I was a climber before I was a parent and a parent before I was a fully qualified Mountaineering Instructor (MIA). If my children didn’t want to climb then I would be ok with that (if they didn’t want to ski then there might have been issues…). I climb, my wife climbs, so you can’t help but notice if your child shows an interest.
“He seems to have quite a good sense of balance”
“She is happy clambering over stuff”
“Did you notice how he ‘mantleshelfed’ onto the garden wall?”
“I know she shouldn’t climb onto the work surface, but that was a definite ‘lay away’ off the fridge that got her there"
This is a two part blog covering my experience in introducing small children to the joys of climbing outside. The areas I will talk about are mainly based in the Peak Districk as that is where I work, however the skills can be taken to any crag.
Below are some ideas as to how to take your child climbing outside for the first time, ways to make it safe, relaxing but above all fun for ALL those involved. This article will not cover climbing indoors. I have nothing against climbing indoors and is a great safe place to take kids but it was a personal decision by me that for my childrens first time climbing it would be outside on proper rock.
At some point you’re going to make the call to take your child climbing. You may not have told your partner this (your partner may not be a climber) but secretly this has been your dream since you left the maternity suite and before you know it you find yourself dreaming of them leading you up the North Wall of the Eiger.
When A was three he was quite used to being outside jumping in puddles, walking on the top of walls, climbing up small shrubs (sorry Grandad) and clambering over small rock when we’d made it out to The Peak. District.
Micro-Scrambling is a brilliant way to introduce the really young to the climbing but this is scrambling for 3yr olds. 5m of rope, a small rock outcrop and the ability to tie a bowline is all you need. The basic rule at this stage is that if you need to use your hands to climb then it will be too much for your little one. The ‘hands in pocket’ descents at the side of a crag will give great adventures for kids, as long as it has a start and an obvious finish. Choose a good weather day and keep the faff down to an absolute minimum. Hands are going to be dirty as are clothes so don't continually try and clean their hands...
The photo to the left shows my son on his first foray into ‘climbing’ going up the little gullys at Burbage North. I just tied the rope around his waist (bowline of course), then I would go up 2-3m to ledge. He would then come up to me, at this point it would probably ham it up a little and really praise his effort. Then I’d head off again for a further 2-3m and repeat the process. The short rope between you means that you are never too far away and they gain comfort from that. At Burbage North the little gullies on the LHS of the crag are only about 10m high but are a big deal to a 3 yr old! Any little outcrop will do where ever is closest to you. Once we made it to the top then we would have a proper celebration with a treat and a sit down to eat said treat. Keep the praise high and don’t push them to do more than they want. If you blow this day they they might not want to come back…
We then headed back down a different way with my son as ‘the Leader’ finding the way down. Again a short rope between you, 1m is enough allows you to maintain control whilst the child believes they are the leader. We went up and down gullies for about 45mins and then stopped before they got tired. Finish at the top, final treat and then go. Don’t over do it, don’t expect too much just concentrate on the fun side.
So the micro-scrambling was a great way to first introduce the rope without the complexity of a harness and any other rules. It's really quick to set up, easy to manage and easy to mainatain enjoyment without any faff. Once you feel that your child has enjoyed that and you think they are ready for the next stage then its time to introduce the harness and helmet. Don't make a missive deal about this. If you muck it up then you'll probably put them off for a while and have a grumpy partner to boot! I'll cover how I managed it with (dare I say) a surprising amount of success in Part two.