Yesterday we returned from visiting some family down at the Jersey Shore. A couple days on the beach with Alex, nieces and a nephew, lots of uncles and aunts, was very welcome. Returning home with one of our nieces, Jessica (age 11), has kept the vacation vibe going and today I had the opportunity to organize a true family climbing outing to Whitehorse Ledge. Truth be told, my wife was more responsible for organizing it as she had the foresight weeks ago to invite her cousin-in-law Cassie, and her two daughters, Kendra (age 11), and Cordiella (age 11 months, 2 days before Alex was born).
With partly sunny skies, low humidity, and the temps in the low 70’s, the stage was set for a great day. To make things even better, close family friend and climbing partner, Bob, volunteered to help “schlelp” some gear to the crag and maybe even stick around for some climbing.
We met at EMS around 11am and geared up, then drove over to Whitehorse Ledge in Echo Lake State Park.
We parked in the lower lot and headed up the cliff. I was carrying Alex in his comfy Osprey carrier, and in front of me was my climbing pack loaded with my trad-rack, harness, shoes, etc. In my arms I carried the pack-and-play. I have not weighed this yet, but I plan too. I will say this. Someone needs to make one of these out of ultra-light titanium. If you look closely at the above photo you should be able to make out my fingers getting ripped off.
We made our way past the slabs and over to the Echo Roof Area where we set-up the pack and play and got a rope hanging on “Holy Land”, a fun 5.6 with some nice slab moves at the beginning followed by interesting face climbing to an anchor 80 feet up.
Two years ago I had taken Jessica top-roping on the Thin Air face. At 9 years old she scampered to the top of the 5.4 pitch with little effort. It’s obvious that her training in dance is easily carrying over to her skill on the rock, but I would soon find out that there was even more to it than that.
Meanwhile, back at base camp…
Kendra got her chance next, and decided swinging back and forth from 20 feet up was her cup of tea.
While “the moms” got a run on Holy Land we set a rope up on “Relic Hunter”, the neighboring 5.7 route. After showing Jessica the tie-in knot once, the retraced figure-8, she tied it correctly herself. Most adults struggle with this knot the first dozen times, but she nailed it first try. Already impressed, I watched her cruise Relic Hunter with no noticeable effort.
On the way down from their climbs the girls made contact.
We moved our base camp 100 feet left to the Ethereal Buttress area. Bob and I ran up Beezlebub Corner (5.5) and dropped a top-rope on Seventh Seal, the thin slabbly 5.10 finger crack I was sure Jessica would find some challenge on. And this is where my niece amazed me. With very little coaching she “flashed” the route, never weighting the rope or falling. Any time her foot slipped (only at the crux) she held on to what ever small finger jam or “crimper” she had. She never needed much beta, except for a little direction getting to the main crack, and to top it all off, did not look the slightest bit tired after completing this test piece.
I need to step back for a second. I have climbed with a lot of families and kids. I mean… a lot! Just browse my trip reports from my guiding blog to get an idea of how many 6 year olds, 9 year olds, 13 year olds, etc. that I have taken climbing. I have been impressed countless times. But today I was more than impressed. I was humbled. Here was an 11 year old girl from New Jersey who’s rock climbed one day in her life. With almost no instruction she;
1) Learned how to tie a retraced figure-eight knot
2) Problem solved and practiced solid route-finding on 5.6 to 5.10
3) “Flashed” a 5.10 test-piece with little noticeable effort
4) Showed complete faith in the climbing rope and belayer when it was time to be lowered
It is hard for me to recall anyone else I have introduced to the sport showing so much natural talent after mere hours at the cliff. Jessica… you ROCK!
This video shows her working through the crux of the climb. I wish I had some footage of how smoothly she got to this point, but you can take my word on it, it was smooth.
After we all got our spin on the climb, and we all looked a bit more tired than Jess, we pulled our rope and packed up. The hike back to the car with all the gear was easier, I think I was buoyed by the overall success of the outing. It was only the 2nd time we’ve had Alex at the cliff, but it was the first time Mommy climbed too. Oh ya, Mommy climbed very well bagging all three climbs in style!
We got back to the parking lot and made plans for a cookout back at our place. Nothing could have ended the day any better… except maybe this photo Michelle snagged in the parking lot.
It looks like a multi-pitch climb is in Jessica’s near future… stay tuned!