Senior’s project will be an uphill climb

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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Small in stature, big in ambition, would be a good way to describe Erika Steppig. Steppig is a senior at Placer High School and for her senior project — a special yearlong procedure each student must complete to graduate — Steppig has chosen to climb Half Dome in Yosemite. On Thursday, Oct. 15 Steppig will embark on an unbelievable climb. Packed with clips, carabiners and ropes, her journey will take her to the top of one of the most beautiful rocks in America and certainly one great view from the top for an exhausted yet happy climber. She will meet a magnificent vertical granite rock that is the centerpiece of California’s Yosemite Valley and a popular climbing destination for many experienced rock climbers. One of the most recognizable landmarks in the park, Half Dome was first climbed in 1875, from the back, rounded side. In 1957 famous rock climber Royal Robbins and two other experienced climbers made the first ascent up the face of Half Dome, a 2,000-foot Grade VI climb, taking five days, and 28 pitches to conquer the seemingly unthinkable summit in his day. At 5 feet tall and weighing in at 95 pounds, Steppig is petite, but her size is not a hindrance on a rock wall. Steppig is an experienced climber, and a member of Auburn’s Gritstone Rock Club who has participated in regional climbing tournaments. Steppig’s parents are climbers and family friends who are experienced rock climbers and have climbed this route before will act as mentors on her ascent. Steppig will be climbing up the nose route of Half Dome called Snake Dike. She will be roughly 1,000 vertical feet on an established route up Half Dome that will consist of eight pitches of 100-150 feet after a six-mile hike to the base and a nine-mile hike back from the summit. One of the main setbacks could be the weather. “If it’s really cold that could be a factor but not enough to turn us around,” Steppig said. Steppig has a long day planned, which includes then walking back nine miles to the valley floor. “We’re going to try for one day, 14 hours. Some people will do it in a couple of days,” Steppig said. “It’s a good one-day trip.” Steppig is currently running on Placer’s varsity cross-country team and uses the training to improve her stamina, which will help her on the climb. She works out at Gritstone Rock Club in Auburn, climbing on the indoor course, and makes training climbs in the Tahoe area. Steppig also snowboards on the Placer team in the winter. Steppig and her climbing partners will be documenting the ascent with video and still photography for her senior project presentation later in the school year. Steppig’s future climbing goals are lofty. “My goal is to climb El Capitan next year,” Steppig said. “I also want to climb Everest and K2 in the future and after Everest live in Tibet, to experience what that culture is like.” After graduation Steppig plans to continue her education in college with the University of Nevada/Reno her first choice, or Sierra College. She’s undecided on a major. Steppig lives in Auburn and besides outdoor activities she likes to read, lives with her parents, Heather and Brett, and her younger brother, Kaleb, who is just starting to get into climbing.