Perhaps you’ve read about 10-year-old Selah Schneiter’s climb of “The Nose” route on El Capitan earlier this month. She’s believed to be the youngest person to ever climb the granite monolith, though not necessarily by a significant margin; Scott Cory climbed the rock at age 11 back in 2001.
All of 10 years old, Selah hauled herself up 3,000 vertical feet of granite over a relatively casual 5-day ascent. She climbed with her dad, a Colorado climbing guide, and a longtime family friend. As much as it can be for somebody so young, climbing El Cap had been a dream of young Selah. Her parents met on an El Cap climbing trip in 2004. Family photos show Selah pressed up against the granite at El Cap’s base when only a few days old.
“If anything, I’d been trying to talk her out of it,” her dad told Alpinist. “I think El Cap has been so much a part of our story as a family that she’s wanted to do it for a long time.”
Selah started climbing as a toddler, ice climbing at age 5, and started climbing big desert towers at 7. So this climb was no doubt strenuous for her, but seemed well within her wheelhouse. She led the climb at the base and the final pitch to the top. A 10-year-old badass.
She’s also an inspiration. To me, a 40-year-old man.
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My outdoor toolbox is already pretty full. Backpacking. Surfing. Fly fishing. Hiking. Mountain Biking. Nordic Skiing. Gear Obsessing. I could go on.
But I’m afraid of climbing. Afraid of heights and ledges and big drop-offs onto painful, sharp rocks or whitewater roiled seas or even pavement. Have been for as long as I can remember. This has kept some off-trail routes in some of my favorite places in the Sierra a no-go list. Routine scrambling is fine, but scrambling when a misstep or vertigo-influenced swoon may mean death has kept some of the map off limits to me.
And I hate that.
Though, I once feared many things I’m no longer afraid of. Elevators, for one, terrified me as a kid. Airplanes, too, a real big scary deal when I was younger. Overhead waves and nasty rip currents were terrors when I was a youngster learning to surf. Hell, becoming a father was the most terrifying thing of all, but I’m 5 weeks into that mission and I can’t believe I ever feared raising a child.
This is where Selah comes in. If a 10-year-old kid can work up the nerve to climb El Cap, maybe I could too. Well, not climb El Cap, necessarily, but something. Sure, I have a lot more to lose, but I’m far more comfortable in my own body than a kid is, I know my strengths and limitations more, I have a wealth of life experience to draw from to tell myself things will all be okay if they start to go south.
Plus, kids shouldn’t get all the fun of learning new things. That’s not fair at all.
There’s always room in my toolbox for a new skill. Perhaps climbing is it. Perhaps that fear of heights can be put behind me just like elevators. Or, maybe, something else that prickles the fear senses can be overcome. Even bigger waves. Avalanche danger. Another newborn.
Thanks, Selah. Maybe I’ll even take climbing lessons from you someday.