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8-year-old sets out to become youngest to climb towering El Capitan

<i>Courtesy Joe Baker</i><br/>
Courtesy Joe Baker

By Stephanie Gallman, CNN

If your parents name you “Adventure,” they probably hoped you’d do some adventurous things.

Sam Adventure Baker understood his assignment.

The Colorado 8-year-old sets out Tuesday to become the youngest person to reach the summit of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.

The journey is expected to take four days “of hanging from your fingers or hanging from your anchors,” Sam’s dad Joe Baker told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday. They’ll camp one night on the top of El Capitan and then hike down eight miles on the fifth day.

Sam and Joe Baker will climb in a four-person team. One person climbs ahead of the others and sets the ropes for the others to follow. His dad said Sam will try to lead one of the sections, or “pitches,” of the climb.

El Capitan — the park’s iconic vertical rock formation — sits more than 3,000 feet above the valley floor. That’s 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building, according to the Yosemite National Park website. El Capitan is a Class 5 climb, according to — the highest and most difficult of classifications.

“The routes are for expert climbers who train regularly and have a lot of natural ability,” the site says.

Sam Baker was born into a climbing family, his dad said. Joe and his wife (Sam’s mom) fell in love rock climbing, he told CNN and his son “was in a harness before he could walk.”

A website highlighting Sam’s climbs, aptly named, said the young climber completed his first multi-pitch route at age 3 — at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

When he was 6, Sam took on Lost Arrow Spire, a three-pitch climb that starts 2,500 feet above Yosemite Valley. Only one other 6-year-old — world-class professional climber Tommy Caldwell — had ever done it.

Sam has been training to take on El Capitan “every day for the last at least 18 months,” his father said. In addition to physical training, planning how much gear — including 200 pounds of water — to take for the dayslong hike is among the challenges.

“You can’t just turn on the water,” Joe said. “You have to carry it with you.”

While making it to the top of El Capitan would set records, that’s not Sam’s motivation for attempting the ascent. “I’m most excited to climb with (my) Daddy,” Sam told CNN.

Something else Sam’s looking forward to — lasagna.

While suspended on a portaledge — a nylon hammock hanging from the rock face thousands of feet in the air — Sam and Joe and their fellow climbers will dine on lasagna they cook from little packets on a gas stove.

And since they’ll have service “because we’re so high up,” Sam told CNN, he’s also planning a movie night while suspended from the side of the rock. Their viewing choice — “The Lion King.”

In addition to his climbing accomplishments, Sam “is getting really good at chess,” his dad said, so a travel chess set will be along for the climb too.

Aside from the lasagna, watching a movie and playing chess, Sam said “getting to the top” is his favorite part of climbing.

Joe Baker told CNN that the weather was looking good for their summit — a little chilly but clear skies and no rain. Perfect conditions for what he said will be a “big adventure. A big, family adventure.”

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