Auden vs. Vantage
I can fully admit I've almost slacked beyond the point of forgiveness with the blog posts, but I'm here to inform you that I'm determined to redeem myself. Time for a bit of catch up!
With a trip to Vantage under my belt it was time to introduce Auden to some real rock. Yes, he's been out to Mt. Erie, but only on some of the smaller crags. It was time to get him on some big kid climbs, and see how he did with some more serious exposure! We had a good long talk before committing to this trip about how he was going to have to bring his big boy game. No whining. Show up, push yourself, climb your hardest, and have fun. He was stoked to accept the challenge so with Vanatoli all packed up we hit the road on a Friday after work.
With most of the same crew on this trip as the last one I knew we'd have a great time, and with the addition of Auden to the gang I had high hopes for a great weekend. We got up fairly early, and this time managed to find the little slot canyon trail down the first gully to Sunshine Wall. Auden's eyes looked up, doubled in size, and for a second I couldn't tell if the smile was from trying to mask the fear or excitement. There he stood, staring up at the 70-90' towers of columnar basalt that makes up the Frenchman Coulee.
Galen, Greg, and myself began setting routes early and quickly settled into a nice rhythm. Auden banged out a nice little 60' high 5.6 route, and was feeling pretty rad about it. He brought his game face, and was determined to prove to everyone he could hang with the big kids! Next came a much stiffer route coming in at 5.8 named Vantage Point. He pushed his game, grunted a lot, did a little hang dogging, but in the end never gave up and slapped the chains with glee! I've seen this kid climb hard before, but on this day he wasn't just focused on climbing hard. He was laughing, smiling, AND giving it his all.
From there it was time to see what he was really made of. I decided to string both "pitches" of a 5.7 route called Chossmaster together in a single pitch and setup up a top rope for him. This put the entire route at 93 feet tall. I knew the route was well within his climbing ability, but the question was more how he would do mentally. 90% of grown-ass adults wouldn't get 1/2 that high up off the ground before freaking out. I explained to him that likely our communication would be limited on the upper 1/2 of the route, and that I simply wouldn't be able to give him advise or coach him through problems if they came up. He knew he was on top rope so he was safe, and it would just be a matter of working through problems himself.
The first 1/2 of the route went very well. He mixed the jug holds with a little leg chimney action, and had himself standing at the midway ledge in good time. He took a quick breather then began to attack the last half. About 10' up the last pitch there's a left hand hold you need to reach deep into the crack on the left to get. It's bomber, very juggy, but you really have to look and feel for it as it's not overly intuitive. This spot stopped him dead in his tracks. He flopped around, tried every combination of other move he could think of, tried yelling down, and finally yelled, "got me?" and sat there in his harness looking defeated. You could tell he just wanted his dad to tell him how to do it, but I simply couldn't see what needed to happen since he was now 70' above me at this point. Where he was stopped I could just barely see his little helmet over the upper belay ledge so all I could do was feel for tension on the rope to know when he was climbing again, or listen for the call of, "lower me" as a final claim of defeat. That call never came though. Out of nowhere came some sort of ancient viking battle cry, and instantly the rope slacked out. I knew that sound as I've only heard it a couple times from him. He was pissed, lol. He did exactly what a proud father would have hoped he'd done. He got his ass handed to him, sat there for a second, pulled himself together, solved the problem, and rallied! He finally must have calmed down enough to focus and find that left hand hold, because he shot up from that spot like a rocket. It was all I could do to keep the slack out of the rope for the rest of the route. He was climbing like a madman and slapped the chains at the top withe a victorious cry of success! To say I was proud was large understatement.
At this point he was in the clouds. He was grinning ear to ear, and his weekend was made. He sat out for a couple runs to take a little break before the next one, which amazingly enough, would turn out to be even more momentous than the former. I proceeded to work my way up a really fun, but challenging, 5.7 chimney route called Seven Virgins and a Mule (I can't make these names up). I've never climbed chimneys before, and the techniques needed were certainly foreign to me. I managed to send the route clean, but I'm not going to say it was pretty. It was slow, tedious, and definitely not something I was overly proud of for climbing in such an awkward an fumbling way. As I untied I debriefed Auden and (making a huge mistake here) told him I thought it was above him, and that I highly doubted he'd have fun trying it. Galen, who is consistently the peanut gallery leader, proceeded to encourage Auden to give it a shot and tell him that I didn't know what I was talking about, lol. Auden said he was game to give it a shot, and tied in. What proceeded still shocks me to this day. Apparently, his little body was the perfect size for this chimney. He was able to push, squeeze, and mantle his way up this chimney with far greater technique and ease than I was able to. He took one break in the middle, and then proceeded to power his way up to the chains with surprising comfort. Let it be known that this climb is forever known as, "you know the one you said I couldn't do?". Yes Auden, I was wrong, and I doubt I'll ever be able to live that down. He's doing a great job of making sure of that still to this day.
We were tired, happy, and were living the father/son dream. He trotted back to camp with a little skip in his step that day a little taller, a little stronger, and most certainly having proven he could, "climb with the big boys".
Day 2 started off much slower than day 1. Some people had to leave so we rallied up with some of my fellow Mountaineers that were over there climbing. Auden had good intentions of another solid day of climbing, but after a couple routes you could tell he was quite exhausted from the day before. His mind and spirit were into it, but his little body was lagging far behind. I tied up a ground anchor and let him belay me for a climb (big treat for him), and then we packed up and began the long car ride home.
Weekends like this are what it's all about for me. They are the reason I always wanted to be a father. I'd be perfectly happy doing ANYTHING with this little monster of mine, but let's be honest. Watching your 9yo do big stuff like this is just a liiiiiiiitle bit cooler ;)
P.S. I should give a bit shout out and thanks to everyone there that weekend that made Auden feel so at home. Every single person (with a special thanks to Greg) made him feel welcome, and it was a great feeling to know he was surrounded by such encouragement and support. You guys rock!