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Rebuttal, By Connor Herson
It is not particularly common for a 15 year old to free climb El Cap as an afterthought. But the Free Nose wasn't on Connor's radar last year. Rather, he wanted to climb 14 5.14s at age 14. I'm not wild about number chasing but I liked this particular number chasing. I'm so old I remember Chris Sharma lighting up the climbing world when he climbed a 5.14 at age 14. So I was amused that Connor would have the audacity to try for 14 5.14s at age 14. Of course, there's a reason long term strategic planning isn't often associated with 14 year old boys. He climbed a few 5.14s but was mostly off bouldering and competing until he realized his 15th birthday was rapidly approaching. So he refocused on his 14s goal which would have been fine except it was now smack in the middle of spring Yosemite season! Number chasing during Valley season wasn't happening on my watch! Fortunately, his 14s project was going well so we got to spend the spring sport climbing at Jailhouse on Saturdays
|(photo: Andrea Laue)|
and playing on long Valley routes on Sundays. Had an excellent run up Half Dome.
And, of course, we had a blast climbing the Nose In A Day (NIAD) with Tim.
That is where Tim worked the Tim magic. Tim's gift as a teacher was inspiring his students to reach for their dreams. It was this special gift of empathizing with and challenging his students that earned Tim a well deserved District Teacher Of The Year.
Without ever explicitly telling Connor he should free the Nose, Tim, with that big Tim grin, just quietly and gently suggested Connor try to free this pitch or that section. He redirected us onto the Jardine Traverse so Connor could check out the free climbing route. And had Connor top rope the dry sections of the Great Roof. All the while casually mentioning, "You know Connor, I think you can do this." Tim, quietly and effortlessly, planted the seed that the Free Nose was possible. Which was fine by me. I'm not going to tell Connor what to climb. But my friends are free to dupe him!
In May, with his 14s project complete, it was time for the cool down. With the seed of a Free Nose planted by Tim and pumped to an 11 by Jason, as only Jason could, Connor and I hiked up the East Ledges to check out the Changing Corners. We ran into Alex and Tommy hiking down after a casual 2:20 morning stroll up the Nose. We chatted for a bit. Tommy gave Connor some key Changing Corners beta and Alex gave Connor a vital life lesson.
We were worried about the gear placements in the Great Roof. Alex, who has never freed the Roof, animatedly insisted the 14 year old just clip the fixed pin at the start of the horizontal and run out the Roof. Presumably -- although Alex never explicitly said it so it's not clear it even occurred to him -- the trick was not to fall as you'd pendulum 25' and whack at Mach 3 into the corner. Tommy, who has freed the Nose and most every other free line on El Cap, just looked at Alex the way an old married couple look at each other when hubby really needs to dial back the morning coffee, and quietly told Connor to place gear, it wasn't a problem. I later explained to Connor that was the most important climbing lesson he'd ever have: never take gear advice from Alex Honnold!
There was also an awkwardly hilarious moment when Alex, totally amped and animated, tried to pimp his Schnaz variation to the Changing Corners. He kept trying all sorts of angles to sell Connor on skipping the Changing Corners. Connor just kept looking at him like, "Do you have any idea who my dad is? I'd need a new dad if I Huberized the Nose."
Of course, Alex didn't become Alex for lack of determination. When Connor ran into Alex at a gym over the summer, Alex, undeterred, again tried, equally unsuccessfully, to sell Connor on the Schnaz. And Connor's like, "My dad would sooner give me hand jammies than let me skip the crux of a route. And he *really* has a thing about hand jammies." Not one to be easily dissuaded, Alex is like, "Dude, you can't let that guy bully you."
It's true though. Ironically and predictably, given the inordinate amount of time I spend railing against hand jammies, the one photo that went viral of Connor's Free Nose was an old shot of Connor wearing hand jammies! Ouch. Sure the kids used hand jammies. They also used training wheels before they learned to ride a bicycle. But eventually they were weaned off jammies and learned to crack climb! Not that taking off the training wheels was all that pretty:
But they learned to jam properly. After back to back weekends of attempting and then free climbing the Nose, Connor's [hand jammieless] hands were gobiless.
The challenge of parenting is to nurture the innocent wonderment while shutting down that delusional nonsense. I knew the Changing Corners would fit his skills and body. But I had to prepare him for disappointment on the entrance move. On the approach, I explained the entrance wouldn't go until he grew a few inches but it would still be fun to check out the rest of the Corner in case one day, in a decade or two, he wanted to make it a multiyear project. Of course, he never listens to me. He just hiked the entrance after a few minutes of scoping the holds. And then unlocked the rest of the Corner using Tommy's foot scissor beta!
The following weekend we were giddy with joy on top of El Cap, sorting gear, basking in a glorious bluebird late spring afternoon. Connor had just linked the crux Changing Corners on top rope and for the first time allowed himself to use the word "project". He came across a locking biner that belonged to Tim. His face lit up. "Can Tim climb with us next time?" He was overflowing with excitement to check out the free climbing on the Great Roof. And he wanted to share that excitement with Tim.
And then my phone rang. It was Anne. She couldn't choke out the words. Tim and Jason were gone.
For three gut wrenching days, I stumbled around in a stupor. I had to tell Connor and I just didn't have it in me. When I finally did, I immediately copped-out, deflecting with a promise that if he ever freed the Nose he could place Tim's locking biner at the summit as a remembrance of two wonderful men.
Climbing El Cap since the devastating loss of Tim and Jason has been excruciating. Emotional whiplash. Every anchor, every pitch triggered a laugh shared with, and a debilitating sadness at the loss of two of the most joyous climbers ever to romp up the Big Stone. Layered on that emotional whipsaw between hilarious memories and profound sadness was my unabashed pride in watching Connor unlock the most iconic big wall free climb in the world. I was an emotional wreck. I was hollowed yet needed, for both of us, to be there for Connor.
Connor had unlocked the Changing Corners and had no idea what that meant! Second only to emojis, this was an impenetrable generational gap. Connor has no historical context for the Nose and the Changing Corners and the prize he had just unlocked. Every top climber of my generation has dreamed or attempted to free the Nose. Lynn's free ascent of the Nose was the breakthrough climbing equivalent of the four minute mile for my generation. Connor's generation only knows of El Cap -- if they know of it at all -- as some rock you pass on the way to that wicked 10' boulder problem. And since boulderers only come out at night these days -- which is weird even by bouldering standards of weirdness which is a very high bar for weirdness -- most have never even seen El Cap.
So now the defining big wall free climb is within his abilities and I can't say a thing! I'm not going to tell Connor what to climb and he had no historical perspective of what was within reach! This was unfortunate. We had a sport climbing trip to Maple planned for the following week. I tried to gently suggest maybe we should postpone Maple so he could work the Changing Corners on lead. Connor had already finished his 14s project but wanted to go to Maple anyway because he felt a few of those 5.14s were soft. Clueless little bugger! Soft ratings are the *definition* of number chasing!!! You can't number chase your number chasing! But he did. And had a blast doing so ticking a few more [very legit] 5.14s. He really loves swinging around on the Maple cobbles. Can't blame him. It's a blast.
|(photo: Jon Vickers)|
The weekend after Maple, Kara took the rare time off from her nerding to join us on the Captain. I was thrilled to have her up there but it was the most dicey thing I've ever done with the kids and I've had the kids on their first Tyrolean on Lost Arrow Tip at dusk in winter when he was nine.
This was infinitely dicier than an underaged winter Lost Arrow Tip. Kara wields her big sister superpowers with a disturbing level of glee. Connor, wisely, listens to her, lest he end up on the wrong end of a rugby tackle. Kara is into rugby now which, while great fun, significantly ups the personal threat level to her brother. A level that was already hovering at a worrisome code red.
Fortunately, Connor is a smart boy with a healthy self-preservation instinct and so he listens to his sister. This made it dicey. If Kara pronounced the Changing Corners a 'meh' it would be over. Connor wouldn't dare go against his sister. He'd move onto the next project in the hopes of getting the elusive Kara stamp of approval. Attempting to free the Nose at 15 is refreshing optimism. Getting his sister's approval for anything he does is delusional. Thankfully, Kara really liked the Changing Corners! Whew! With the big sister's approval hurdle cleared, redpointing the 3000' granite monolith was now merely a formality. It was a wonderful day up there with both kids crushing it and no body-crushing rugby tackles leveled.
In the fall, Connor ran into Tommy at the gym. Tommy was excited to hear Connor had top roped the Changing Corners so quickly. He said it took him a few weeks to unlock it and told Connor it was the hardest climbing on the route. Tommy's encouragement was the game changer. It was no longer a long term maybe/maybe-not project. It was game on.
However, it is also not particularly common for a 15 year old to free climb El Cap as an afterthought during the off season. Connor was taking "time off" from climbing to run cross country. He was running 5-6 days a week, with no gym climbing, and the occasional quick, if exhausting, weekend trip to the Valley.
The excitement of the fall was the weekend Connor's crusher friend Hobbs flew out from Michigan to play on the Nose with us. Connor's playdates have come a *long* way from the days of Chuck E. Cheese mucus filled ball pits. Connor could not contain his excitement. Sharing his El Cap project with his friend was sure to be the highlight of Connor's year.
It ended in tears. As a parent, watching this unfold was crushing.
The Nose was packed. In over 30 years on the Nose, I've never seen it so crowded. El Cap's popularity swells after media events. So unpleasant is the crowding that some years it's only worth climbing in winter and early season. This year, with two major climbing movies, it was a zoo. Now with the Oscar, the irony is a movie about climbing El Capitan without ropes will trigger an avalanche of fixed ropes, cached bags monopolizing limited ledge space, and conga lines up Freerider. For perspective, this is the good old days before El Cap became popular:
We tried to rap into the Changing Corners with Hobbs but it was just too crowded. We would have interfered with other parties so we climbed out. The next day we tried to climb up to the Great Roof from the ground and again it was packed. Slowed by the crowds, we got to the base of the Roof too late and had to turn it around before the kids got to work the crux. Connor was shattered. He had spent weeks excitedly regaling Hobbs with every move and placement on the Great Roof and Changing Corners. And now Connor, on the one weekend they had together, was unable to share his climb with his friend.
In tears, Connor told Hobbs he'd rather not climb the cruxes with him than climb them without him and Hobbs said something equally sweet. Climbers say a lot of wonderful things when you come strolling through on El Cap with a couple of kids in tow. But none as touching and heartfelt as the guy who overheard the boys console each other. It was the toughest moment of Connor's Nose journey and the one I'm most proud of.
The gift of climbing almost exclusively with your kids for the last 15 years -- the last two actually on belay -- is how intimately aware you become of their climbing body language. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know when they're going to peel and when they've got it. While I am constantly stunned by their climbing, I am never surprised. Except for that arete slap at Nationals. Never saw that one coming.
Nor did I ever see or imagine his casual unlocking the Nose in a half a dozen short weekends spread over six months between cross country races. After 10 days working various sections, without ever having led either of the crux pitches, he was ready to begin the big wall part of big wall free climbing. It was game time.
It is also not at all particularly common for a 15 year old to free climb El Cap as an afterthought during the off season while sick.
I picked Connor up after school at the start of the Veteran's Day three day weekend for his first redpoint push. He crawled into the back of the van and, with eyes watering, coughing, and mucus everywhere, passed out stone cold. He didn't stir the entire 5 hour trip.
The devastating Butte County wild fires still raging made the Bay Area air unbreathable. While Anne doesn't always fully appreciate my paternal judgment, in this case getting the coughing kid out of the unbreathable Bay Area air was the responsible call. Free climbing El Cap with a sick kid was also responsible but only by Greggie's standards.
After a late arrival and late start the next morning, things went downhill quickly. In the first 10' of hauling, we core shot our gorgeous, new rope. That hurt. Got the rope stuck behind a flake about 40' up. Yarded on the hauler until it popped free, delivering a near mortal blow to the rope. Worse, the core shot was on my end of the rope.
Carrying extra weight on climbs, for things like food, water, and ropes, is really not my deal. So I had ditched the haul line. Probably should have looked at the bottom half of the Nose topo, though, before deciding that. For those familiar with the hearty traverses on the lower section of the Nose, do the math. That was not an easy haul with one lead line.
While free climbing El Cap with a sick kid on a single core shot rope might not be ideal, it wasn't a problem. John Scott, as always, stepped up to the plate. I owe all my climbing to John's unflinching, selfless dedication for the past 28 years to making me look great to Anne. I can always -- and I do constantly -- make myself look reasonable by just mentioning John.
So while it might have been awkward explaining to Anne that I used this rope for a free El Cap attempt with a sick kid,
I just had to deflect with this photo of John's rope. John always goes the extra distance to make me look good. Thanks John!
Having core shot the rope by pitch 2, things could only improve on the remaining 29 pitches so we continued up.
He fell twice on pitch 2. "You're sick. Time to bail." "I'm not sick!" "You fell twice on a slab. You're sick". "I'm fine!" "Here's a tissue. Clean your nose. It's a mess. On belay."
He whipped at the anchors on the first Stovelegs and took a 25 footer. "You're sick. Time to bail." "I'm not sick!" "You fell on an 5.8." "I'm fine!" "Here's a tissue. Clean your nose. It's a mess. On Belay."
Between his "not being sick" and my single core shot rope traverse hauling/jugging snail pace, we only made it to Dolt the first day. Day two wasn't much faster arriving at the Roof mid afternoon for his first go at the Roof.
I knew I could not be honest with myself about Tim and Jason's accident. If I did, I'd have to give up climbing. But it wasn't that simple. I could lie to myself but I had to reconcile the unreconcilable: is encouraging my kids to climb an awful mistake? It wasn't an academic exercise. I brought my kids into climbing and, at least for now, I can take them out of climbing. After losing Tim and Jason, I had to articulate why I allow and encourage my kids to climb. Connor's 2nd go redpoint of the Great Roof was that articulation.
Hacking and sniffling and armed with a fresh tissue, he launched up on his first lead ever of the Great Roof. Looked rock solid through the crux but peeled just at the end of the business! He messed up his beta a little which I was going to point out was probably due to his sickness but opted not to given his receptivity to that helpful bit of input on the previous 19 pitches. A short rest, a fresh tissue, and he crushed the Roof 2nd go, completely impervious to the fact that the Roof is a darn dicey lead! It was gorgeous. Admittedly, the somewhat shaky video might not have done it justice.
After a deluxe bivy at camp 5, fine dining on big wall slop, and careful pooptube calculations and allocations, the Glowering Spot pitch proved to be a stout warm up on day three. Since he wouldn't admit he was sick, he was baffled he took a fall on a pitch he's never flinched on. He followed it casually with a pack when he was 13. And hiked it on his first lead the previous week. [I didn't bother mentioning to him that it was a spicy lead. I would just look weird.] But now he had to dump a lot of energy into it to scratch it out and that irritated him.
Arrived at camp 6 just as the Corner went into the sun. He gave the Corner an awesome, all out go and came within a foot of nailing it! It was wild. Gave it another good go but it was just unclimbable in the direct sun. So we sat out the rest of the afternoon waiting for the sun to set for cooler conditions.
At sunset, Connor gave the Changing Corners a 3rd and 4th go and came up heartbreakingly just short. It was impressive for the scream alone.
Whipped and exhausted, I thought he would aid out. But for some reason we had a working headlamp? He was so excited by that novelty that he redpointed the exit pitch, a heady 12c, by headlamp.
And then the race was on. Sprinted down the East Ledges, choked down dinner, and gunned it -- well, puttered in the van -- back to the bay area, shower, breakfast, and to school by the 9am bell!
After redpointing 30 of 31 pitches on his first multiday big wall, with four all out, heartbreakingly close burns on the Changing Corners, Connor, without a trace of mockery, sincerely reflected, "You know dad, I need some endurance." So after school he went off to the bouldering gym to "build endurance".
I hauled the Nose once, 30 years ago, and vowed to never again subject myself to such a backbreaking, soul crushing grind. So it was a bit disorientating to find myself re-packing a Nose haul bag for the second time in a week. But winter was on its way for the Thanksgiving weekend and it was the last weather window for the year.
Kara congratulated her brother for his inspired first push on the Nose by taking him to task for his pooptube decoration:
So the next week Connor resolved to stick the Changing Corners and make a nice pooptube. He overachieved on both! Excitedly, he sent Kara and Elizabeth a photo of his most excellent pooptube.
Predictably, the girls cut him zero slack:
Connor was indignant that since Kara's pooptube didn't have googly eyes why did his need them! As is typical the night before free climbing one of the grandest big wall free climbs in the world, I was refereeing a sibling squabble about googly eyed pooptubes. How cliche.
Realizing the futility of his position, he thought about abandoning freeing El Capitan to make a new pooptube that might please Kara and Elizabeth. But then Connor, deflated, insightfully noted that "Kara and Elizabeth are physically incapable of giving me a compliment." True enough. Although a 6/10 for Connor from Kara and Elizabeth does qualify as downright doting. Realizing no amount of pooptube creativity would please his aesthetic critics, Connor decided to just free the Nose instead.
thanks to our shiny new Petzl rechargeable headlamps! Having some notable personal baggage with working headlamps, the novelty of night climbing with a well lit headlamp felt like climbing in hand jammies if hand jammies were free climbing. Which made it a bit disappointing when we then dropped both our shiny, new, well charged headlamps on the 4th class approach. I thought it would have been hard to top the previous week's start of destroying our only rope 10' off the deck. But dropping the headlamps before being on belay put the 10' core shot rope record well within striking distance.
Fortunately, things improved greatly after throwing away our headlamps on the approach. The old slab master was back to his healthy self and casually cruised the lower slabs.
Not having a whole lot to clean on some of the dicier wide leads, I was reminded he's at the age that I probably should have that discussion about the importance of good protection.
(turned out he walked a piece on this pitch. But I had deep concerns at first.)
A snug camp 4 bivy
and he fired the Great Roof for breakfast!
The old cheerful, crushing Connor was back! Soaked up Pancake flake.
And then strolled the spicy Glowering Spot stem. El Cap is infected with fixed lines these days, mostly for glammed up selfies. There is no eradicating the selfie fixed lines plague. Indeed, the only antidote is to bring back the proud butt shot!
Unfortunately, a pitch later, we were stopped cold by abandoned fixed lines smack in the middle of the Changing Corners crux.
This fall, 1200' of ropes were fixed on the entire upper half of the Nose while the rope owners rested on the Valley floor. The use of fixed lines is complex and nuanced. It is route and crowd dependent and changes over time. This was none of that. These fixed ropes were indefensible. Abandoned for days against park rules, on the most popular route in the world, in prime season.
Psychologically, fixed ropes on the entire top half of El Cap neuters the adventure for every party who, when the going gets tough -- and it always does -- can bail and jug out at any time.
Physically, fixed ropes clutter the belays and interfere with the climbing. I had a long, if awkward, conversation with the rope owner earlier this fall at the wildly expose belay at the top of the Nose. The owner insisted that 1200' of fixed ropes on the Nose in October was "Not in the way". Fifteen minutes after that conversation I took this photo of Connor leading the exit pitch.
Being on El Cap, my thoughts never drifted from Jason and Tim. It was intense, overwhelming, and, on balance, therapeutic. But clearing the fixed lines off the Changing Corners while consumed by memories of the most selfless of climbers, it became too much. I was hearing Jason, at level 11, whooping it up Japanese?! Apparently, I wasn't holding it together nearly as well I had hoped. That was distressing until I realized it wasn't Jason. It was Keita Kurakami with a huge Jason-esque grin, stoked out of his mind having just Free Rope Soloed the Nose!! I don't speak Japanese but that Jason El Cap stoke language is universal. He was so excited. His stoke embodied all that is great about life on the Captain! Jason and Tim would have been hooting and hollering right there with Keita. While it would have been nice to talk more to Keita, it's probably a good thing I don't speak Japanese:
The previous week, Connor fell reaching for the last finger lock in the Changing Corners crux. So when he sunk the last finger lock on his first go this time, a wave of relief washed over me. Followed immediately by a yelp and a tight rope. He fell hopping his foot to the end of the end of crux shelf! I didn't think it possible to get higher than the previous week and not send but he did. Ouch. Worse than ouch. We were out of time. Moving the fixed ropes cost him a second burn. We had to bail to beat the central valley rush hour which starts at 4:30am(!) in order to make it to school on time. Even the ever optimistic Connor knew it was over. A winter storm was arriving in two days shutting down climbing for the year. It was not a fun moment.
Connor's real disappointment, though, was he wanted a photo of him and Keita simul diving for the summit tree. He wanted to make it climbing's greatest unsolved mystery after Mallory and Irvine Everest summit. We weren't going to say if Connor or Keita freed the Nose first!
I texted Anne that he came even more heartbreakingly close than last week to sending the Changing Corners. But we were out of time for another go. We had to pack it in as we would already needed our A game to make the Monday morning school bell.
"Oh, for goodness' sake. If there's room in the pooptube, stay and finish the climb. I'll handle school."
"Wow! Hate to put pressure on you kid, but mom thinks you can miss a day of school. Best to go with this one before she changes her mind and just send the Changing Corners."
While this unprecedented concession from Anne was notable, I was more intrigued by what Anne would say to the school. Anne is physically incapable of stretching a truth. An endearing trait in a soul mate but maybe not ideal for the one who does the family taxes. Anne will look sideways at the tax code to find some ancient Mesopotamia interpretation of, say, 'depreciation schedule', if it means we can pay more taxes. And I'm like
"I don't know. Why don't we just live on the edge and pay what TurboTax says we should pay."
"No, I think it's better if I override TurboTax and pay more just to be safe."
So the idea of Anne stretching the truth to the school of Connor's absence was way crazier than a 15 year old freeing the Nose. But she sent!
It turned out the air quality from the fires was still awful so the school declared it an optional day. It was also two days before Thanksgiving break which usually means half the kids don't show so the teachers just scrap their lesson plans. Nevertheless, I never imagined Anne was capable of this level of naughtiness:
We bivied at Camp 6 and enjoyed the last of our big wall slop. During the night an entertaining NIAD party came through. They blasted the bottom half of the Nose in good time but were now at a crawl. Nothing at all unusual about that. While their bonked leader toiled away up high, we had lots of time to chat with the belayer. When it came out that Connor had done 14 14s this year the dude was Jason-like stoked. "Wow man!!! You've probably climbed more 5.14s than girls kissed." To which Connor coolly replied "If I redpoint the Changing Corners tomorrow, I will have free climbed more El Cap routes than girls kissed."
The next morning, Connor got to the same high point. No biggie. Just a warm up. Then the same high point again. A biggie. It was now time to panic. The sun would hit soon and it'd be over. He had time for one last burn. I texted Greg asking if this is what it was like to be a pre-2004 Boston Red Sox fan. He assured me being a Sox fan was way worse. I had no idea! I owe Rob a huge apology! The pre-2004 Boston Red Sox fans were notoriously hearty. But Rob was like the guy in Clockwork Orange with his eyes wired opened to the horror. Rob's first 35 formative years were spent watching every pitch of every inning as the Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in spectacular fashion year after heartbreaking year. And now watching Connor climb so fantastically well only to not quite close the deal was agonizing. If this is what Rob endured I needed to apologize and beg forgiveness for any insensitivity I might have shown to the poor boy.
Connor rested until just before the sun hit. After spending weeks strategizing how to hit the Changing Corners before the sun fried it, he launched up the Changing Corners, just as the sun hit, for the last go of the year, wearing his pile jacket! The boy who casually rattled off 120 digits of PI at age 7 couldn't remember to take off his pile jacket while climbing a temperature critical crux in the sun! Sometimes what you refrain from saying as a parent are your proudest parenting moments. Thankfully, the meatball stuck the Changing Corners, pile jacket and all! Although not without a heart stopping end of crux foot slip (@2:35) that he, through sheer force of will, thankfully caught.
Six months after the world went dark for all of us who loved Jason and Tim, and one week before Jason and Becky's beautify baby Evelyn(!) relit that world,
Connor and I were dangling at the "Wild Stance" belay at the top of the Nose. Here El Cap cuts away leaving 2900' of heart stopping exposure where you begin to grasp the entirety of what you just climbed. Connor had just freed the previous 30 pitches of the Nose. He had one spooky last pitch to go. As he geared up it was all business. We discussed logistics to reduce rope drag on the meandering exit pitch. We scavenged the anchor for all the slings and draws we could pilfer. We strategized which pieces he'd back clean. Which pieces he'd extend. Double checked knots. Exchanged on-belay calls. He chalked up. Grabbed the first hold. Then he turned and asked "Do you have Tim's locking biner?" We hadn't spoken of Tim's locking biner since the day I broke the horrifying news to him six months previously.
I handed Connor Tim's locker and he headed up the last pitch of the Nose. After being with Connor every step of the way, strategizing every bit of gear and logistics, watching his climbing skills explode over the past 7 years in stunned awe, I was now isolated. I was hanging off a wildly exposed belay, 2900' off the deck, watching sparrows dart around the upper dihedrals, alone in my thoughts, with Connor out of sight, unable to see the culmination of such hard work and youthful exuberance. What began as a pipe dream, for which he had worked out a crux that had thwarted so many before even allowing himself to call it 'a project', ended with three silent tugs on the rope signaling Connor was off belay having free climbed the Nose of El Capitan, leading every pitch, with all gear placed on lead. Most importantly, no days of school were missed in the sending of this route!
With our spirits soaring at a Jason-esque level 11, we got to celebrate the memories of two beautiful men. With the same contagious joy Tim and Jason brought to the big stone and all those they loved, Connor placed Tim's locking biner on the summit of El Capitan.
A happy boy on the summit. A congratulations call from mom. And a quick hike down the East Ledges.
While Connor was pleased to have freed the Nose, there was still an underlying bit of disappointment that his pooptube wasn't fully appreciated. It wasn't until we hit the Valley floor and Peter gave Connor's pooptube an enthusiastic 9/10(!) that that indomitable Connor smile lit up! Peter made his climb!
Returning to school on Tuesday was a bit harsh. The school might have declared Monday an optional school day due to smoke but the PE teacher was having none of it. See if you can spot the day Connor freed the Nose from his PE report card:
Connor was redpointing the Changing Corners at the exact hour the delinquent was suppose to be line dancing in PE. So after Connor freed the Nose -- on an optional day of school! -- the derelict was sent after school into the dank, moldy, smelly school basement to ride a poorly oiled stationary bike for 45 minutes to make up for the missed line dancing.
Connor doesn't have social media so he's somewhat oblivious to some of the wonderful reaction to his climb. Who knew the internet could be such a warm and cuddly place? But he did get a few congratulations texts from his friends. One complimented his pooptube and the other asked if he wanted to go bouldering. However, he knew something was up when we went to Bishop after his climb and the boulderers congratulated him? I wasn't aware boulderers even knew El Cap was a thing.
Understandably, Connor's age has gotten a lot of attention. His young age is an historical oddity. It's fun and uplifting. But Connor's age is relevant to very few climbers. Other than Fitz and Ingrid Caldwell, very few kids will be spending their middle school years playing on El Cap. Rather, my hope is that over time, the style and speed of Connor's ascent will be the significance of his climb. If Connor's climb can help inspire a few less fixed ropes on crowded climbs so that others can better experience them, then his ascent was wildly successful, well beyond a historical footnote.
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