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Half Dome /w Lenny, 5/8/08
The Nose /w Erika, 5/12/08

By Jim Herson

Rebuttal By Erika Monahan

One might reasonably assume that these kiss and tell trip reports would have a 'dampening' effect on my willing partner pool. True enough. But those few, undeterred, indomitable spirits, whose only take home lesson from such is that to climb the Valley's biggest you simply need to not wear your climbing shoe on your back, do make for some rather entertaining partners.

Admittedly there's a bit of romantic nostalgia as she was my first, but objectively Ann Lyons, with her unique combination of sheer competence, tenacity, and ignorant bliss, still sets the gold standard for big wall cluelessness. Launching Ann over the lip of El Cap on a single strand 5mm piece of slick dental floss was perhaps my finest moment, to which the seared tourniquet marks, still etched into her thigh, are a proud testament. (To be fair, launching Dave over the Salathe lip without jugs or any hope of ever returning to the terra firma was a strong runner-up.)

And yet like all purely physical tumultuous relationships, ours came to -- quite literally -- an impasse. A better big wall partner I could not hope for but for one itsy-bitsy, seemingly trivial but ultimately insurmountable obstacle: Ann's utter refusal to go on demand!

Having just set the unfathomably longest potty training record ever with my son, I have none-too-little hard earned pride in this area of expertise (making people poop). So you can imagine the brutal blow to my ego when Ann steadfastly refused to take care of business in the 4:30am, freezing morning air at the base of El Cap?!

This pre-climb ritual is the only in-a-day requirement for the big stone. And so with broken hearts we departed on the saddest of terms when Ann came clean that she'd never do a wall with me for fear that her appalling lack of direct bowel control might somehow make it into a trip report. Talk about paranoid.

But who better to fill Ann's big, blissfully ignorant shoes than Lenny and Erika! Lenny and Erika's unbridled enthusiasm for stepping out onto the big stone, while breathtaking in its naivete, did inspire one of Larson's finest:

Lenny Ferreira's complete lack of wall experience was no match for his sunny disposition, positive energy, and pill bag. Lenny had just completed the grueling 4 day, 225 mile, 40,000' elevation La Ruta adventure mountain bike race in Costa Rica. In finishing this brutal mud fest there wasn't an energy bar, electrolyte pill, protein shake, omega oil, or caffeinated gel that Lenny didn't enthusiastically embrace with abandon. His future as cycling's anti-doping czar seems limited although he certainly would be a boon to MLB. So Lenny shows up at the base of the Half Dome approach gully ready to rumble with a medicine chest cabinet full of pills and gels and I'm thinking, well at least the gear sort will be easy. He assures me that the magic Italian gels will get him through anything. One gel a day in Costa Rica did the trick although on a particularly grueling day he popped two. He packed five for Half Dome.

The first golden rule of big walling is not to panic at the first glitch, but when Lenny bonked before we hit the first fixed line on the approach I had to question the wisdom of that mantra. Figuring it would be easier to take his weight now rather than his body later, I took the rope while Lenny popped a gel. Instantly he snapped back to his old cheerful self and resumed singing his way up the slabs. When Lenny arrived at the anchors of pitch one with bursting forearms and puffing like a locomotive I again thought panicking would be prudent. But I soon caught on as he downed a second gel, regained his mojo, and was back on fire. Three magic gels and 23 pitches to go -- could be close.

Half Dome was fun as always although even more so with Lenny's so-psyched-to-be-there attitude. Having a rather poor track record for teaching jugging technique to first timers on the drive up, we opted out of jugging. This did not speed us up. Nor did my silly climb-tied-in-at-the-halfway point to haul the bag fiasco. But we pushed through as Lenny kept popping the pills and downing the gels.

Now Half Dome is a winner-take-all climb: No matter how you arrive at Thank God Ledge, if you walk it with pride you win! True, Lenny wasn't completely styling it up to this point but the boy is nothing if not enthusiastic. So I gave him the pep talk and then panicked when I realized he was out of magic gels! I had to dig deep. I pulled out all the stops: "Rob will buy you a burrito if you walk the ledge!"

Rob certainly has cheered on longer odds:

And the Rob magic once again inspired, setting Lenny on fire as he sent big time!!!

Topped out at dusk and had a long hike out. Not our fastest time but definitely fun.

Home at 5am, all day meeting at 9am, no sleep for 3 days, then back to the Valley where I wouldn't have thought it possible to match Lenny's enthusiasm for unknown adventures but somehow Erika did!? As a bitten old man all this sunny disposition was working me.

"Just one question: do I need to tie backup knots when jugging?"

Oh, how adorable!! This is going to be so shamelessly easy. Have I no pride? What kind of self respecting big wall partner predator am I? Shouldn't I have to at least work for such innocence to exploit?!

A super fit aerobic machine -- having spent all winter smoking 50K x-country ski races -- psyched and eager to learn, Erika Monahan was a dream come true: a blank slate on which to ruthlessly corrupt with all my patented "core shots are an acquired aesthetic" school of big wall safety tips.

But before making that emotional commitment there was that awkward transition of how to delicately frame the somewhat non-traditional first date inquiry in a smooth 'this-isn't-a-fetish-but' sort of way: "Can you poop on demand?"


"Uh, never mind." Then summoning my most self-righteous, morally superior, mocking tone, "Oh, if you want I suppose you can tie one totally useless, time sucking, nerdy knot."

"Great, I'll tie them!"

Huh??? Was I losing my touch? Does this woman have no false pride?! I never thought I'd miss climbing with Greggie. How could I not shame her into foregoing her personal safety? These strong, independent, free thinking women work me!

OK, I can deal with a few backup knots during the training phase for such a potentially excellent partner. But she literally threw me for a loop when she arrived at the anchors -- in somewhat less than record jugging time -- on a beautifully crocheted 200' lead cord! I've rarely seen such tight double stitching in a 10mm cord. The uniformity of her double bobble weave was simply stunning. "You're looking mighty safe there Erika. Do you have a harness under all those backup knots?"

The second golden rule of big walling is not to mock your partner's insanity. Erika, for the first time all day, became slightly unglued when in an exhaustion-induced hallucination reasoned that "My figure 8 is coming undone!" To my immense credit I suppressed the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me! outburst and calmly suggested that "Perhaps one of your backup knots is up to the task." OK, her concern was legit -- nobody likes it when their 8 unties -- but really how could she possibly know which of the 8000 knots at her waste was her tie-in?

Erika's rebuttal follows but suffice to say, her exquisite macramé handiwork notwithstanding, Erika has an extremely bright big wall future as evidenced by the Grizzly like tenacity with which she tore into the remnants of a moldy sausage pizza left stewing in the bear locker all day.

Erika's Big Weekend