Climbing is like eating an elephant one bite at a time for 8-year-old Sam Adventure Baker

ST. GEORGE — Hanging from your fingertips off a sheer wall is not something most of us would do, but it’s commonplace for 8-year-old Sam Adventure Baker, and yes, that is his real name.

Sam and his father Joe Baker spent the night on portal ledge cots anchored at the side of Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park during their climb, Springdale, Utah | Photo courtesy of Joe Baker, St. George News

Baker is a rock climbing enthusiast who recently scaled the 1,200-foot cliff Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park with his father, Joe Baker. The stone wall is next to Angels Landing and climbs to the same elevation.

“It’s sheer, even a little bit overhanging with a single crack that runs up the entire face,” Joe Baker said. “We climb it bottom to the top and you’re always either hanging from your fingers or hanging from the anchor you’re connected to.”

The pair spent a week in Southern Utah with their family, then climbed May 23-24. Moonlight Buttress was chosen for Sam Baker to practice so he could conquer his ultimate challenge in September: El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. His goal is to be the youngest ever to climb the iconic summit. Sam Baker has already scaled summits such as Lost Arrow Spire, a 2,700-foot cliff next to the highest waterfall in North America.

To prepare, Sam Baker does climb practice three days a week on the back porch of his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He does ‘The Ladder,” which breaks down to completing the following without taking a break: five pull-ups and 10 push-ups, then four pull-ups and eight push-ups, then three pull-ups and six push-ups, and finally one pull-up and two push-ups, Joe Baker said.

Everyone in the Baker family enjoys the outdoors and will learn to climb like Sam has, unspecified location and date | Photo courtesy of Joe Baker, St. George News

While climbing, Sam Baker experiences a range of emotions and physical challenges.

“Sometimes I’m scared, but I’m mostly scared of sharks and spiders. Fortunately, there’s no sharks up there in Zion,” Sam Baker said.

His father said that at their house, it goes; crawl, walk and rock climb. Before Sam Baker could run, he could rock climb. Joe Baker said his son started getting a knack for it when he turned five or six. Joe Baker encourages the sport to build character within his children, including Sam’s two brothers and one sister.

The duo has been preparing to climb in Zion for a long time. Joe Baker said it takes a lot of logistics to do it safely and it’s all about having the right team, especially since the Zion climb took two days.

“What’s unique about this climb is that we climbed it over two days. So we climbed the first half of the first day,” Joe Baker said. “And then we climbed the second half on the second day. There are very few ledges on this climb if any, so we had to bring up what we call portal ledges, which are like cots anchored at the side of the wall to sleep.”

The pair experiences extremes in temperatures on the climb.

“It feels like you’re cooking on the wall because it’s like 100 degrees. But then at night, it gets down to 40 degrees and it feels like you’re freezing,” Joe Baker said. “And there’s some pretty big extremes to get ready for.”

Sam Baker said they enjoyed looking at the stars and shining a laser light on the Zion Canyon walls in the evening. Although it was a fun trip, he sometimes cried due to the climb’s difficulty.

His dad always reminded him to “eat the elephant one step at a time.” Or, in this case, one pitch of a climb at a time. Sam Baker said a pitch is a climb segment, usually 100 feet in each section. Each one can have different levels of difficulty.

During one of the pitches, Sam Baker was having a hard time.

“He was just beside himself,” Joe Baker said. “And I said, Sam, we can get out of this. We just have to keep going up; the way out is up. And Sam regained his courage once he realized, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do this, and I’ve committed to it.’ It all came back to him.”

Sam Baker said he beat his father to the top of Moonlight Buttress. At the top, his mother was waiting for them.

“I felt really good. I just wanted to see my mother and give her a hug,” Sam Baker said

Wilderness climbing permits are not required for day climbs. Still, they are required for all overnight hikes, according to the Zion National Park website.

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