Home / Trip Reports

Half Dome w/ Connor, The Prequel, 2015-16

By Jim Herson

Parenting is mostly about preparing yourself -- and the little ones, but mostly yourself -- for that bittersweet inevitability of their fleeing the nest. Intellectually, an easy concept. Emotionally, a brutal reality. Hopefully, you've managed to impart enough life skills for them to thrive. You beam as they make their way in the world. And marvel as they become their own person. But it stings. You are no longer central to their lives. You are still a main player. But you have been relocated into the far, back, upper balcony seats with a poor viewing angle. The fact is, they don't need you. Although your cooking skills are still appreciated.

However, the sad untold reality of parenting is that your time to nest fleeing is cruelly shorter than you think. You are all but outsourced once they hit high school. Specifically, once they drive. Between homework and extracurricular, their time is spoken for. The time you get to spend with them dries to a trickle. Kara and my climbing time has been decimated. Those endless soul sucking 11th grade standardized tests are the bane of my climbing! Kara is such a nerd. And a darn dedicated one at that. Did I mention how glowingly proud I am of her uncompromising work ethic and self-discipline? And priorities? Kara's standard position this year:

There are no do-overs in parenting. But you do get to fix all the mistakes you made with the first for the second. You get to make a whole new set of mistakes but at least the younger one is spared the bungles you inflected on the older. Thus, I am painfully aware the clock is ticking with Connor. Dilly-dallying until middle school, as I did with Kara, for the classics on the Incredible Hulk and The West Face of El Cap is an unaffordable luxury.

So at the end of 5th grade, Connor and I hiked out to the truly incredible Incredible Hulk. What a gift! Just a magnificent chunk of granite. We haven't spent nearly enough time out there. Time not spent at the Hulk is near the top of my parental regret list. The climbing is just that spectacular.

At the start of 6th grade, Connor and I savored the wonders of the Rostrum.

It is clear, though, that Connor could not have been happier!

having just thrown down pitch after pitch of perfect granite cracks.

12 hours after topping the Rostrum we hiked out to the legendary Harding Route on 12.5K Mt Conness with the Scotts. Climbing with the Scotts is always fun although Elizabeth's 20 minute punchline-less jokes -- which Connor found unbearably hilarious and has yet to stop repeating them to anyone he can corner -- pushed me to the brink.

Anne wasn't particular enamored -- although to be fair, no worse than normal -- when I floated the idea of the Harding Route. "You want to take my son out to the Harding Route on Conness?! It has a 30' offwidth protected by a few 54 year old 1/4" rusted nails. Those nails are almost as old as you but in slightly worse condition!"

I won't pretend the "slightly worse condition" didn't sting. Those rusted nails are worthless! Elizabeth's painfully awful puns weren't the only thing that impressed Connor on the Harding Route. Those ancient pieces of rusted scrap metal also made quite the impression on him.

But other than a few bad bolts and puns, it was a spectacular, if long, day!

Sorry, I can't resist. A sentimental throwback to the first time we climbed Conness with the Scotts (The West Ridge with a 30' rope).

Of all the lines in the sand. The absolutes. The bright red lines. The bold declarations I loudly proclaimed as a non-parent that I would never, ever do as a parent, none have been more humiliating to walk back than becoming a boulderer. The kids seem intent on discovering the conditions of my unconditional love with their inexplicable infatuation with this bouldering nonsense!

So for a week over winter break, I suffered the humiliation of chasing the kids around cute little itty-bitty boulder fields with an oversized folded mattress on my back while the magnificent Red Rock Canyon walls loomed unclimbed in the background. Not that there is anything wrong with bouldering. It is just that I would prefer the kids embrace a lifestyle that includes a shower. With shampoo.

I jest. I'd be living under a rock, unshowered, in Bishop if I had the spinal discs to boulder. But I don't. So I don't. Or at least I shouldn't. When the kids saw the terrifying sight of dad trying to boulder

they quickly decided it was time for a "rest day" family romp up the stellar Levitation 29. Great fun! Although the hike back could have been more direct and 2 hrs shorter.

Connor's gym climbing has been on fire lately so I decided to put some of that plastic power to use on the Valley thin seam testpiece, The Stigma. Worried that he'd like The Stigma, I waited until the sun had set before putting up the TR so the tiny foot chips would be all but invisible. It wasn't enough. He quickly worked out the moves in near complete darkness. He won't be getting back on it though. Projecting single pitch Valley routes is a gateway to bouldering in the Valley. And bouldering in the Valley is a non-negotiable, shower or no shower! There is *no* bouldering when surrounded by 3000' magnificent granite cliffs that need to be climbed! Nevertheless, a super fun weekend of Valley cragging.

Exploiting a clever loophole in that blackhole of fun known as the college admissions grind, I took Kara on a spring break college tour of Southern California colleges via a 300 mile detour to the Valley! Had a great day on the 10 pitch Voyager.

We then revisited the West Face of El Cap which we had climbed four years ago. Unfortunately, it was a sizzling day four years ago and one of us -- I forget who -- went 'a bit light' on water. Kara was as parched as parched gets. But she was such a good sport. I'm not sure the West Face was the childhood highlight experience for her that I had hoped. So we re-climbed the West Face in the much more enjoyable cooler temperatures. And with water this time. What a blast! Such a beautiful climb.

In one of the stranger coming of age rituals, I took Kara's training wheels off on the West Face. No more hand jammies!

Getting down at midnight and driving to SoCal for a 9am college tour was one part of my 300 mile detour I might not have fully thought through. Checking into the hotel at 6am and checking out at 8am solicited a strange look. I explained that I am not a boulderer so I wanted a shower. The hotel desk didn't seem any less confused. Staying awake for the drive to LA and two college tours that day was the crux. By far.

But the West Face with water was such a novel and fun day that Connor and I headed up a few weeks later for a repeat. Only we came frighteningly close to repeating Kara's waterless West Face! I had counted on finding water at the base which, it turned out, had dried up. Luckily though, Connor eventually found a drip and the day was salvaged. And what a day it was!

When you normalize for his being such a super great kid, sticking Tim on Twilight Zone for his intro to crack climbing lesson is, and will always be, the greatest sandbag in Yosemite Valley climbing history. No question.

Except perhaps the ultimate sandbag of sticking Tim on the Steck-Salathe for his intro to Yosemite Valley multipitch crack climbing! How Tim got found himself wedged into the grueling wide 16 pitch Valley classic is, well, complex.

I have never eaten at a Denny's. I have no desire to eat at a Denny's. Even after a big climbing day with no food because Greg packed the packs, the 24hrs Oakdale Denny's holds no appeal. And yet I sunk into complete despair when a popup ad, which had been diligently keeping me abreast of singles in my area, suddenly informed me that I was now eligible for the Denny's Seniors Menu!

So distraught at the Denny's eligibility, that I skipped my shower and went to the bouldering gym. Pretending to be young and supple is not quite the same as being young and supple with a functional spine. I unceremoniously and gracelessly plopped off my mega 6 move problem and splatted onto the mat. Splayed out prone in a spread eagle, a tat and pierced hipster asked in an overly concerned voice, without a hint of ironic mocking, "Are you okay sir?"

Tim is a gregarious, strong, positive kid from the climbing team. He is the embodiment of this new generation of well grounded and way too strong kid crushers. As thus, Tim would pay dearly for me being 'sirred' and 'Dennied'. Yelling at Tim to 'Get Off My Lawn!' would no longer cut it. Nor would anonymously trolling on-line climbing forums, from the dark dank corner of my basement, banging on kids who campus my projects as a warmup in flip-flops, help my sour mood.

So unfortunately, the good natured Tim would have to brutally suffer for the Denny's targeted ad. Tim's indomitable spirit would be put to the test on the grueling, insanely sandbagged 1500' Steck-Salathe!

As strong and talented climber as Tim is, the Steck-Salathe, as his first multipitch climb, was a few solar systems out of his comfort zone. And certainly nothing on the one and only 30' 5.8 gym crack climb Tim struggled on for 20 minutes indicated he had any hope of surviving. Nor was the Twilight Zone "crack training season", which failed to produce one single successful move, a confidence builder. But I had no worries. What Tim lacked in crack experience he more than man up for in enthusiasm for the van! And since the very few who don't diss the van need to be cultivated as climbing partners, I would make sure Tim summited, no matter how unlikely that appeared.

Tim, like Maddie, appreciates the van so they, of course, are welcome to climb with us anytime. Unlike that Elizabeth who is permanently barred from the van until she profusely apologizes for questing the van's mechanical fortitude!

We recorded the Steck-Salathe for a Dirtbag Diary podcast on our family climbing. Here is Tim happly heading off like a sheep to slaughter for his first multipitch climb. His enthusiastic cluelessness was exactly what I needed to snap me out of my Denny's funk.

As alluded to above, we had a little mishaps when we ran out of propane which almost aborted the entire weekend. Luckily, we found some overpriced Sterno and were able to cook dinner. Game was back on for the Steck-Salathe! Up early, a delicious Sterno cooked breakfast, and we were off. I quickly checked Tim's day pack.

And then, full body pitch after full body pitch, we grunted and clawed our way to the top. Tim's "That was the best day of my life!!! And also the worse day of my life" nicely sums up our unfortunately long descent. Ended up back at the van at 11pm after quite the thrash. Tim's previous longest endurance day was a 2 mile flat paved hike. But the grueling descent did nothing to dampen Tim's enthusiasm for this entirely new aspect of climbing. And his legs and knees were functional again just a week later. What a great day!

It has been ten years. Ten aching years.

Like an old pop song or the smell of mom's cooking, Tuolumne's magical domes are my trigger. They unleash a torrent of Jeff memories. Two weekends ago they hit especially hard.

In a haunting but quintessential Jeffrey way, he made sure his friends knew exactly where he wanted to add bolts on his beautiful new climb straight up the center of Fairview Dome. And so 10 years ago, with a shattered heart, I, with 7 year old Kara belaying, added a few bolts to what is now What Would Jeff Do (WWJD). Not completely confident in the catching power of my 45-lb belayer, I skipped the upper pitches that needed a second anchor bolt. I figured I'd come back with a belay weight partner and add them later. I never did.

Two weekends ago, Kara, now age 17, lead me and her friend Maddie up Jeff's magnificent Fairview route. I had given Jeff grief for over bolting WWJD. Jeff had given me grief for headpointing Pyrite. I berated him for bolting the roof that was easily protectable. He ripped me for practicing the placements as headpointing has no place in Tuolumne. It wasn't the typically bolting pissing match. Ours was grounded in respect and admiration. We just had different views. Jeff wanted nothing more than people to enjoy his route. I didn't care. Jeff had a huge heart. I don't.

The irony couldn't be richer. While my daughter lead Jeff's route, belayed by her friend, I, completely confident that Jeff had made sure my daughter would be safe, turned my back to stare out over Tuolumne's domes and lose myself in a flood of warm Jeff memories.

In contrast, I would ground my kids for a year if they ever tied in for Pyrite. Jeff's route brought my daughter and her friend great joy. It brought me triple that joy just watching how much they enjoyed Jeff's route. Pyrite lies fallow, enjoyed by no one.

In hindsight, WWJD is perfectly bolted. A fun, still heads up in spots, varied, gorgeous route. When Kara got to the single bolt belay she's like "What's the deal?" "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. I need to fix it." But I thought about it. I'm not going to add the second anchor bolts. The single bolt anchors have backup gear placements and are safe. So I'm ignoring Jeff's wish. The single bolt anchors trigger memories of my time with Jeff. I won't risk erasing those memories.

Please climb WWJD. Jeff wanted nothing more than people to enjoy his route.

WWJD photo.

WWJD topo.


The Sequel: Half Dome, post rock fall, w/ Connor

Home / Trip Reports