Between July 21 and 22 as temperatures pushed 100 degrees on the Yosemite Valley floor, high above the ground, Joe Baker and his son Samuel (age 6) climbed the tip of Lost Arrow Spire, a slender finger of granite extending out from the wall near the top of Yosemite Falls, 2,700 feet above the ground.
As day turned to night, they crawled into their portaledge and prepared to sleep while suspended from the overhanging tower. Then the wind picked up and howled through the notch between the spire and rim, rattling their portable shelter against the wall. Temperatures dropped and the two shivered.
“At night, it was horrendous. Full-on winter conditions,” Baker tells me over FaceTime from his living room in Colorado Springs, CO, with his son peeping over his shoulder. Chewing on a corndog, Sam chimes in, “while we were on it [the portaledge] was lifting and dropping. The camping was freezing.”
Millions of visitors a year gaze up at Lost Arrow Spire, which sits like a golden pencil against the immense wall surrounding it. The 250-foot pillar draws climbers from around the world to climb it, but it’s rare for teams to spend the night there.
Even though Yosemite is currently open, visitation is limited at the moment. Access to the park requires not only obtaining a vehicle permit but also an overnight parking permit. The park is also limiting group sizes to no more than 10. Between his ground team and climbing team, 25 people provided support to Baker and his son.
Sam’s ascent marks one of the youngest up the Lost Arrow Spire Tip, including Tommy Caldwell, who also did the route at age 6. But getting a record isn’t why Baker arranged the climb for his son. Sam’s inspirations are Selah Schneiter, who climbed the Nose on El Capitan at age 10 and Pearl Johnson, who climbed Triple Direct (which shares the upper third portion of the Nose) at 9. All three climbers used mechanical ascenders to ascend the rope and were secured with backup. (Selah led a few sections on the Nose.)
Were you scared? I ask Sam.
“Um. Yeah,” he replies. “But I’d do it again.”
Baker and his wife Ann spent the last nine months preparing Sam for the route. Joe Baker started climbing at age 9 and has decades of experience. Training at home to maintain social distance due to the pandemic, Sam practiced ascending a rope by going up a line to the second-story deck at his house. Once on top, he’d climb over the railing, run down the stairs and do it again. He repeated this 30 times a day. His dad once set up a portaledge on the retaining wall outside the house so the two could sleep out for the night.
Sam started climbing at age 3, when Joe would take him up small boulders with the security of a top rope. As he got older, the challenges increased, including trips to the sandstone towers in Garden of the Gods, close to their Colorado home. Last year, Sam climbed 11,883-foot Pingora Peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Joe accompanied Sam to the summit with a film crew in tow; a film crew also joined Sam and Joe on Lost Arrow Spire.
“I want Sam to overcome something now, so later in life he can tackle something that he thinks is impossible,” Joe says. “I want him to be someone who can overcome anything. I’m trying to grow really strong young men who can do anything.” The Bakers have two other boys, all with adventurous first and middle names: Joey Danger, age 1; Sylvan Lightyear, age 3; and Samuel Adventure, age 6.
Sam is now in kindergarten. He rides a motorcycle, loves flying kites (he flew a kite while on the Spire), shooting his bb gun and riding his bike. As we talked over FaceTime, he crawled over his dad’s shoulder and told me about the climb, including the way off the top. Getting back to the rim from the top of the tower requires an 80-foot horizontal rope traverse, which Sam crossed with his ascenders while a team pulled him over from the other side.
“Guess what?” Sam blurts out while sticking his face close to the phone, “tonight I’m gonna get a giant ice cream cone that’s shaped like Lost Arrow!”