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.
A BRUSH WITH A LEGEND
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.”
GOLD CRYSTALS AND CREEPY CRAWLIES
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!