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Rock Climbing With Kids in Leavenworth and Vantage Washington

It was more than thir­ty years ago when I first learned to rock climb in Leav­en­worth dur­ing a moun­taineer­ing course – I was a kid myself, a mere 15 year-old­er. Now, with two kids, it’s come full cir­cle with me being the teacher and my kids being taught.

With the usu­al enthu­si­asm that any par­ent has to share their pas­sions I began to slow­ly intro­duce rock climb­ing to my old­est daugh­ter Grace. I tem­pered my excite­ment with the real­iza­tion that she just may not be inter­est­ed. But, after a few fits and starts, we were off and running.

Grace gears up!

Ini­tial­ly suc­cess was mea­sured in feet, not the num­ber of pitch­es. When Grace was five, she made a focused effort up fif­teen feet of rock it was her­ald­ed a great suc­cess, regard­less of the five minute break enroute to take in a look at a spi­der web intri­cate­ly spread across a small nook in the rock. And so it became an exer­cise in patience as Grace’s inter­est was allowed to take a nat­ur­al, un-forced course by an over-eager parent.

Up she goes!

After a few more out­ings, all timed to match the atten­tion span of a young mind, it seemed a gen­uine inter­est was bub­bling up. Much as I trad­ed in my foot­ball cleats and base­ball glove for rock shoes in my youth, Grace put away her soc­cer shoes and bal­let slip­pers dur­ing the sum­mer months and we head­ed for the cliffs and adventure.


One hot Leav­en­worth after­noon we hiked up to do some climb­ing with our friends Bob and his daugh­ter McKen­na. Our des­ti­na­tion, some five hun­dred feet above the Ici­cle Canyon, was apt­ly named Play­ground Point and offered a hand­ful of 5.5−5.6 routes. Grace, slight­ly over­heat­ed from the walk up, decid­ed to pour water over her­self to cool down before climb­ing. While orga­niz­ing gear the climb­ing leg­end Fred Beck­ey came down and took a break in the shade with us.

Grace anx­ious to climb and not so enam­ored of the griz­zled old man hawk­ing up phlegm next to her decid­ed she need­ed to get out of her wet pants and get shorts on- a rea­son­able request. Despite his age of 84, his well-known antics as a world class phi­lan­der­er gave me pause as I stripped Grace down to her wet skivvies with the ancient climber mere feet away.

Fred Beck­ey pays a visit

Fred, unin­ter­est­ed in the offer to climb some routes with us, mut­tered some­thing about back pain and hawked anoth­er loo­gie near­by. He was how­ev­er, mild­ly curi­ous that two young girls would be climb­ing, and asked how they did on the hike up with some gen­uine inter­est but also with some mea­sure to see if he was being out done by a six year-old and nine year-old. As the girls made their way up a cou­ple of 5.6s in fine style Fred grum­bled some­thing like, What are these girls doing up here any­way, they should be water ski­ing, not rock climbing.”


On a rare, warm win­ter day this past Feb., 2009, Grace and I ven­tured over to the east side of the Cas­cades to climb the basalt columns in the French­man Coulée near Van­tage, Wash­ing­ton. Excit­ed by the prospects of eas­i­er climbs we head­ed to the Fat Man’s Wall first to climb a forty foot route.

Halfway up our first route, the 5.5 Teas­er, Grace dis­cov­ers some min­er­al deposit that diverts here atten­tion to the task at hand. I found some gold!” she pro­claims, for­get­ting that she is stand­ing about thir­ty feet above the ground on a foothold no wider than a few fin­ger widths. After a brief geol­o­gy talk about the basalt columns and their vol­canic ori­gin, she’s back at it, ner­vous, yet hav­ing fun with the chal­lenge. Gold crys­tals aside, rock climb­ing has the abil­i­ty to nar­row one’s focus maybe more than any oth­er sport- your world encom­pass­es as far as the arm can reach and the legs span. It’s no dif­fer­ent for a sev­en year-old as I watch Grace work out the prob­lems that block easy access to the top of the route. While care­ful­ly offer­ing encour­age­ment, but not push­ing her too hard, she arrives at the top of the climb and rings the imag­i­nary bell that we make as her goal.

Next up the Hen House and the 5.5 Big Black Hen, pro­vid­ed I can get Grace past her fas­ci­na­tion with stack­ing the inter­est­ing geo­met­ri­cal chinks of rock that have fall­en off the columns over the eons and line the trail. What would be a five minute walk turns into twen­ty min­utes as we final­ly arrive at the base. Here Grace inves­ti­gates a hol­low in a pile of rocks where a rat­tlesnake may reside, or at least some small ver­min. Not want­i­ng to damper her inter­est, I set aside the rope and bend down for a look myself, dar­ing to stick my hand in there to see what may lie in the dark recess­es and in the process give Grace a fright. All in good time.

Final­ly we’re back on the rock. Grace improves on this the third and last climb of the day as she stands over her feet more, side pulls, high steps, and moves more con­fi­dent­ly up the rock. Then, ten feet from the top she assess­es the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ani­mals being in the crack that allows the final moves to the top. Only bats I say,” to which she is not amused as she moves quick­ly away from the crack. Just kid­ding,” I tell her; though in deep­er cracks she knows that indeed bats can be heard squeak­ing away if fin­gers get insert­ed too close. With that she strug­gles with the final moves but makes it, end­ing the day on a good note.

Climb­ing with kids is like any endeav­or that chal­lenges and takes them out of their com­fort zone- it can be both reward­ing and frus­trat­ing for par­ents. But, with some rea­son­able expec­ta­tions, patience and a bal­ance of push­ing them along with know­ing when to stop, it is a great way for kids to focus their vast reser­voirs of ener­gy and over­come chal­lenges. Also, unlike oth­er sports, rock climb­ing offers an amaz­ing pro­gres­sion that allows kids to set goals and the best part, par­ents can take part too! Next up for Grace and me, the 500-foot Cas­tle Rock in Leav­en­worth- can’t wait!

Grace enjoy­ing the end of the day