Sam is 10. Wow.
We woke up on Saturday and decided to head to Tower Rock for something a little different.
We started on Arachnid (5.8 trad). The route is a beautiful crack up the inside of a dihedral, out under a roof with a rail for hands, and continuing up the dihedral in an offwidth. I was a little uncomfortable with just doubles of #1's in the first crack and wound up messing around with gear trying to feel like I had enough in. No clean send on this one first time around.
Eventually, with a #1 near the top of the first section, and a #2 at the top top, I was comfortable moving right out under the roof (bomber #4 half way), a brown tricam in a horizontal crack below and slightly right of the offwidth section at the end of the roof and then a #6 at the bottom of the offwidth.
I started up the offwidth and got a #3 in after about 6 feet, but the rope had slipped into the crack and dislodged the #6 (the crack flared inward a lot and the rope pushed it into the void). In the future I'd try to keep the rope from getting in there by laying back on the offwidth, or place a second piece in the lower horizontal placements. Just before the top I threw a #5 cam in a huge constriction in a totally awesome "passive" placement.
I lowered off. Sam sent it easily. Ana got up without any difficulty. I took another run up it on toprope to clean the anchors and enjoy the movement without any of the gear clutter (and to free a #2 that walked into a crack high up). Lovely climbing.
Gear/beta notes for next time: 3x #1s up to 3 feet below the roof, #2 at the upper left on a double runner, #4 on a single runner half way out the roof, brown tricam on a single runner in the horizontal, #6 in the offwidth, lay back to keep the rope out of the crack, #3 and #2, then whatever is left to use as a chock in the "nest" as Sam called it. Might get another cam in the horizontal and do something tricky to try to pull the rope right and avoid letting it get in the crack. There are good feet the whole way. Use them.
After that, we wandered over to the "you have to do it once" climb, Caver's Route ("5.3" trad). Ida had to sit this one out, so Ana waited below.
The route ascends a series of chimneys and passages through a huge pinnacle of rock. Five pitches (depending on how you count), one lonely bolt and very sparse protection.
P1 starts at the base of a crack that's too narrow to enter and too wide to use for much. You go up a 20 foot face with no protection to a belay ledge. I led and belayed Sam and Leo up in turn. Leo freaked out half way up and needed some cajoling to get to the top. A guy from a group that had just finished the route said "Uh, if he's scared there, uh, it gets a lot worse".
I gave him the option of lowering off (his first "last chance") but he was so thrilled to have made it to the ledge that he was game for anything. Wild swings of emotion are fundamental to the Leo experience.
For P2, Sam belayed me. The crack that started down below widens to roughly shoulder width and you get inside. I built an anchor to keep Sam from getting pulled to far upward if I took a fall. The only protection is a single bolt 30+ feet up above, so it's a stressful 30 feet. Back to the wall, feet on the other (or one foot below you), and shove your way up. A fall before clipping the bolt was really unlikely but would have been a dramatic end to the day. Then another few feet to a ledge on the side of the crack. I got to the top, built another anchor, and belayed up the boys.
Leo went second. He had another (completely rational) freak out, crying that he wanted to go home. He froze up and I thought we were done. Sam, bless him, started singing a repetitive song about the steps you take to climb a chimney. Leo calmed down made it to the top.
After he got to belay, I pressed him to quit (now it was really, really the last change) but getting to the ledge was another major victory, so he was SUPER EXCITED to keep going. Sam climbed up and we had a look at P3.
P3 is a scramble up a series of boulders wedged deeper inside the shoulder width crack system we'd been using. The crack eventually gets a roof on top and becomes a narrow cave. From there you're staring at a boulder wedged in the crack. You crawl up over it and then...down toward a hole that allegedly leads out into another chimney on the other side of the pinnacle. It's described in one guide as a "birth canal".
This part wasn't as tight as I thought it would be, but it was intense. You're crawling on chockstones caught in the crack, so there are holes in the floor all over. Eventually you pass through a hole maybe 2 feet across and emerge into a cave-ish area you can stand up in. I took a photo looking back at ropes trailing into the dark (hopefully with alive boys on the end). Having a flash photo does no justice to how dark it was.
Leo had a huge freak out again, crying as he crawled through the dark, worried about spiders and falling through the floor. Sam patiently talked him through on his end until he could see me. When he emerged and was so relieved that he was bubbling over with energy. Sam popped out in a jiffy.
And then Sam and I did an "oh wow, this sucks" assessment of the next part. A lot of climbs have a "no turning back now" point that can feel overwhelming. This was that, but with more claustrophobia. I wanted to cry.
P4 is the money pitch. You're on the other side of the pinnacle, inside what I think is a different crack in the rock. It's open to the outside on the far end, but that's 20-30 lateral feet away and you can't get to it because it narrows so much. It's DARK. The climbing route is maybe 50-70 feet of squeeze chimney that goes up at bit of a traversing angle past some boulders caught in the crack. There's light up there. Aim for that.
The trick is to find the route that's wide enough. It's so narrow that I had to leave most of my gear with Sam and just took some tricams and a couple large nuts. In most spots you can't turn your head. In spots I couldn't take a deep breath. I got one nut in, but it's essentially unprotected. The rope is useless on lead. That's fine, sort of. In a fall l I'd have wedged in place or just lost speed through the friction of my flesh grinding off. It's dark.
Grope around for something to push or pull on and aim for the light. Go up a foot, get your chest stuck, go down six inches and over six inches, go up a foot, get stuck, etc. Emerge through the floor of a 20 foot wide arched room, open at each end of the arch, with a crack up the middle of the roof that leads to the summit.
I got to the top and set up an anchor to belay up the boys, Leo first.
He spent the next 10 minutes crying without really moving. At one point I shouted down "Sam, how far has he made it?!" Sam grunted out "HE'S STILL STANDING ON MY SHOULDERS".
After 30 minutes of cajoling, he got up and was SUPER pumped again. He also had to pee real bad. Sam came up after some minor rope management shenanigans and we contemplated the last pitch.
P5 is technically the hardest but there's daylight so it doesn't seem so bad. To get up to the chimney crack that leads to the summit you have to get on a ledge about 5-10 feet off the floor, traverse along the ledge about 15 feet to where the crack narrows, then you put feet on one wall, back on the other, and scooch up until you get to the top. Maybe 25 vertical feet off the floor. There's some protection along the traverse, but realistically it's useless. A fall would be another bad game of pachinko.
I made it up. Leo followed. He had a terrible time. He couldn't get up to the ledge. Sam had to swap ends of the rope with him, make sure he was tied in safe, re-route the rope so Leo could go straight up toward me rather than do the ledge traverse, then I had to pull him up until he could get into the crack. The photo looking down at him is when he'd gotten half way. Eventually he emerged triumphant and giddy.
Sam, again, had no trouble.
We got the summit photos, and wandered around looking for the bolted anchor. I was able to lower them both to the ground, then rappelled twice (the second time off a less awesome wrap of metal cable around a tree).
Five pitches over 4 hours, half of it in the dark. Leo went through his full range of highs and lows (and that's saying something) and emerged victorious and super happy.
Here we were on his birthday trip, and it turned into something all about getting Leo up this insane route. Weirdly appropriate.
If you'd asked me when Sam was born where we'd be at the decade mark? Not here.
It's only because Sam is who he is that we're able to go out and do stuff that really should be impossible with kids. They used to call him "the professor" in daycare, he was so serious. When things get hard he turns into bedrock.
Sam was the best partner and brother I can imagine, easily handling the life-and-death technical bits and guiding his brother through scary hardship with his typical compassion.
It's a rare thing to feel like your 10 year old kid has your back, but that's just who he is. It's such a privilege having him in our lives.
Also, Ana. Wow. Sitting around for 4 hours listening to Leo's howls of misery coming from somewhere high and dark up above. I would have been a complete wreck.
We finished the day at the Rockhouse and crashed in the tent at Linda's. There was quite a bit of frog appreciation going on down at the pond, but I was way too tired to partake.
On Sunday we went to Phantasia so Sam could take a crack at Twinkie (5.12a). It starts on a nearly vertical slab and then gets insanely overhung for the next 50 feet. It's beautiful, and super intimidating from the ground.
Sam got about 3 bolts into the roof section and decided he was scared to go for the next bolt (amazing it took that long). I went up (with no warmup...probably a mistake). After falling off the start twice (beta note: next time traverse/campus the hand ledge from right to left, high step and use the side pulls), I got the 4th roof bolt. After a couple whips going for the next one, and feeling pretty tired to begin with, we called it. I left a bail biner (a first) and went through the agony of cleaning this thing.
Two days later, I'm still sore from some combination of Caver's route, attempting Twinkie on cold muscles or (just as likely) the effort of getting my gear off when we bailed.
Finally, Sam and I went and did one last route. We'd hoped to get on Overlord (our first clean send of a 5.10b, back in Fall of 2015) but it was taken. We got on Lord of the Flies (5.9), while the rest of the gang hung out at the other end of the wall. We'd climbed it before. It's a dull route, but the company was nice. It's fun being able to just go off with Sam and climb as a pair.
By the time we finished it was 12:45. Ana was sick, everyone was tired and it was hot. We packed it in and were home, with the car most unpacked and eating pizza by 8.
And that brings us up to 20 days and 62 routes for the first four months of year.