Families That Climb Together, Stick Together

Always stick together. Photo: Jim Herson collection

From Cliffhanger Guides in Joshua Tree, which specializes in guiding father and daughter outings, to parents who routinely climb with their kids both in the gym and outside, it’s hard to find a better way to bond than climbing with your family.

Just check out the mentorship Tommy Caldwell‘s father, Mike, provided to his son in The Dawn Wall (premiering in theaters on Sept. 19).

Though there are countless family climbing partnerships throughout the world, the three below are noteworthy because they’ve achieved such legendary status.

Siblings Kara and Connor enjoying a climb off at Smith Rocks, Oregon. Photo: Jim Herson collection

Three-thousand-foot El Capitan in Yosemite Valley is Jim Herson‘s playground. For 36 years he’s worked in robotics in the Bay Area, and for 30 of those years he’s climbed the monolith (again and again), pushing his limits in both speed and difficulty. For his kids Kara and Connor, climbing big walls with their dad is common, starting with Half Dome’s NW Face – which they first did at age 12. Kara did it twice that year with her dad, once in summer and once in winter over New Year’s Eve.

Their first time up El Cap was when they were 14 (Kara) and 13 (Connor) via the Nose.

During the week the family trains together at Touchstone and Planet Granite gyms. They climb outside at every chance and during vacations they travel to climbing destinations such as world-famous Rifle Mountain Park in Colorado to climb.

In fact, Connor, 14, recently completed his goal of climbing 14 routes rated 5.14. Though Connor still competes in indoor climbing, “Kara doesn’t compete anymore. She climbs in Yosemite during school breaks – right now she’s in Tuolumne Meadows – and she plays rugby during the school year,” Jim tells ASN.

Eric Hörst and his son Jonathan enjoying a day of climbing in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Photo: Eric Hörst collection

To Eric and Lisa Hörst, parents of two teenage boys, climbing runs deep. Eric, 54, works as a performance coach – he’s trained hundreds of people – and he is the author of Training for Climbing.

A self proclaimed “climber for life,” he’s an active first ascensionist and his Instagram account is filled with images of him and his family training with weight vests, climbing nails-hard routes, and sharing big broad smiles at the top of climbing routes. His boys both climbed 5.14 by age 11. To the family, training and taking climbing trips together is how they spend their time.

“My wife Lisa and I have been climbers for decades,” Eric tells ASN. “Naturally, when we had kids we took them on half day adventures at three, four, five [years old]. At age seven, they took off [with it] and for several years we spent more time belaying than we did climbing ourselves. The kids were having a blast. We were always keeping it fun.”

As for Eric and his climbing: “I’m still training and pushing even in my 50s. Barring injury or illness, I’ll keep at it for a long time.”

To award winning mountaineer John Roskelley, known for winter ice climbs and winter Himalaya climbs, summiting Everest with his then 20-year-old son Jess – making him the youngest American (at the time) to do so – was only natural. But after reaching the top of the world on May 21, 2003, Jess realized he didn’t want to ascend the world’s tallest routes anymore – he still loved the thrill of climbing, just not played out in the Death Zone (that is above 8,000 meters or 26,247 feet).

Though he knew his father’s legendary climbing reputation would help him get sponsors, Jess made a name for himself on his own and let his success on ice and rock speak for itself whether he was out with his dad or other climbing partners.

John (69) and Jess (36) Roskelley ice climbing in the Columbia Basin, Washington. Photo: Jess Roskelley collection.

“Jess didn’t like the long expeditions. He wanted to put his skills and focus on lower objectives but much harder,” John tells ASN. To Jess that meant climbing big alpine routes in Alaska, Patagonia, and taking international expeditions to 6,000-7,000-meter peaks in the Himalaya. His success in the alpine earned him a spot on The North Face Climbing Team. When we caught up with him this week he was returning from a successful climbing expedition to Pakistan, where he did first ascents of peaks in a previously unexplored valley. “There were rock spires everywhere and snow capped peaks,” he says. “I’m making plans to come back next year for sure.”

As for John, age 69: “I only climb with [Jess] anymore. I don’t like to just ask anyone to go out and I don’t have many friends left that are climbing anymore. I get out with him ice climbing and we do alpine climbs over the summer. Our success rate is very high compared to that with his other partners. I have a slow plotting horse approach- but I get there.”

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