Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Coming of Age
by Ram

She had her breakthrough, two Augusts ago, at age 10. That time in a child’s life when it just clicks mentally. When she could smile through the discomfort, find her 2nd, 3rd, 4th wind ... and be oh so proud of herself for doing so. It had occurred on her mother’s nemesis mountain, Mt. Ypsilon. After the huge ascent and descent, she was charging up the final hills, carrying on a conversation. On the ride home, I told her what she had done. She hadn’t totally grasped it. I told her that I would take her on Longs Peak if she wanted it. Like a Christmas tree, she lit up. The peak had stared down at her for her entire life. When the time came, she ate it up. And on the 4 mile–per–hour–plus near jog down the hill ... it was me chasing her.

It was obvious. She was ready for some big canyon days.

In the spring in eastern Utah, she had found something else. Maybe it was the days in the rock gym, maybe it was the focus that comes with age, or a combo or something else too. But she now canyoned with her eyes first ... just a glance, mind you ... and then slid on into the slot. Her body just seemed to know where to go and mold. BE THE ROCK!! And there she is chatting away, as if it is the most natural thing in the world to flow right into a 30–foot high elevator shaft.

Ah, the possibilities. What next?

Soccer and basketball and school and suddenly it was fall. Had a November trip planned, but the gals—mother and daughter—have never been big fans of the cold weather and Thanksgiving in Utah is NOT warm. But they want to go. No, they insist on going. I warn them. It can get ugly. Nothing will deter them. So I double up the sleeping bags, the wife buys the tent she covets. The various wetsuits are assembled and tried on to see what will fit. Aaron and I head out and the gals meet us a few days later.

It is a trip of new canyons and we plan one we think will be fairly easy the first day, mother and daughter arrive. It goes well, except Judy tweaks her knee on a downclimb slide. A November swim, one exceptional narrows section. A difficult pothole exit—except for Aaron, of course—and a hike out in the reeds into a stiff wind, where Malia’s tea saves the day. Then we stumble upon a NOLS group. It is hard to say, who is more stunned with this middle of nowhere encounter, them or us. The next day’s canyon comes in from the side and Aaron and I are given the task of exploring the lower end of the technical difficulties, an unknown distance up. We do a power walk/jog combo, my son being kind enough not to leave me in the dust. A pretty and low, deeply cut overhang is passed. Springs seep from its wall and, around the next corner, we come to a slot in the wall ... a beautiful and, due to the narrowness, an intimidating spot. With that special spot in our minds eye, we race to try and catch our partners, who have quite the headstart back up the hill.

The next AM, we discuss the plan. Judy’s knee is not right and she is out. Dave wrestles with whether to go or not. Tom speaks plainly. He doesn’t think Amy should go on the exploration.

I am like ... “but, but, but you don’t know how much better she has gotten. You don’t know how much endurance she has. You just don’t know!” These were the feelings bursting inside of me. Of course, I discussed them in the fashion in which Tom and I always come to a consensus. The potential for difficult and exposed canyoneering is just too great, in this unknown canyon.

This negotiation occurred in front of Amy. She is entitled to know how things stand. I allow this much more frequently than most adults do ... no, I insist on it. Tom would express, a day later, that he felt that he was made to be the bad guy. Amy disappointed, as she was, understands the game. It would not be fair to blame Tom for her lack of skill and experience. She did bite her lip and resolved to herself that she would prove her abilities to Tom and the rest of us, at the first opportunity.

The exploration crew departs. Judy will read, sleep and explore the area around camp. I will do walkabout with Amy. What to do? I had never gotten around to doing the North Fork of Robbers Roost. So it is decided.

Father–daughter day in the Roost.

The sky is gray, a touch of winter in the air. We angle over, talking about all sorts of ‘hows and whys’ of the workings of the natural world. We spy a side canyon and decide to see if we can take it into the main fork. A couple of potentially hard to reverse climbs lead to a 50–foot dryfall. An anchor could be built, but it would take time and hauling rocks. Better to enjoy reversing the climbs and work our way up, then over to the main fork and see everything the canyon has to offer. At the first drop, we see the webbing has been torn to shreds by the recent floods. We downclimb, then a mixture of climbs and raps in a nice canyon. We chat about all manner of things. Several anchors have to be rebuilt. It is nice and subdued.

We come to the exit crack. This route up and out has about 20 short climbing problems. Only one is above 15 feet high. I have told Amy that this is an excellent practice field for the type of climbing that the group wasn’t sure she could do. Chockstones block the way and it is easiest to stem up, some 15 feet back, where it is wider, before stemming over the top of the chocks. I see that steely look in her eye. But she has always had a bit more than an average fear of heights. It interferes with her focus. She is charging into the moves, as if moving fast will get it over with. But she is not controlled, her feet are slipping, and her fear rises with each small slip. And fear is a contagion.

She is thrashing a bit. “Whoa, whoa,” I say and we come to a halt. I think to myself that Tom was right, she is not ready yet. It has been 6 months since she was doing this and it matters. We take a break, then I ask her to plan a route over a chockstone, pointing to where she thinks her points of contact will be. She does and then she climbs. And climbs well. The exposure not forgotten but put in the place it belongs, behind the focus and concentration. She gets better with each chockstone step, until she is climbing like I remember her from the spring.

Back at camp, we pick up Judy and drive down to the exploration group’s trailhead and, lo and behold, they crest the hill as we drive in. They are so full of enthusiasm and stories. It is electric. It is great to hear the tale of split groups, with some doing a super–narrow section, others coming in below and ascending, and a group hanging on the rim waiting for word as safety back–up. And the lower canyon is full of physical business with challenging stemming. We are glad for them. We had a fine outing of our own. But Amy and I look at each other. We feel we have missed something special.

When the trip was in its planning stages, I had told Amy that I thought she was ready to do Pandora’s Box, and so it was scheduled for the trip’s last day. This is not an easy canyon. It is very long, the exit longer. There are places where one gets 30 feet off the ground, and there are a few hard bombays downclimbs. It is a harder and more committing day than her previous hardest canyons, Trail (twice) and Hard Day Harvey. And, off of what I have seen going up the crack, I believe she is ready. The group is formed: the Arhart’s Roger and Jane; Hank, Tom, Denise, back for the second November in a row; and finally, Aaron and I, and of course Amy. I think Tom still had some doubts. Amy noted that Tom was along. She admitted later that she made sure she climbed in front of him on occasion. But mostly she smiles, laughs and chatters away with youthful energy, lost in this fine canyon’s wonders. She really loved it. I think Jane and Hank were particularly taken with the mood she set.
And Tom too.

As has become her standard, she got stronger as the day went on, finishing with style. At the high stemming spot, she was nervous. Wingate walls tend toward the vertical. A couple of bulges make this spot more difficult. I am nearby but she is on her own. I talk soothingly and she works her way up. She is at the high point of the stem. her brother rounds the corner. He say “Amy, look at you!” She smiles for a second and is back to business. When the exploration went out a few days before, she was rusty and not ready. Two days later, she would have been up to it.

We talked later. She knows she has Tom to thank for that ... and herself. So we plan to go there—to that canyon she had been denied—this FreezeFest and see how we do. Yes, she wants on FreezeFest. Wants on badly. I tell her that she has done a wonderful job. I pause. She is watching me, beaming. I tell her that I don’t think she is ready for Heaps yet. She nods, hiding whatever emotions she is feeling. I pause a bit more ... then ... “I do think you are ready for Choprock.”

Her mouth drops. Her eyes bulge. She asks, “REALLY?”

I answer. “How about a father–daughter run through next spring?” She nearly busts with joy and pride ... and runs off to tell her mother and brother and anyone else who will listen.

It’s working. Is it ever working.


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