Epics at eight years old. The Nose in a day, without jumars, at 14. And now, the youngest free ascent of The Nose. The Hersons go hard, and they do it with great humor and in great style. Jim and Anne have been part of the Touchstone family since before Mission Cliffs was technically even open, raising Kara and Connor somewhere between our plastic and Valley granite. They inspire us regularly with their big ambitions and even bigger smiles. We chatted with Anne to get her perspective on climbing with kids, setting big goals, and the specialness of the climbing community. All photos courtesy of Jim Herson and Anne Smith.
Jim is a wonderful writer, and his blog and interviews are super entertaining. Is that all natural flair? How long has he been writing about your family’s climbing exploits?
He works pretty hard on his trip reports but his humor, is, well, his humor! All of his TRs are linked there, starting early in his and my climbing trips well before we had kids. And they all are 99% true, the 1% “flair” left for the reader to guess!
I read on Beth’s blog that the two of you had competed against one another in the comp circuit. Is the comp climbing your kids experience now very different from what it had been like in your day?
Not sure I ever actually competed against her—I would have been in my 30s and exiting what was a very sparse scene just as the next generation of mutant teenagers was coming on.
No comparison today, as then the entire very elaborate youth circuit didn’t exist. The adult circuit was haphazard, with no consistent, long-lived national governing body.
So, Connor is now the youngest person to free The Nose. Was that a goal he came up with and you both supported? Did the family help him train, or was it something Connor did mostly independently or with friends?
Jim exposed Connor to the crux pitch (Changing Corners) last spring but let Connor decide it was his project. He doesn’t train specifically or in any structured sense. He climbs with friends when on plastic or when we go bouldering outside. Most often weekend outside climbing is just with one of us.
After competing at the Youth World Championships in Moscow in August this year, during the week he just ran cross country, no climbing. Weekends he either went to the valley with Jim or stayed in town and bouldered with friends or roped up with us.
Do you feel like kids have a different perspective on big goals like that because of their age or (in)experience?
A year or two ago it occurred to Jim and I independently that his strengths would be well suited to a project like this: He has lots of stamina (can climb lots of hard pitches a day); he’s good at finishing hard projects quickly under pressure, he seems undaunted by exposure, and he is good at granite/slabby climbing.
I can’t extrapolate to all kids from Connor. But he is incredibly comfortable taking on very uncomfortable goals.
How old are Connor and Kara now?
15 and almost 20.
With such an accomplished family, do you find that you ever have to deal with competitiveness?
Mostly each kid wants to do well in their own right so it’s only tough back when both competed, say, at the same competition and one had a good day and the other a bad day. But in general everyone is different enough and each have enough of their own lives.
How did you get involved with Touchstone, and how long have you been members? Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with the company or any particular gym? Any fond memories or funny stories?
Already climbers, we walked into the Mission Cliffs open house before it was first open in 1995 and were blown away. We learned through a friend that they still needed money so we invested right then. So we have been members since Day One but we have no involvement in the running of the company.
A fond memory was taking Kara there as a baby. Climbing was not so mainstream then, and there were usually fewer than five people there on weekend mornings before noon. So, she got to run/crawl all over, swing on the ropes, and just have a great time! By the time Connor came along 4.5 years later it was still fun, but it had gotten a bit more crowded so he didn’t have quite such free rein.
Jim has some pretty great advice on his blog about how to climb with kids, and also of course some rather harrowing descriptions. Do you go on a lot of those trips?
They were usually pretty hard and didn’t involve much climbing for the adults! I am not as crazy about Yosemite Valley climbing as the rest of the family so usually sat those out. The kids are far enough apart in age so that it was a long time before both could go together on the same climb. But we did a good number of family climbs in Tuolumne and did a family Snake Dike once. I keep myself busy when they are off.
What do you hope for most in your and your kids’ climbing careers?
Mine—that my joints will hold together to climb another 25 years. For the kids, that they are connect to a great community, cherish the outdoors, and have a recreational activity they love.
What’s the future look like for you all? What are your upcoming big goals, as individuals and as a family? A family free solo of El Cap? 😉
No big goals right now. Kara is very focused as a student at Stanford. It’s indoor competition season for Connor so he’s focused on that, following a winter break bouldering trip. But I think there may be some back-of-mind thinking about other Yosemite climbs. He’s only a freshman and his academic load isn’t as heavy as it will be in the future, so it’s hard to predict what he will take on.
We can’t wait to see what’s next for the Hersons! Thank you Anne for chatting, and thanks to each of you for being a part of our amazing community.