Father and Son Scrambling - 2nd Attempt
Earlier this year my 11 year old son Evan and I had discovered that scrambling gave us the best chance of mutual enjoyment of the outdoors and each other. Avoiding the long hikes I liked and spending more time rock clambering held Evan’s interest. Our first scrambling vacation in Zion had been mostly a success though it had its moments of trial and terror (see Scrambling with an 11 year old
for how we fared). Now I would attempt to build on that experience in the High Sierra. But the never-ending struggle of Dad vs. Self would rear its head, and my desire for summit acquisitions would nearly derail my hopes.
A long delayed trip out west to Tahoe and Yosemite to visit Evan’s uncle and aunt gave me a chance to again use SummitPost to plan a scrambling vacation. What follows is what went right and wrong in the Sierra Nevada this August.
Because our first part of the vacation was in Tahoe, I struggled with the choice of our first day trip. After a day of swimming and kayaking, I badly wanted to fulfill Evan’s scrambling requirement but I was also had a bad case of summit fever. Months of toil in flat Chicago had warped my judgment and I chose Mt Tallac and promised Evan scrambling at the end of the hike.
The first three hundred feet showed the error of my ways. As Evan realized he had been brought on a Dad type hike, his shoulders slumped and his mouth went into pre-whining mode. As Dad realized that Evan realized he had been brought on a Dad type hike my neck bristled and my mouth went into crab over-drive.
A litany of Dad sized complaints ensued (containing the phrases ‘ungrateful kids…’, ‘work all year to spend a couple weeks…’ etc etc ). Only the intervention of Nature-with-a-capital-N saved the day. It was a perfect clear smoke free day (there had been fires about all season) . The big blue Tahoe-y views on the long approach, the mirror of Cathedral Lake, and the striking beauty of the tremendous cedar tree in the big bowl of the approach adjusted our attitudes.
Our renewed good feeling withstood several false summits, an asthma attack and the screeching of our Midwestern un-acclimated lungs. And finally I was able to deliver Evan to a scrambling opportunity as we left the trail up on the final approach and started up the south side of the summit. As Evan started up the dark talus, I made a joke about this being where the hydras lived. This caused Evan to suddenly freeze mid-stride. The rocks were too black, too sharp and too primeval - and then I had put the thought of many-headed dragons on the attack into Evan’s head.. For the first time, Evan got spooked while scrambling. I was able to talk him up the summit, where during our summit photo the wind tore off my hat and landed it on top of a very surprised marmot. I recovered the hat, but the marmot did not reappear.
The long descent was much warmer than the way up, and I used the time to promise better scrambling later in Yosemite. And I used the drive back from the trail head to go to Taco Bell and refuel Evan. The compliments he received from the counter girl for his ascent gave Evan a new appreciation of his summit.
Unedited Note from Evan: ‘This was extremely insane to do when not acclimated. Toes got royally jammed on way down (my hiking boots were too small). Recommended for people who acclimated and have the right size hiking boots.’
We ended up well, but I realize now that I again failed to give Evan’s needs more than lip service. The same problems i had on an earlier vacation were asserting themselves again. I wanted badly to do a Tahoe climb and the pent up demand for hiking made me choose for Me (is there such a thing as the ticking of a hiker’s biological clock?) rather than for the both of us. In retrospect, it would have been better to go alone and do something more fun for Evan the next day. This strategy (burn myself out the first day and then be more relaxed the rest of vacation) had worked before. But I was also facing the approaching deadline of Evan’s teenage years and I tried to do it all, together with Evan, whether he liked it or not. Not a recipe for father/son bonding. Overall, I think I dodged a bullet this first hike. I had higher hopes for the scrambles I had selected in Yosemite.
Top of Indian Canyon - Finally
I was more hopeful to get back to pure scrambling because SummitPost provided a cornucopia of scrambling possibilities in the valley
. For the first one I selected nice little scramble that should mend any leftover ill feeling.
Typical Indian Canyon
I chose Indian Canyon because it promised solitude, scrambling and a stiff challenge. It delivered solitude, scrambling, scrambling, and stiff scrambling. It started awful. Our early start was plagued by about 45 minutes of gnats flinging themselves at our eyeballs. Evan was not amused and several times suggested we do something, anything, else. He was miserable and almost crazy with annoyance. It was his first experience with insect trouble of this magnitude.
But the arrival of sun and big house sized boulders got rid of the gnats and started the fun . It was a constant challenge of boulder clambering, route finding and exertion. It was everything I wanted it to be: physical/mental challenge, and father/son fun. Actually, as the morning faded toward the afternoon, this kind of fun started to become a bit interminable. I started getting an inkling I had bitten off more than we could chew. About halfway up the hitherto dry canyon started flowing, as promised, and this multiplied the challenges of going up this nearly 3000 foot crevice in the valley wall. Several times we were squeezed into the bushy margins of the narrowing canyon to get around an obstacle too much for us…or me. I started to feel the phrase ‘criminally negligent parent’ surface in my thoughts.
Up, Over and under - Indian Canyon
The canyon narrowed and it got steeper still, and still no end in sight. Our scramble had assumed epic proportions, and we both agreed we were not going to go back down this thing. Slips, cuts and tense moments and up, up and more up until we finally got up onto the top of the valley wall.
We had told my wife Deb we would be back down at 3:00 PM. This would not happen.
To get to our descent route, we had to head up Indian creek through the forest until we hit the crossing trail that would bring us to the Yosemite falls trail and back down to the valley. After some tense questioning of Dad’s ability to find said trail, it was located with great relief and we began the long, long trip down the falls trail, which was sadly dry this time of year (August). Halfway down the endless polished rock switchbacks, we saw our first person all day. Only about 300 games of 20 questions got Evan through this stretch.
I will spare the details of how tired we were, how we finally met up with my wife at 8:30PM, how she then re-contacted SAR and told them we had, to her surprise, returned. We all had major relief that we were alive and un injured. Evan and I both agreed we would never do it again. We both though, would remember this hike with a surpressed big goofy smile.
Unedited Note from Evan: ‘I thought Indian Canyon was a deathtrap. Once you get halfway up you don’t want to try to get down. I think it was worth doing’
Evan was scrambled out. So the next few days Evan swam with his Mom and rode hoses with his sister and did a little light hiking with me. I decided to solo hike Higher Cathedral Rock via Spires Gully in order to get some perspective. This was just what my jangled spirit needed. I reached finally the point in the vacation where I was relaxed and not on edge to hurry up and relax.
Now it was Evan’s turn to drag his dad on a long hike. The lure of the legendary cables on Half Dome had brought Evan under its spell. He insisted that we do this hike despite my warnings of the long and grueling hike to get there (I had been up 10 years before and loved it, but I would not have done it again but for him). But the cables had entranced him. This was the kind of physical challenge that lit him up. We got up at 5:00 AM and began climbing up past Vernal and Nevada falls. Evan did extremely well, again aided by the 20 questions game.
After the long approach, we got onto the shoulder of half dome, just prior to the cables. The sun blasted down on us, reflecting off the white rock with debilitating effect, and roasted Evan’s resolve. He asked me if it was OK if he did not go up the cables. I think I said it was OK (but if I did I was not thinking it). Then as they came into view, he was struggling to master his doubts. I told him I would go up behind him, and he seemed satisfied I would catch him if he had any problems. There were no problems. After a gripping trip up (harder than I remembered) we enjoyed the top. After our lunch, Evan expressed how much he had a taste for green grapes. Oddly, I had just also had a taste for the same thing.
After we descended the cables (now much thicker with ascenders) Evan got a lot of questions about how old he was, and he felt great. As we got down to Little Yosemite valley, we used the last of our water, and before we got to the creek to refill, we passed a man going up with a huge bunch of big golf ball sized green grapes in his hand. He probably did not understand our stunned and envious stares.
Going down the rest of the way was hot and crowded. Once down, we celebrated by going to the valley pizza (Degmans). As we stood at the counter, I looked over and Evan was flat on the floor, seeming to be looking under the counter. ‘What are you looking at under there?‘. It took me a minute to determine that he had passed out. Orange pop and pizza soon revived him.
Unedited Note from Evan: ‘Half Dome was extremely fun. I loved the cables, they were the best part.’
I have a forgiving son. We got through the rougher parts of these hikes and ended each trip on a good note. I wished again that I had more time and opportunity to better share the sport I loved with Evan. My own desperation to enjoy hiking with Evan on a tight vacation time budget almost, at different times, sunk the effort through crabbiness, foolishness or both. I pledged myself to be better the next time, and hoped that there would be Scrambling with a 12 year old.
‘Let us in all the troubles of life remember that our one lack is life - what we need is more life - more of the life making presence within us, making us more, and more largely, alive. When most oppressed, when most weary of life ... let us remember that it is, in truth, the inroad and presence of death we are weary of.’