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April 24, 2012

Kids at the Crag: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

~ By Laura Snider

I was slogging up a steep approach trail in Boulder Canyon last summer when I got passed by a guy with a pack and play attached to his already enormous crag pack. His wife wasn’t far behind. She carried less gear but shouldered the more precious cargo: their son, who couldn’t have been more than a year old.

By the time we got to the base of the crag, they were already setting up the portable playpen in the shade of a tree and a friend was flaking a rope at the base of a climb. The kid seemed psyched (or at least quiet) that afternoon and the parents were able to get in a few quality pitches with the help of a friend.

But climbing with kids doesn’t always go so smoothly. I’ve seen kids shivering in the cold—one blue-lipped little girl wrapped in a puffy pink uni-suit at Shelf Road comes to mind—obnoxious minefields of toys at the base of climbs, and worst, kids who are left to hang out helmetless in dangerous rockfall zones. Kid

As the number of climbers continues to balloon, finding kids at the crags will be increasingly common, with mixed results. While poorly behaved kids (and more to the point, poorly behaved parents) are sure to inspire more Internet rants on climbing forums across the country, taking kids climbing may also create a powerful connection between children and the outdoors and help mold the next generation of land stewards.

Tips for Successful Cragging with Kids

  • Find a third. Try having a kid-friendly person—or another family with kids—join you at the crag. That way there’s always a person who’s not climbing or belaying to supervise the kids.
  • Make a safe kid zone. Rockfall happens. Many climbing areas have steep slopes leading up to the base, and climbers drop gear from time to time. Find a safe place for your kid to hang out that’s out of the drop zone and away from other hazards, such as drop-offs, poison ivy patches, and talus fields. Consider bringing along helmets for the little ones as well.
  • Bring plenty of supplies. Bring more food, water, layers, and (depending on the age) diapers than you think you’ll need. A hungry (cold, thirsty, exhausted) kid is a grumpy kid.
  • Respect other climbers. Not everyone loves your kids as much as you do. Be aware of your child’s volume and make sure you’re giving other climbers their space. Try to reign in toy sprawl as well.
  • Consider the crag. Some climbing areas are better suited for families than others. Look for a place with room at the base, fewer crowds, and, if your kids are old enough, kid-friendly climbs. (Sometimes, this can look like a slabby boulder that you can throw a top rope on.)
  • Don’t force it. If it’s too cold, too hot, or too long of an approach, reconsider your plans. Having your kids hate their early experiences going on a climbing trip may sour them for the long haul.

Read Laura’s full article in the latest issue of the Vertical Times.

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