This is a trip report primarily about my oldest son Ky and his first multi-pitch climb. I have 3 boys, 9-year-old twins, Riley and Sawyer, and 11-year-old Kyler. All 3 of them love to climb, and have been climbing since they could walk. They have all been up the cables route, and they handled it fine.
How this all came to happen...
Ky and I were out one day and a friend asked about Snake Dike. I have climbed it a few times, so I hyped it up to convince him it was worth the approach. A while later, while hiking back to the car, Ky told me he wanted to climb Snake Dike. My first thought was to dismiss it, I mean is that the kind of climb to take a young kid on? But I questioned him further and he seemed serious about it. But there were complications, Ky is only 90 pounds, not nearly big enough to belay me, so we would need someone else to go with us. So I called another friend that had been wanting to do it, and we set a date for July 22.
July 22, 2009
I woke Ky up at 1:45 am, and we were on the road at 2:15. We picked up Dave at the Whoa Nellie at 2:45, and headed into the Park. We parked near Curry, rode our bikes down to Happy Isles, and hit the trail by 4:30.
Ky, Dave, and me at the Happy Isles trailhead, oh dark thirty
As you would expect, there were few people on the trail, just a couple of groups, and we motored past them on our way up to the top of Vernal Falls. It was hard work, and Ky was wondering if this really was a good idea after all.
Ky and Dave just below the top of Vernal Falls
We had decided to take the shortcut on the approach, the route that goes between Mt. Broderick and Liberty Cap. I had done this once before, many years ago with my Dad, and didn’t remember it all that well, but it was a good call. It was beautiful in there.
The flowers were thick in here, it felt like a national park inside a national park. Photo by D-Mac
On the use trail
One of the tunnels created by rockfall
There was mostly a good use trail, but being the boys that we are, we had to go under every little tunnel made by rockfall along the way.
The longest rockfall tunnel we found, Ky was the only one slender enough to send it
And he popped out here
There were a few sections of thick trees, but most of it was very pleasant hiking, and no one else was in there.
Photo by D-Mac
Photo by D-Mac
We were able to avoid most of the brush on the way up to the scrambling section of the approach, and we saw a party of 2 ahead of us. They were quite a way ahead, so we were hopeful that they would be 2 or so pitches up by the time we got to the base.
Ky and me on the short scramble section of the approach. Photo by D-Mac
Ky cruising the scramble
But it didn't happen that way. It was a couple, and they did not know where the route started, so they were wandering around on the shoulder looking for the route. The female member of the party was about to pull the plug, she thought that if her partner couldn’t even find the route, he was not a good bet to take her up.
We pointed them in the right direction, but they elected to let us go first, an option that we gratefully accepted. That is one of the main challenges of this route, it is so popular that you stand a good chance of being in a long line of parties strung along the route. This was the reason we had chosen a weekday, and had left so early but we still didn't arrive at the base until 8:30 am. But now we were in the front! I racked up with .3, .4, .5, & .75 Camalots, #8, #10, & #12 stoppers, 2 QDs, 2 slings, and 2 cordelettes. I never used the stoppers, but did use everything else.
Ky and me at the base, scoping the first pitch. Photo by D-Mac
I headed up the first pitch, and made decent time. This was the only pitch that was in the shade, we didn’t start climbing until 9 am, later than we wanted, but that was how it worked out.
Cruising the first pitch in the nice cool shade. Photo by D-Mac
To make time, I had planned to belay both Ky and Dave simultaneously, and it worked out well. The party of 2 was on our heels for a little while, but we soon put some distance on them, eventually finishing maybe 2 pitches ahead.
Ky pulling up to the first belay ledge, He’s having fun!
Placing a small cam below the small roof during the traverse. Photo by D-Mac
I was a little concerned about Ky on the second pitch with it’s 2 traversing sections, but we had a strategy. After I set the belay, Ky came up next and Dave gave him a back-belay so that if he fell he wouldn’t pendulum. But no worries, he didn’t fall. Ky has climbed as hard as 5.10b, but this was a different kind of climbing for him, all friction feet, very few solid handholds. So I was wondering how he would handle it, but he did fine. And since no one told him he should be scared, he wasn’t really too uncomfortable up there. We ran out of shade on this pitch, but there was a nice breeze, and it was pretty comfortable the whole way up.
Looking down from the top of the second pitch. You can see the top of Ky’s and Dave’s helmets.
Ky coming up the 2nd pitch, just above the roof and traverse.
Ky unclipping one of the few bolts on the route as he goes by on pitch 2.
Pitch 3 is the first pitch where you’re actually installed on the dike, and the climbing is fun, the route-finding elementary, and cleaning the gear takes no time at all.
On the 3rd pitch. Photo by D-Mac
Ky and Dave at the bottom of the 3rd pitch.
Ky on the 3rd pitch. Photo by D-Mac
Ky moving up the 3rd pitch.
I didn’t bring a topo, I had been up this thing a half-dozen times before, so I messed up the 4th pitch again. It is really short, with no bolts or pro at all except the belay bolts. But I arrived at the belay bolts so quickly that I thought that it was just a redundant clip, so I clipped them and passed on through. I couldn’t find any more bolts, I did sling a chicken-head maybe 100 feet out, and kept moving. Soon I ran out of rope, about 35 feet below the anchors for the end of the 5th pitch.
Ky and Dave climbing the 3rd & 4th pitches combined.
Ky’s almost to the belay.
I found a horn and slung that for a short belay to get Dave to the belay bolts for the 4th pitch. Once Dave was established, we brought Ky to there, and I finished the 5th pitch.
Ky climbing the 4th pitch. Photo by D-Mac
I’m at the top of the 5th pitch, which has one bolt the whole way. Photo by D-Mac
Ky almost to the top of the 5th pitch. Photo by D-Mac
Once Ky and Dave arrived, I headed up the 6th pitch, which is pretty casual, climbing-wise, with one bolt on a short, steep little headwall, then the belay.
Ky on the 6th pitch. Photo by D-Mac
Ky still on the 6th pitch. Photo by D-Mac
Ky on the short little steep section.
We continued on up the 7th pitch, which is way easy but way run out, I found one cam placement, that was about it. I imagine that real climbers don’t place anything on this pitch, but we didn't see any climbers like that.
Ky at the top of the 7th pitch. Still smiling…
We finished up the 8th pitch, also easy, and I sewed it up, placing 2 cams along the way.
Ky’s climbing footwear of choice, the Vector. This is the 2nd time those shoes have done this route, but that’s another (sad) story for another day.
Those of you who have done this route know what’s next, the section to the summit described as 2nd and 3rd class friction forever. The 8 pitches had taken us 4 hours, which isn’t too bad for a party of 3.
Starting the 2nd & 3rd class forever slog to the top. Photo by D-Mac
We slogged up to the top, and as expected there were quite a few folks up there, and they were clogging up the cables descent. We were eager to get down, as we crested the summit we saw and heard a large T-Storm off to the northeast, and we didn’t want to wait around for it to get closer.
A big ol’ T-Storm over Tuolumne, moving our way. Photo by D-Mac
It was roastin’ hot on the hike down, we stopped 3 times to dunk our heads and cool down, then we ran out of water, but kept plodding down. We drank at the bridge and at the spring near the bottom, and then jumped on our bikes and headed to the store for Gatorades and ice cream to fortify us for the 2.5 hour drive home. From home-to-home, we were gone for 20 hours, a huge day for an 11-year-old on his first multi-pitch, but he took it in stride. I'm proud of my little boy, and his big effort.
Now how am I gonna get those 2 nine-year-olds up there?