Kid Rock He's just 13, but Scott Cory is already on top of the climbing world. Next up for the vertical set's LeBron: a daunting test at Yosemite

April 18, 2004

Scott Cory is working his way up a route at a climbing gym east of
San Francisco, the first of three quick warmup climbs during an
afternoon workout, when his father, Jim, notices that his son
hasn't bothered to tie his shoes. "I'd tell him, but it wouldn't
matter," Jim says while belaying his son. "He doesn't tie them
until it gets hard." ¶ Activity at the Touchstone Gym had stopped
when the 13-year-old Scott walked in. When he starts climbing a
wall that no one else even approaches that day, other climbers,
ranging from age 15 to 40, put down ropes and harnesses to gawk
as he attacks route after route, taking just minutes to complete
climbs they only dream of ascending. It's probably for the best
that none detects the untied shoes. ¶ "I don't know," Scott says
when asked what it would take for him to lace them up. He is
munching on pretzels between climbs, oblivious to the climbers
(including several teenage girls) watching him and to the Bob
Marley music playing in the background. He ponders the question
and shrugs. "It would have to be something ... harder." ¶
Determining what will challenge the eighth-grader at Bristol
Middle School in Brentwood, Calif., is becoming more and more
difficult.

Like LeBron James and Michelle Wie, the teenager has put a
youthful charge into his sport. Scott is already the darling of
sponsors such as The North Face, MET-Rx and Bolle, and if he
completes the climb that's next on his schedule, his evolution
from cute curiosity to bankable star will be complete.

Later this month or by mid May, when the snow has sufficiently
melted in Yosemite, Scott and Hans Florine, a world champion
speed climber, will attempt to scale both the Nose of El Capitan
and Half Dome's regular northeast route within a 24-hour period.
"Only 14 people have done the linkup," says Florine, 39, who has
done the double before and owns the speed records for both
routes. The Nose is traditionally a four-day climb, and Half Dome
usually takes three days. Scott has completed both--each in a
day--but the double will cement his status as climbing's Bobby
Fischer, the young grandmaster of Yosemite's granite.

"It just seemed like the next step," Scott says while sitting on
the couch at his home. Later he admits that when he first spent a
night on the Nose three years ago, he was scared and had to
pretend he was in his own bed to fall asleep. But since then his
climbing has developed to the extent that the elite climbers
whose posters hang in his room (Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Liv
Sansoz) have become peers rather than idols.

Scott first tried rock climbing seven years ago during a family
trip to Squaw Valley, Calif. "We went up there to go ice skating,
and where you buy the tickets there was a climbing wall, and I
tried it," Scott says. "I loved it right away. It was like the
first time you caught a ball. It brought joy to me."

His father began driving him to Mission Cliffs climbing gym in
San Francisco, about 50 miles west of their home. Jim, an
electrician who was already commuting to the city for work, would
drive back to pick up Scott and then cross the Bay Bridge again.
Some nights, they wouldn't get home until after 11 p.m. "I would
overhear parents say, 'How can they keep that young kid here so
late?'" Scott's mother, Jennifer, says. "They didn't realize, we
had to drag him out of there."

Though climbers at Mission Cliffs marveled at Scott's ability,
his parents didn't realize his potential until his first major
outdoor climb, at Red Rocks near Las Vegas. The difficulty of
climbing routes is rated from one to 15, with rankings 10 through
14 having a, b, c and d distinctions (15a is tops). "We went to
Red Rocks just before he turned eight, and he on-sited an 11d on
lead," Jim says. "Then he did a 12a on his second try down
there."

Sponsors started hearing about the four-foot phenom (he's now up
to 5'5"), and soon he was traveling the country and the world for
photo shoots, being homeschooled during trips like the one in
2001 to Thailand. After Yosemite, Scott will travel to Peru for a
month, hoping to be on the first American team to climb the
hardest free route on the 17,470-foot La Esfinge. In September he
plans to compete in his first junior world championship, in
Scotland. (Fourteen is the minimum age.) Afterward he is likely
headed to France (on his sponsors' dime) for a photo shoot.

He is aware that he has the climber's dream life, but he gets
bashful when the subject is his dreaminess in the eyes of
eighth-grade girls. Recent articles in magazines such as Weekly
Reader resulted in a slew of e-mails from girls who got his web
address (www.kidclimber.com). "He had a girlfriend about a year
ago," Jennifer says. "He said he didn't like that he was thinking
about her all the time and not thinking about climbing. He said,
'Mom, I am not going to have another girlfriend until I am 18.' I
said, 'Yeah, right.'"

Having spent so much time on walls with older climbers, Scott is
comfortable talking with adults. So when a weighty subject like
why teenagers are finding success in sports at such young ages
comes up, he jumps in. "I was watching the news, and I heard
about how there are more hormones in the cows now, and that is
putting it more in the beef and the milk, and it is making the
kids mature faster," Scott says. "But I don't know."

He also isn't sure that the Yosemite double--4,900 feet of
climbing--is going to prove that difficult. "I've climbed the
routes before, so I guess the endurance part, that might be
tough," he says. Florine notes that after climbing the Nose, the
pair will face a "brutal" hike during which they'll gain 2,000
feet of altitude before beginning to climb Half Dome. "For Scott
to achieve something like this at his age would be quite an
accomplishment," Florine says. "But he is hugely ahead of the
curve."

That's obvious to the climbers gathered at Touchstone in early
April. One adult climber, Dave Chen, who has known Scott since
the youngster first came to Mission Cliffs, walks over to Jim and
says, "He used to be this kid who'd ask if he could second my
routes. Now I go around telling people I know him." Almost on
cue, Scott, from atop the wall, yells to his friend, "Hey, you
want to second my route?" Chen shakes his head. "I can't keep up
with him anymore."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH PLAYGROUND Climbing's freshest face has shown his precocious skill on world-class routes from Nevada's Red Rocks (above) to Thailand. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' Scott and a partner will attempt to scale El Capitan and Half Dome in 24 hours.

"I loved it right away," Scott says of the first time he tried
climbing, at age seven. "IT BROUGHT JOY TO ME."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)