Rock climbing might seem like a daunting sport even for a 20-something athlete, but try adding a decade (or two) and a few kids – ?then climbing may seem downright impossible. Despite minor shifts in lifestyle, rock climbing appeals to a wide variety of people for a range of reasons, be they adrenaline junkies, office jocks, weekend warriors, or families with small children.
My husband and I were avid climbers before becoming parents, so it seemed only natural to continue our favorite recreational pursuit with children in tow. Sure, we had to change our routine a bit, most notably climbing in a group so we could rotate child-watching duties, but overall, the switch wasn?t as difficult as we had imagined.
Just because a child isn?t old enough to actually ?tie in? and climb doesn?t translate to a lack of fun. Our first child went on his first climbing adventure at six weeks, and it didn?t take long before I realized our trips had value for the entire family. Mom and dad found exercise and valuable social time, and baby got a chance to engage in lots of sensory play. Best of all, these shared experiences enabled us to bond as a new family.
Besides obvious physical or emotional benefits that come from spending time bonding with nature, it?s good for kids to see parents engaging in their own interests. Christine Lee, a climbing mother with three kids under the age of four, says, ?My kids get to see me as someone beyond ?mom? when we climb, and that is good. I want them to see that I have a life passion outside motherhood or career.?
For us, by the time a second child arrived, our son was nearing four and starting to want more than just playtime in rocks and dirt at the base of a cliff. Simple climbing opportunities of his own opened up a new world of teachable moments about trust, patience, perseverance, and mental fortitude.
Charmagne Cox, mom of triplet girls and a younger daughter, puts it this way, ?There are few sports that offer the entire mind and body workout that climbing offers. The problem-solving skills are unmatched, and learning to deal with repeated failure and persistence translates well into life,? she said.
Not sure how to get started? Depending on where you live, it?s probably as easy as visiting a local climbing gym. Most indoor gyms offer some sort of introductory class to learn basic skills and become familiar with correct equipment for a safe experience. For families with young kids, it?s best for parents to become proficient with belaying and spotting techniques first, before introducing children into the mix. Older children (high school and perhaps mature middle school age) might enjoy the confidence that comes from learning those skills alongside parents.?Indoor climbing is fun, with many people content to scale walls made of plastic. Most gyms offer climbing teams for young people, a great way for kids to stay active with their friends and brush up on their technique.In my opinion, however, the real magic happens outside. First forays onto real rock should be approached with caution, as climbing is a sport where certain mistakes may result in dire consequences. The easiest (and most expensive) way to log outdoor mileage is through the assistance of a guide, arranged through a reputable outfitter or local climbing gym. By contrast, the cheapest way involves a more organic approach, like finding other parent-climbers at the gym. Don?t be afraid to share your desire to get outside, but be honest about skills and experience.
Exposing kids to multiple styles of climbing will also allow you to find a niche suiting family members. Bouldering (climbing boulders with the use of large pads as protection) is the easiest logistically ? bouldering requires less equipment, and it?s easier for a needed parent to assist in the event of a meltdown. More experienced teenagers and adults may aspire to multi-pitch routes (climbing more than one rope length off the ground, often several hundred feet) as a family.
After accumulating a stack of climbing miles, start creating itineraries of your own. Local crags are great for weekend excursions and family fitness, but longer vacations can also be planned around climbing adventures. For our family, climbing has enabled us to explore many destinations we might have skipped, otherwise. Keep in mind that the best climbing destinations feature high-quality rock, open areas at the base of the cliff, and an approach appropriate for every family member. It?s also helpful to plan easy access to other fun activities for non-climbing days, taking time to explore nearby attractions.
While age and ability levels play a large role in determining where to climb, some destinations seem to lend themselves to family-friendly crag time. Try some of the areas listed in the pictured graphic, take a deep breath, and go.
Erica Lineberry lives in North Carolina with her hubby and two cragbabies. In addition to rock climbing, her family also enjoys mountain biking, hiking, camping, and hanging out in the backyard. Follow her adventures on Cragmama.com.