By Jim Herson
Kara's nonchalance at climbing El Capitan jumarless as a middle schooler was the sibling sandbag equivalent of the penguin slap.
That Kara enjoys complete psychological dominance almost as much as Connor enjoys his older sister's "attention" is worrisome for both their future relationships.
Kara is happy as long as the pecking order is tightly maintained.
And she gets to dress Connor as she pleases.
Connor is happy as long as, well, he's awake. The boy is just a happy child. Especially happy on rock. Whether it's pulling through the Great Roof -- the crux of the Jugless Nose in a Day (jniad) --
or in a high pressure climbing competition
|(photo: Andrea Laue)|
the boy is just happy. About the only guarantee in life is that if Connor has his climbing shoes on, he has a smile on his face.
Jimmy Kimmel takes away children's Halloween candy. I take away their jumars. Both are received with equal adulation from sane people. It's always fun to imagine how your kids will remember their childhood. What odd damage did you inflicted upon them? It's probably a safe bet that "Remember when dad never told us wall climbers use jumars" will be a mainstay at future Herson Thanksgiving gatherings.
It's an odd frame of reference. Connor has been itching to climb the Nose on El Capitan -- in particular, sprinting across the King Swing -- for a while. He just assumed that in middle school he'd do the Nose. It never crossed his mind he'd use jumars. Sure, that wasn't actually an option given his choice of a dad. But it is an interesting world view nonetheless. His sister's casualness about her jniad certainly didn't broaden his world view.
In Quentin Tarantino's gory cult classic Plup Fiction, Harvey Keitel is "The Fixer". John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson are high strung hit men who aren't particularly fastidiously clean nor stealth about their work. They regularly leave streets splattered with bodily entrails before calling in "The Fixer" to clean up the gore.
Tim Klein is the El Cap "Fixer". Unlike Keitel disposing of bloodied bodies left in Travolta and Jackson's wake, Tim is, thankfully, preemptive.
"Dad, would you please get in shape so we can climb the Nose?" I won't pretend that didn't sting. Like a lot. But the boy had a point. When Tim heard I was taking Connor up El Cap, "The Fixer", as always, sprang into action. If a child is at risk, Tim is on it! But that does not mean Tim only climbs with Jason. Sure, keeping Jason from harming himself is exhausting. But we're talking Tim here. Keeping Jason in check while dragging me up El Cap in early spring to whip me into shape is what Tim does. And what a blast it was!
Connor and I enjoyed some very fun Valley weekends this spring. The highlight being Connor's clean lead of a dripping Half Dollar on the Freeblast! And Anne never has to know I sent her son up a flowing Half Dollar with a remarkably sparse rack.
Connor's climbing is solid (actually he's on fire lately) but his passing skills needed honing. El Cap is not an empty crag these days. Fortunately, there's nothing like the smile of a happy 7th grader to ease passage around three parties on a single pitch!
The bottom of the Nose was a blast as always, if a bit congested. The "queen swing" went down in style:
The Stovelegs might be the three most fun pitches of moderate crack climbing anywhere!
Boot Flake was awesome, cementing that infection smile on Connor's face
and the "King Swing" lived up to the hype. Connor loved it! Nailed it first go.
The roof went slow as expected.
And then we had a little mishaps that goes no further than this report. I went "a bit lite" on water. 2.5 liters on what turned out to be a toasty day. I figured we'd drink some abandoned water at Dolt, which we did, and if things got parched up high, "The Fixer" would probably just show up with gallons of freshly chilled Artesian mountain spring water with a twist of lemon as usual. But Tim didn't???? I can't imagine what Jason must have done to throw Tim so far off his game? Fortunately, my kids have developed somewhat low expectations for climbing hydration.
I view water not so much as essential for sustaining life, but rather as a moral hazard. Give the kids a glass of water and soon there is an expectation of nutrition. That can only lead to a sense of entitlement for a rain jacket that repels water. And eventually the kids are going to ask for a headlamp that works. Best to avoid even starting down that path. So filling water bottles isn't really a time consuming part of our packing. Nevertheless, the 2.5 liters on a warm day was pushing it even for us. It also made it particularly unfortunate when I dropped 1.5 liters of that water.
I have "some" baggage with dry El Cap ascents. Thus, I wasn't particularly pleased as the water rocketed out of sight. But there's nothing quite like the naive enthusiastic optimism of a 13 year old. While I sat horrified at the prospect of having to lick moss to get off El Cap, Connor excitedly exclaimed "Wow dad! It hit the rock and exploded into a waterfall! That was so awesome!!!" I figured I'd let the kid enjoy the moment. He'd know soon enough of the parched horrors that awaited us.
But of course, El Cap is way too fun to let a little dehydration get in the way. So we visualized hydration and had a blast rocketing upwards.
When Connor was two years old we were rushing to catch an early morning flight. Anne made breakfast to eat in the car. She left a plate of eggs for four at the front door. A groggy Connor stumbled down the stairs, found the plate of eggs, sat down, and ate them. We never told him it was breakfast for four. Similarly, I never told Connor the camp 5 stemming pitch was hard. I also forgot to leave slings for him to pull through. So, in what might be the most impressive bit of top roping I have ever had the privilege to witness, Connor floated the camp 5 tenuous stem pitch while wearing a pack and casually hanging out to clean the aid gear I welded in! And of course, smiling the entire way.
After such an impressive TR, I didn't have the heart to discuss his "cleaning technique".
The Glowering Spot at the top of camp 5 pitch was named for Harding's snarl after being hit on the head at that spot by a piton. Connor needs to show some deference to Mr Harding. This was definitely not Harding's Glowering Spot expression!
After 45 days of effort, capped with an immortal fifteen hour epic all night manic drilling of 28 overhanging bolts, I'm pretty sure Harding did not look this happy at the final bolt of his first Nose!
And in a stunning display of the power of the El Cap buzz, you wouldn't know massive dehydration sat behind these smiles.
An exceptionally fun day although I did lose my dinner partner. After waking at 3:30am and covering 3000' of vertical granite, I probably should have picked a faster dinner to prepare.
Connor blew me away with his climbing, tenacity, and joyous attitude on his first jniad. I couldn't be prouder of him! And it didn't hurt that his first words after waking up the next morning were the sweetest words a parent can hear: "Dad, can we climb the Salathe?"!!!
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