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Tots With 'Tudes At Altitude, 8/10

By Jim Herson

The imminent repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell -- the bedrock of our parenting philosophy -- will certainly prove problematic for Kara's climbing future. But with Child Protective Services momentarily preoccupied there was still a small window of opportunity to bump it up a notch.

Team Pipsqueak, or Team IKE (Ian(11), Kara(11), and Elizabeth(9)) as they're desperately trying to rebrand themselves [ain't happening] reunited for the iconic 14,500' Mt Whitney. With some creative 'feature creep' this quickly morphed into two gorgeous, life affirming weeks of stunning Sierra climbing and hiking.

Kara and I headed up to Tuolumne a few days early to acclimatize (not necessary for the Scotts who live at 8,000' and rarely spend weekends below 10,000'). Got in late Wed afternoon and ran up Daff Dome's outstanding West Crack and then Kara practiced some short leads on the backside of Daff.

But it was all was about life lessons, not the climbing. It was time for Kara to learn the harsh reality of begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission. The cold, searing, icy chill that greeted my clumsy, bonehead attempt to casually suggest to The Motherlyish One [the kids' name, not mine] that the Third Pillar of Dana would be a good acclimatization climb was not encouraging. A short crisp "You understand someone recently died on that scree approach!" and the subject was quickly changed. So the next day Kara and I had a beautiful hike up to the Dana Plateau

and then, for (my) self preservation when the truth of our route choice inevitably leaked, I lowered Kara down the loose 4th class approach -- time consuming but certainly worth it, as the only damage was one 6" bruise when a largish boulder bounced off her arm, followed by an excellent climb in a stunning location with an all time last pitch and top out.

We headed down to Whitney with the Scotts the next day to pick up our rather pricy permits. We had outsmarted ourselves gaming the 6mn advanced permit system by submitting multiple requests (after getting shutdown a few times) and ended up with $270 worth of permits. The Bellagio would have been cheaper although to be fair the Bellagio doesn't offer complementary WAG bags.

While there's no shortage of poop jokes on Team Pipsqueak hikes it would be hard to exaggerate the depth of humor the WAG bags inspired.

A gorgeous if exhausting 4,400' hike up to Iceberg lake was made all the more maddening not so much by the sound of my vertebrae being flattened as I tottered under the crushing load of my circa 1980 cast iron gear, but by John's constant yammering about his and Sid's latest uber-lite backpacking setup and his never ending quest for the next space alloy to shave another 3oz off their infuriatingly light loads. The kids -- heck the dad -- had to dig hard on those last 500' up to Iceberg as the sun set and the hunger kicked in.

The foot of Whitney made for a spectacular basecamp over the next 5 days

with the kids crushing the classics on Whitney [East Butt] and Mt Russell [Fishhook Arete and Mithral Dihedral]. See John's photo essay below. I'd only hasten to add that while excruciating to admit, and I'll certainly deny saying so as this includes the Valley, Mithral Dihedral on Mt Russell has an unmatched 200' 10a corner of varied fist and textured face climbing. The girls styled it giggling and laughing the entire way.

While Team Pipsqueak/IKE's effortless 14,000+ ascents are encouraging, their unabashed healthy egos are worrisome even by alpinist standards. In particular their summit registry etiquette could use some work -- probably unnecessary to diss the very friendly fellow summiteers for their less than record ascent times.

Hiked out and hooked up with Anne and Connor to throw down some Tuolumne classics.

A strong showing on Connor's part on many classics (Black Widow, Golfers, Shagadelic, South Crack, and Northwest Books) rewarded with many spectacular summits

and some intense tadpole catching.

But to be honest Connor has a nontrivial amount of work to do before breaking into the IKE lineup. Whereas IKE hadn't said a peep about hiking miles uphill with packs, old Connor pooped out halfway up the 500' approach on Lembert. Of course Connor will become a celebrated high altitude Sherpa long before Jim becomes a Zen Master (which apparently is the minimum required level of patience for dealing with these jammed packed trade routes!)

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally down with the raw enthusiasm and energy of newly minted rock stars. But one, actually most, of these 'early career' climbers caused me to dig deep into my storied yoga past. I'm relentlessly throwing down at the yoga studio like every 3-4 wks desperately trying to build some zen like dignity at these shared belays. Certainly the hour of unadulterated humiliation [my poses aren't even in the ballpark!] is a bit rough on my fragile ego. But I endure because old Jimbo is all about Savasana! I'll be honest. Lying there focusing on my breath as it slowly flows through the toes, up the legs, swirls around the lower buttocks, flutters through the spine, and radiates out the eye brows as a barely perceptible pulsating ball of white light does not come naturally to me. The point is I'm going to get in touch with my spiritual side if it f@#(ing kills me! Otherwise I'm just going to explode at these beginner belays.

Unfortunately my relentless zen yoga training isn't cutting it so as a geek I focus on the engineering marvels that are their belays. Who knew an eight-way anchor, at the back of a ten-foot horizontal ledge, could be so precisely equalized in just 30 minutes? It was so inspiring I tossed in a second half tipped cam into the anchor holding four of us. And who am I to pass judgment if they want to use more radio and communication equipment than a NASA launch for a rank beginner 5.6 route!!! However, when they started in with the "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!" for the 3rd class walk off my head finally, actually, physically exploded and even the Motherlyish One had Connor take over the lead.

Connor, after climbing gumby geek central, looked at his watch and, noticing it was already 12:36pm, announced authoritatively that it was clearly time to call it a day. Looks like Jeremy has scored another fine new climbing partner. So the Motherlyish One and Connor went to find some lakes and, with her summit registry 'tude in desperate need of adjustment, I sandbagged shorty (Kara) on some stretchy classics.

Hoodwink on Harlequin Dome has a 10a roof that's a huge stretcher for me. Anne, formerly known as a climber, in her prime busted some way burley Houdini moves to barely clear this roof. So with the belay right over the reach move I had a blast laughing at shorty struggling so darn hard and coming up inches short. But she was a good natured sport and quickly caught on to sling aiders. Next stretcher for shorty was the all time classic Oz on Drug Dome. Having missed many of these classics (Dana, Fishook, etc) the first time through makes it even extra special to do these climbs now with my daughter. But Oz was in no way a missed classic. It was the climb that started Anne and I down the road to ruin. After our first real climb (Hobbit Book) we came down and stared in awe that people could climb such a stunning, flawless corner. And indeed when we later climbed it we celebrated in style at Chez Panisse. Unfortunately we quickly fell off our stylish celebration pace. Anne might have gotten half a stale Cliff Bar for hiking Alcratraz (13b). Anyway, to get back on Oz 20 years later with Kara was a blast. Shorty got shutdown on the 10d reach but styled the all time 10c corner no problem! She rocked!

Last day we hooked back up with the Scotts for Fairest of All on Fairview. With the exposed, cold, windy, slabby, knob-less traverses it might not have been the best thought through kiddie route. But the important thing is we topped out at dusk and got Kara home at 1:30am in plenty of time for her first day of middle school the next morning!


John's most excellent photos of Mt Whitney and Mt Russell:

We weighed in at the Whitney trailhead – 104 pounds of gear and food for 5 days and 4 nights. We then hiked into Iceberg lake 12,600 feet (4,400 feet uphill) and set up base camp.



Our first objective was Mt  Whitney (14,500 feet) via the East Buttress. Great climbing right from the start. Our camp is circled in red



High on the east buttress of Whitney



Summit team. Our car is 6,300 feet below at the red circle



From  the summit of Whitney we could look north to Mt. Russell and the next two objectives – Fishhook Arete (red line), and Mithral Dihedral (yellow line)



Fishhook was windy & cold with huge exposure



Nearing the summit



The day we climbed Fishhook another party of four tackled Mithral Dihedral. They were only way up the route when we hiked back to camp, and they had a very long day – arriving back at camp via head lamp sometime after 10 pm. They were shocked when Jim and I headed out with Kara and Elizabeth for Mithral the following morning. Mithral has a spectacular corner which goes for a couple hundred feet. Elizabeth said she thought it was cool because just when she was about to pop a stem rest would appear and save the day. Both girls climbed the entire route no falls & no hangs!



Fantastic climbing – one of the best pitches of 10a anywhere!



Summit team – we were back in camp at 5:30 in time for an early dinner J



The next morning Jim and I made a quick ascent of Keeler needle (red line) tagged the Whitney summit for a second time, and then hiked out with the family.



Great trip



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