Taking Ella Up the Wall

By Andy Kirkpatrick for adventure-journal.com

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m wide awake, coming round with a start in a hot motel in Mariposa, my first thought being, “She did it!”

Ella, my 13-year-old daughter, is sleeping in the bed next to me as only a teenager could, a sleep so deep it would take an earthquake to break it, and she deserves it: Last night she was sleeping on El Cap, having climbed Tangerine Trip over four hot days and nights. If there’s any teenager on the planet who deserves to sleep in today, it’s Ella.

I’m sure for everyone who thinks it’s amazing that someone so young could find the strength to climb El Cap (both mental and physical—as she had to jumar free-hanging ropes for 700 meters), there will be those that will be appalled that a father would risk his child’s life in such a way. To be honest, I find myself on both sides, and this adventure has been one of great soul-searching and stress, as well as laughter and moments that made me want to cry with joy.

I guess I should start at the beginning.

For many years, I’ve brought my kids Ella and Ewen along to my slideshows, as well as events like the Kendal Mountain Festival. They’ve sat through dozens of talks, sometimes even sitting on the stage at my feet. At first I felt a bit uneasy with this; did I really want my kids listening to all these tales of derring-do? But climbing and its rewards and risks made me who I am, and the lessons it has taught me are those I’ve tried to pass on to my kids. Adventure is in my DNA and so it’s in theirs, too. They should see what I do when I’m away and understand the striving for impossible things.

I’ve never been a pushy climbing parent and I always wanted to leave it up to them to decide how to explore their boundaries, exposing them to wilderness and danger the way my dad did, while keeping them on a short leash.

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