Essay: Climbing Tribe — On Introducing Your Children to Climbing

“Hey, daddy … Where does the climbing stuff go on my harness?”

Wyatt’s curious little voice lilts softly off the pebbly blocks scattered at the base of the steep Mac Wall at the Gunks.

His words, unknowingly to him, warm my heart, manifesting itself into a faint smirk that slowly spreads across my face and becomes glaringly obvious to my girlfriend, Jennie, and the other parents we share ropes with regularly.

The topic of climbing with children has been beaten like a dusty rug across a wooden railing. We’ve all seen the parents (and perhaps some of us are the parents), struggling to spread waning enthusiasm on their children with little—or no—calibrated response. These same parents sometimes, but not always, refuse to accept the reality that their child(ren) may not like to climb rocks. At least the same way you and I do.

And that’s okay because the rewards are grand.

Coming from a parent who is currently in the throes of this diminutive maelstrom, I can both sympathize and laugh with exhausted humiliation. You see, I’ve concluded that no matter how well-oiled you claim your climbing-with-children-machine is, there will always be a devious little monkey waiting in the bushes with a fist clenched around a heavy wrench.

I subscribe to the auspices that when the decision is born to spawn little crag monsters, you accept the inherent duty to take on a whole laundry list of extraneous responsibilities that “regular” parents have no idea exists.

Toting along the little ones to the cliff is taxing times ten. If it weren’t for the snacks, re-application of various sunblock ointments, time-consuming toys and activities, mini-harnesses, tiny shoes, fuzzy blankets, more snacks, and extra clothes, this task would seem no more stressful than taking a new gym climber out to the cliff for the first time. But our kids are new climbers. And still, some require flat spots to nap.

Your child’s first year or so of outdoor climbing is a mixed bag of fierce, frightening, and frenzied events. And that’s just the parent’s perspective. I can only imagine what it’s like being that small and looking up at whatever piece of stone you’re about to paw and scratch your way up.

Guaranteed, those visceral indicators are loud and clear in the child’s small mind: Big rock; little things to cling onto; big air under my butt; and a rope attached to me. What the heck is all of this?!

Fellow crag parent and dear friend, Alicia, dubbed our elfin crag-occupants the “climbing tribe.” It’s so aptly named seeing as Lord of the Flies regularly plays out cliffside. There’s always a Ralph leading the boys down the left-hand pathway; always a Jack trying to save the society; and sadly, always a sacrificial lamb christened Piggy.

The myriad of other climbing parents who join in are unvaryingly subjecting their children to this measured bedlam of sorts. Is this rewarding?—No, not necessarily, but under the watchful eye of a parent or two, these scenarios can rollercoaster into teachable moments. There are benefits, indeed; however, patience is notably necessary.

Tugging at the fringe of my paternal sanity, I pull a few pieces of gear off my worn rack, placing several on Wyatt’s harness, and giving a couple to his younger brother, Owen, to quell his equity storm.

“Wyatt, keep these on your gear loops until you get back to the ground after you climb, OK?” I urge my little guy, as he gets ready to take off into the vertical.

“Got it, daddy,” Wyatt responds, “On belay?”

climbing parents


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Essay: Climbing Tribe — On Introducing Your Children to Climbing

“Hey, daddy … Where does the climbing stuff go on my harness?”...
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