By Jim Herson
The Prequel: (Hulk, Rostrum, Conness, Levitation 29, Westface, Steck-Salathe)
In the Jewish coming of age ceremony, the child is called before friends and family to read the Torah holy scriptures.
The Satere-Mawe celebrate the passage by stuffing the boys hands into a pile of pissed off biting bullet ants.
The Hamar jump naked four times over a castrated bull.
The Algonquin boys are caged and feed hallucinogens.
The Okrika girls are sent to "fatting rooms."
The Herson middle schoolers climb the magnificent 2200' granite Northwest face of Half Dome!
A rather reasonable rite of passage when put into context.
As is family tradition, in preparation of Connor turning 12 last summer I started packing for Half Dome. Geology had other ideas.
On July 3, 2015, 5 million pounds of Half Dome fell down. Specifically, pitches 11 and 12 of the Regular Route went poof. Paraphrasing Monty Python's Dead Parrot skit, pitches 11 and 12 were no more. They have ceased to be. Expired, bereft of life, pushing up the daisies, kicked the bucket, shuffled off, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! The Regular Route is an ex-climb! This did not bode well for our Half Dome plans.
Last summer, Justen and I went up to check out the rock fall. So impressive. Such a shear break! Awesome geology in action. The question, of course, was when would an alternate route be safe to climb? The Yosemite geologist couldn't say when or if the rest of the chimneys would cut loose. So I certainly couldn't. I arbitrarily decided to give it a freeze/thaw cycle. So with Half Dome postponed, Connor and I headed out to the Hulk for some great fun. See prequel.
Finally, at the end of 6th grade, it was time for Half Dome! Connor excitedly asked
"Do we get to sleep on Big Sandy and poop in a tube?"
"Sorry kid. Your dad is too old to poop in a tube. It's in-a-day."
Connor was a good sport about his grumpy dad not being excited about hauling. That's not to say there wasn't plenty of weight to slog up the Death Slabs. The plan was to bivy at the base and get an early start. A nice leisurely breakfast, a slow pack, and off we went.
Stopped for a refreshing dip in Mirror Lake.
Two years ago, I had the delusional idea to climb Half Dome with Connor. On the morning of the climb, Connor got distracted digging a hole with Pierce. It was nice hole. Plenty deep for two 10 year olds although the sidewall construction could have used some engineering refinements. What was clear, though, was that Connor was more excited about digging a hole than climbing Half Dome. So we bagged Half Dome. Good call. He was much more excited and ready for Half Dome two years later. In particular, he bounded up the grueling Death Slabs with gusto.
Enjoyed a nice, relaxing bivy and in the morning, exactly one year after the huge Half Dome rock fall, Connor and I started up what was left of the Regular Route. I had full confidence Connor was up to the challenge. I was just not so sure about myself. The new variation around the rock fall involved a bolt ladder and then some funky rope toss. Apparently, you toss a knotted rope into the chimneys, hope it wedges in a crack, and pull yourself over. My cowboy skills have never been tested. That could be problematic.
We motored the bottom. We linked the first 9 pitches into 4 and were at the base of the Robbins in no time.
As is family tradition, Connor led the Robbins bolt ladder. Connor's towering 4'7" reach came up short on a few of the bolts. My aiders do not have hero loops. By design. It's all part of my ruthless campaign to discourage the kids from becoming aid climbers. Not that there is anything wrong with aid climbers. Aid climbers are just boulderers without the fastidious personal hygiene.
Connor's height challenges have made him the awesome little climber that he is. His entire climbing career has been about finding ingenuous alternative sequences. It's so fun to watch him climb! His quick problem solving to overcome his height is his greatest strength. He gets twice as much out of a route as the rest of us. It's always a fun game when I think I've found a route with a stopper reach for him. I egg him on that he can't do it. Invariably he hikes it. These days, I learn more about climbing from the kids than they learn from me. If I'm totally stretched out on a climb that they hike I know I've climbed it wrong. There are very few climbs that shut Connor down cold because of reach. There's no sense of entitlement to his climbing. He'll almost always work out an alternative. And apparently that extends to bolt ladders without hero loops.
When he came up short on the bolt ladder from the top aider loop he quickly, without a word from me, clipped the aider back on itself making an ingenious hero loop! It was awesome. He then had to repeat his hacked top step for the next few bolts. And then he got to run wildly back and forth across the face trying to pendulum over to the to the belay ledge. Unfortunately, it turns out he was penduluming off a lousy, rusted pin. Continuing up the Robbins ladder another 5' and right brings you to a bomber bolt. Lowering from the bolt brings you straight to the belay ledge without the pendulum. Whoops.
A pitch after the Robbins brought us to unknown territory, the rock fall. I still can't get over how shear and clean the break is. Over Connor's shoulder is a blue sling that used to be the pitch 11 anchor. Between Connor and the blue single used to be an 18" wide ledge. We've slept on that ledge!
This shot is taken from where the blue sling is hanging above. Notice the lack of ledge? And the lack of snow but that's a different story.
Last summer two parties established an alternative to the obliterated pitches 11 and 12. The first party put in seven 1/4" button heads that angle up and right. It ended in the middle of nowhere. Presumably they ran out of bolts. The second party added five additional 3/8" bolts. These bring you to a pendulum. You pendulum a few feet to the ledge at the bottom of the 11c corner, one of the variations on the old pitch 12. At the top of this corner you used to step/swing around the arete to a ledge. That ledge is poof. Continue up the corner another 10' to a (new?) bolt. From this bolt you can swing around the arete and play cowboy.
The new bolt ladder impressed Connor. "These bolts are worse than those 54 year old rusted jokes on the Harding Route!" It's sort of true. The 1/4" bolts are good now but they certainly won't hold up once normal traffic returns to the route. One is already starting to pull. You can see the bent shaft from behind the hanger (although this photo doesn't show the exposed shaft.)
Ironically, it's the new 3/8" 'bomber' bolts after the first seven 1/4" bolts that might go first! One hanger is already missing. Another seems on its way out. And this is after maybe just a few dozen post-rock fall ascents? This new bolt ladder is not going to age well.
There was a non-light moment at the end of the pendulum. We didn't have jumars. The no jumar thing is not so much a family tradition as dad's pathological religious fanaticism. Plus, Connor's entire knowledge of cleaning pendulums consisted of a 30sec verbal description at the previous belay. He's cleaned pendulums before but we've just hacked it. He's never done a proper lower out. He'd have to lower out for this one. If I continued to the anchor after the rope toss I'd be out of sight around the arete and couldn't talk him through it. So I set a belay at the base of the 11c corner. Connor pulled through the bolt ladder, gave a running commentary on the silly bolts, and then left the last bolt clipped and ziplined over to the ledge. This made for a tough call. Pulling the rope meant no retreat. I've never been in a situation with the kids I couldn't reverse. I had no confidence in my rodeo skills to make the rope toss. There was an alternative though. Arcturus is the route left of the Regular Route which shares the 11c corner. If my cowboy skills failed me, I'd continue up the 13a corner to the pitch 10 anchors of Arcturus. I figured we could swing over from the Arcturus anchors into the chimneys. I've climbed these Arcturus pitches to the top previously. If we couldn't reach the chimneys from the Arcturus pitch 10 anchors we'd climb out on Arcturus. I didn't remember anything about Arcturus except the 13d crux hold crumbling in my hand the first time I touched it. Not particularly inspiring rock quality. And I didn't remember if I could pull through the now holdless crux. Climbing out on Arcturus would be a considerable bigger day than Connor had signed on for. Did I mention the no jumar thing?
The other alternative was to leave the rope through the last bolt on the new ladder. If the rope toss failed we could then reverse the ladder. But if the rope toss worked and I made it to the chimneys and set the anchor, Connor would then have to untie, pull the rope, and retie. Connor is a very smart and capable young boy. But 12 year olds have been known to get distracted. Asking him to untie and pull the rope while I'd be out of sight was not appealing. I hate even having him retie at the anchors to clean sport routes. It's a single point of failure. A single point of failure half way up a 2200' wall. So we pulled the rope.
The rope whipping out of the last bolt on the bolt ladder made for an eerie silence. The reality of no retreat hit hard. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. It was like that stomach churning moment when I realized I had left Greg unsupervised on the gear sort and I would never see half my rack again.
Fortunately, I need not have fretted. The rope toss wasn't an issue. Indeed, it was fun. When I heard the most iconic face in all of rock climbing now required a rope toss, my inner curmudgeon thought 'how dopey'. But it's really cool! And such a relief to have the unknown behind us. Not that the choss on Arcturus wouldn't have been memorable.
Connor aced his just-in-time lower out training and joined me in the chimneys.
The chimneys went well. Although my paranoia got the better of me. Most of the chimneys have a double crack. I kept imagining the outer crack was wider than I remember? I'm sure it wasn't but I was also sure just to protect the inner crack and chimney lightly on the outside wall. I wasn't sad to exit the chimneys.
Connor learning to pull through on the Zig-Zags.
Made sure to snap a photo for the grandparents!
One last squeeze. Notice the skid marks left by Cris when she inexplicably rocketed out of the iron grip of this squeeze? So jarring was Cris's unexpected whip from the impossible to fall out of squeeze chimney, that a week later Half Dome fell down.
Did I mention how unabashedly proud I am of this little crusher? His first big wall, age 12, in-a-day, no jumars, with a 43 year partner age gap, never without that infectious smile!
We had topped out in plenty of daylight to reverse the Death Slabs. Tragically, we didn't realize the Pizza Deck was open until 10pm. We casually strolled back to the car at 9:59pm and then ambled over for a shower. They were still serving pizza! But they weren't taking orders. That was so cruel! The pizza smelled so good. I really missed not climbing with Tom. He would have negotiated a pizza right out of a hungry tourist's hands! Poor Connor. After smelling the pizza, all he got was plain pasta before totally zonking out.
Anne once suggested we leave the Valley before dark as she had an early morning work meeting. That was one frosty drive home.
Leaving the Valley in daylight is sacrilegious. I'd sooner let the kids jumar. But in a disturbing sign of my age, I was happy and content as we drove out of the Valley Monday morning, skipping an entire day of climbing on a three day weekend no less!
We did, however, stop on our way out to enjoy a delicious, relaxing breakfast out on the sundeck of Priest Station. Priest Station has been in Conrad Anker's family for generations. It has a nice climbers feel. And tasty sweet potato fries. They were so nice when they found out Connor had just climbed Half Dome. They gave him a few of Conrad's videos and a book on finding Mallory on Everest. Some outside kudos for Connor was appreciated. He certainly wasn't going to get any from his older sister. The best she could offer was a "Pffft. There was no snow on the ledges. Dad must love me more than you."
Anne and I are both second children. As such, you'd think we would be overly sensitive to the short shrift second children get in photo documentation. Unfortunately for Connor, his goofy dad's sappy sentimentalism trumps sibling photo equality. I just can't resist photobombing Connor's Half Dome with his older sister's similar shots:
Recycled from a previous climb but still my favorite!
The Prequel: Pre-Half Dome w/ Connor