Climbing with the kids
Friday, 06 April 2018
Mark and his children climbing
I was on the first move; pop up to the right hand crimp, high left foot, reach up left for the small pinch, this was the move I always missed, when suddenly an improbably noisy and recognisable torrent of voices erupted through my reverie. A seemingly endless tide of children poured into the climbing wall, swarming beneath my feet. My focus disappeared like the cats from my garden. A choice here; years ago, I would have instantly deserted my post and hidden away from the noise in another room; but I work with kids nowadays and what’s more I have two children of my own. Children are the future of climbing and we can learn a lot from watching them climb. Now I stick around; watch them climb, offer some tips, in my friendly intrusive way, or possibly be blown away by how brilliantly they climb.
My son is 11. He began climbing when he was about 3 or 4. Initially he would just be mucking about on the rock, or pulling on the nearest holds and enjoying doing what dad did but as he’s grown and gained in strength, he’s developed technique and is apparently as light as a feather, able to levitate up routes that I’ve previously found really tough.
My daughter also climbs, she’s 8, and although she’s not as keen as my son she does enjoy it and also has good technique. We have climbed all over Britain; the Peaks, Roaches, Yorkshire, Lake District, Portland, Wye Valley, Southern Sandstone and have also used many climbing walls in Britain. My children started climbing at Brookes which is the same place I started and has become our go to climbing arena.
When I think about climbing with my kids, some memorable adventures come speedily to mind. Burbage Edge quarry, attempting Violence, V7, I thought from watching it on Youtube that it would be easy. How wrong I was… When my son and I stood in front of it, in its green, slightly overhanging and in-need-of-a-clean glory, I wasn’t so sure. It was at the end of a day bouldering in Burbage Valley, we had about 15 minutes before we had to get back to the car. Hmmmmm! My son interrupted my gradually draining confidence, ‘we’ll manage that, it looks easy!’ I wasn’t convinced, particularly after closer inspection, when I realised why it was V7 and that it also needed a lot of cleaning! This rapidly became a triumphant and never to be forgotten 45 minutes (not really 15 minutes at all).
The confidence and optimism pouring off my son seemed to envelop both of us and after several attempts, we both managed the route. I felt euphoric, topping out on the frankly horrible top out. When my son managed the route an indescribable feeling of untampered joy flooded my whole being. Words failed me for a few minutes as I watched him scramble over the lip and on to the top and back down to the mats. Those few minutes encapsulated everything about bouldering for me, maybe even about life. We hugged and time seemed to pause for a moment as we both drank in the excitement, memorising every detail of our mini adventure. As one, we looked at each other grinning like idiots, whooping and high-fiveing, the whole thing imprinted in my mind.
‘Oh blimey, we’d better get back to the car;’ wife and daughter waiting, hopefully patiently! We flew like rabid dogs back along the path using the bouldering mat on my back for wings. My son was sprinting Usain Bolt-like back to the car and both of us were in desperate laughter. Late! Oops, no idea how long we’ve been and we didn’t really care. The shared exhilaration with my son I can still feel now.
My kids and I have enjoyed many other similarly memorable and exciting times together, on rock, inside on a wall, when the whole family is climbing together and reveling in each other’s successes there is nothing better! I remember my daughter’s first proper bouldering route on one of the boulders at The Cuttings on Portland. I was scared, excited, disbelieving and noisy all at once as she climbed in her dress and newly acquired rock shoes. She used to like climbing in a dress but as the routes have got a bit more serious she moved to the ever stylish leopard print leggings; very her! I’m sure, or rather I hope that my kids have learnt a lot from watching my wife and I climb but I know I’ve learnt a lot from watching them.
Kids seem to climb with a natural technique, which together with a fearless disregard for height or danger means they seem to climb completely ‘in the moment’, totally focused on this move and the next. Fortunately my kids haven’t had any nasty falls so they both climb positively but with plenty of respect for the terrain.
For the last few years I have also taken kids from the school I work at to climb at Brookes. Some of them seem to gravitate towards rope climbing (my daughter loves this), while others are really into bouldering. I prefer the latter and have been able to spend a lot of time watching how they try climbing specific routes, particularly those set for adults, which are inevitably very reachy for children. I’m amazed at how they manage to get into a position that enables them to reach a distant hold or, like my son, they use dynamic movement and go for moves that I would dismiss as being too difficult. Many kids I’ve worked with are adept at smearing or bridging and using the flat wall to manoeuvre themselves into the right position. Far from being a noisy distraction these kids are serious climbers. It seems too that the world over young climbers are being incredibly successful; Ashima Shiraishi, the Raboutous, Jim Pope and Molly Thompson-Smith to name but a few. Spend a little time at Brookes on the weekend and you’ll bump into some amazing young climbers making the hardest routes look easy.
On a personal level I really hope my own kids continue to climb, to enjoy climbing with us as a family and to keep pushing me to improve (or just to keep up!) They will only get better whereas I will have to work very hard to maintain my level. I will keep watching them for any tips I can use to stay strong on the holds and hope to feed off their energy and enthusiasm to get me up those tricky Brookes routes.
If you would like to have a go at climbing, why not visit our climbing wall at Oxford Brookes University Centre for Sport in Headington. For more information about climbing, email email@example.com or visit the centre for a chat.
Written by Mark Cobb, Brookes Climb Amassador.