raising little ones in the great outdoors

Climbing with Kids Part 2

Were’s kicking off the week with Part Two of Steve’s Climbing with Kids series.

First off, this post contains absolutely no technical information that would take the place of actual climbing instruction and experience. Now, here are a few ideas that have worked for us over the years:

  • Crashpads. If you can handle the extra bulk, a crashpad is the climbing parent’s best friend. Many times a kid suddenly loses interest 7 or 8 feet off the ground. This can be frustrating when you just spent 10 minutes on shoes, harness, and tying in. Bouldering is a great alternative to climbing routes with kids. The crashpad has tons of alternative uses too. It’s a comfortable place for a kids and parents out of the dirt, a perfect napping mattress, a handy emergency umbrella, and an alternative to lawn chairs at soccer games or neighborhood parties.
  • Friends are key.  A big group is the antidote to short attention spans.

    Friends are key. A big group is the antidote to short attention spans.

    Friends. We all climb better in front of our friends. Having a friend to play with also makes the time between routes less tedious. And if you bring along the friend’s parent(s) you may actually get in some hard climbing.

  • Realistic expectations. For you and your kids. Your kid will probably not be the next Chris Sharma. You’re developing a love of climbing and the outdoors, not producing the next phenom. Don’t expect to climb at your limit when you’re out with the kids. Both the climber and the belayer will likely be slightly distracted by roaming/crying children.
  • Be competent. Make sure you’re proficient at whatever you plan for your kids. For example, you may never have needed to lower a partner with a Reverso. But if you’re going to belay your kids from the top of a climb, you’d better know how it works because Murphy’s Law applies to climbing with kids. I can’t stress this enough. Work through potential scenarios and have a plan ahead of time.
  • Embrace the epic. As a parent, you have a distinct advantage here. It’s all about attitude, and you’re a pro. Say you’re caught in an incredible lightning storm at Wild Iris (elevation 9000 ft.), huddled under an overhang with 20 other climbers. Your car (and jackets) are a mile away across an exposed, tree-less ridge. Your son is shirtless because your youngest daughter dumped a liter of Gatorade on herself. You, the outdoor parent, can smile knowing that you’ve handled worse.

Most importantly, it’s important to realize that other climbing parents are out there. We’re all having similar joys and struggles. Sharing experiences helps us to stay psyched when a trip doesn’t go so well. If you have any tips that have worked for you, let us know in the comment section.

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4 Responses to “Climbing with Kids Part 2”

  1. Kevin says:

    Good tips Steve,

    I look forward to trying these tips out more. I can vouch for the peer pressure helping my 2 y.o. son watching and copying his much more worldly 3 y.o. ‘girlfriend’ hang around in a rope and climb a 5.0.

    Watching a video clip I wish I had of been even more patient, less trying to help – but then I am just learning the new rules to this game too…

    For new or planning parents- know too that there is a beatiful window of opportunity when mom is getting fit again and baby is content in a stroller or blanket to get out and travel and climb with minimal fuss. This lasts until about 8 months give or take.

    Also, it helps to be prepared for ‘expectation management’ as you administer first aid to injured climbers.
    Imagine if you will, a boulderer hitting the deck… hard… too close to your kids paying with rocks near the base of a crag.
    Not Pretty … but it sets itself up as a good learning moment for all involved.

    In europe, we found guidebooks with multi-lingual icon approach often depicted which sport crags were kid friendly, tope rope friendly etc. At the time, we didn’t appreciate how nice that is. Take a hint guidebook authors ; )

  2. Steve says:

    That’s an interesting concept for a guidebook. I’ve got a friend who’s authored several guidebooks for our area. I’ll pass it along to him. One thing I did notice with Dave Bingham’s latest guide to City of Rocks is that he mentions kids and toproping. Maybe that’s a function of the pioneering sport climbers of his generation now having children and putting more importance on that kind of information. Maybe it’s just becoming more important for people to take their kids with them. Whatever the reason, I think it’s a great benefit to parents and kids.

  3. Amy says:

    Wow, though I just found this post now, it’s so great to hear of other parents taking their kids climbing (& perhaps regularly).

    You’ll find the new New River Climbing Guidebook by Mike Williams has family ratings for various crags.

    We’ve taken our now 5 year old climbing with us since she was 3 weeks old. We found climbing the best way to bond as a family. We quickly discovered the climbing wasn’t always the highlight of our adventures. Sometimes finding lizards, snails or making gardens is. We also never pushed her to climb. It’s seems kids’ natural curiousity takes over and they’ll find their own enjoyment on climbing outings let it be swinging on the rope, the nature or climbing.

    For more tips, check out an article I wrote a few years back at: http://outdoorbaby.net/climbing/climbing-after-kids/ .

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