out pair of running shoes that had just been fully submerged in icy run off.

It was tough going. Kara hung in there like a champ but I have to admit I kind of missed not having Greggie there. It gets sort of lonely whining by myself. Having cleared the loose, icy traverse I never thought I'd be so relieved to finally get to bushwhack:

Those parenting volumes also inexplicably fail to caution against packing the food bag after over indulging on the outstanding Thanksgiving feast! That can lead to an awkward silence when your 12yo daughter rips into the food bag after a grueling 4hr uphill slog and, in a sheer exhausted tone, asks "What's for dinner? I'm starving!" That I had gone a bit light on provisions was totally Jeannette's doing. To say that Jeannette appreciates a fine glass of wine is like saying Michael Jordan shoots hoops. It doesn't really capture it. Plying us with all that delicious food and a few more glasses than was absolutely necessary of her '82 Chateau Margaux didn't put top priority on my next meal while packing. What could Jeannette have been thinking? Fortunately Kara lives on air anyway.

Up at 5:30am, choked down some cardboard flavored oatmeal and we were off.

It took ~2hrs to climb to the 4th class traverse before the Robbin's and about an equal amount of time to get to the Robin's. For a 'not-a-winter-ascent' the fourth class traverse certainly packed a frosty wallop.

Up to pitch 8 there had been negligible patches of snow. But now temps were dropping and the snow was deepening with every pitch. The traverse to the Robbin's provided some fun snow play. The Robbin's was clear but I had to hack out the ice encase anchor placements. P10 was slippery but fortunately I knew where to chip out the ice to place gear. The P11 "bivy" was knee deep drifts and a winter wonderland to cross. [These photos are *after* I snow plowed it.]

Kara's feet had been entombed in snow for the past hour and were now solid blocks of ice. Her usual chatty, cheerful banter had been replaced by a strained consternation. The chimneys ahead looked clear but the ledges after that were sure to be covered. The snow had slowed us to a crawl and we were certainly looking at a long, cold, miserable night. We didn't have gloves and not much in the way of warm clothing. We had an emergency sleeping bag although I worried that kicking steps through the snow banks across Thank God Ledge wrapped a sleeping bag would not be a crowd pleaser at my inevitable Child Protective Services disciplinary hearing.

Kara was game to forge on. At least I think she was as she was difficult to decipher through her chattering teeth. Although I'll admit to a certain intrigue at the prospect of building a snow cave on Big Sandy, I wasn't at all excited about navigating that last steep slab under verglas. That and the fact that I was about to have a hypothermic 12 year old.

To paraphrase again, I know it when I see it and it was now clear that Kara had stopped having fun. And so game was called on account of insanity but not before making a mental note to consider swapping Ashok for Greg as my goto safety consultant.

I texted Anne that we were bailing from Pitch 11 proving that after 25 years you can still surprise. That she was so shocked at this paltry bit of common sense is rather disturbing.

Reversing the snowy traverses with a single rope coupled with my unfortunate pathological neurosis against leaving gear, took time. But once we were back on P8 the sublime, late season sun hit and we were loving life again. A few more raps/down climbs and Kara smilingly informed me that she could move a [single] toe again.

Back to the ground with :45 minutes of daylight left we raced over to the descent slabs.

Clearing the most treacherous sections, which were now soft, in daylight was way more trivial than our harrowing ascent 20hrs earlier. Once we lost daylight our pace slowed significantly but we had cleared all the icy sections. My night vision, such as it is, made for a slow, wondering, and with not a proud number of wrong turns, descent gettings us back to the car at 8:30pm. After 15hrs of nonstop motion fueled by a small bowl of oatmeal, a cup of soup, and a bar, you'd be surprised at the damage such a small girl can do to a pot of pasta!

After dinner I tried to console Kara by saying that I was sorry we couldn't go to the top but sometimes it's best to save it for another day. Confusing coddler for coddlee she assuaged my -- I guess obvious -- disappointment "That's alright dad. We got in 8 good pitches before the snow." And then she uttered the six words that every parent of a rebellious tween fears most "And it was good Alpine training!"


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