July 26, 2010

Beyond Bouldering

Upon being asked when he started climbing, the Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Næss elegantly replied, "When did you stop climbing?" Most of us were climbers growing up, whether it be trees, or sofas, stairs, or rock walls. As we grow older, most of us neglect that innate desire to climb and challenge ourselves in the vertical realm. For those of us that do climb, the urge to feel the pull of gravity and air beneath our feet manifests in many ways, whether it be climbing a frozen pillar of ice or bouldering under the warm desert sun. Climbing isn't always something that comes naturally, it's a skill that needs to be cultivated not only physically but mentally. Bringing our children out on the rock has seemed like a natural extension of the outdoor activities they already have been accustomed to. Climbing is not something we pushed them into, it's something we allow them to experience themselves and find their own limits and challenges.

While we were traveling near Vancouver this spring, we were camped along a fjord with a few large boulders along the shore. A natural narrow staircase-like feature led up one of them so Elias and I decided to check it out. Upon reaching the top I realized there was no easy way down and had to jump about 10 feet onto the sand. Elias, however, was intent on climbing to the top and it took quite a bit of coercion to get him to stop and climb back down. His ambition was greater than the potential consequences and he would have soon been higher than I safely could have spotted him. I realized then that his desire for climbing was real and that maybe it was time for him to get his own harness. So I promised him when we got back to California we'd see if we could pick one up.

So this summer, we first borrowed a harness Elias' size (and a full body harness for his little brother) and headed to a small little granite wall that I used to take clients to when I worked as a rock climbing guide. I wasn't sure how Elias would react or how far he would get considering I'd never taken anyone his age climbing before. I'd seen plenty of other kids and grown ups freeze up and not be able to tackle the height, or the challenge of finding and using the features to get up. After explaining the easiest way up, I put Elias on belay and let him try to figure as much out on his own as he could. With a bit of coaching and encouragement, he slowly made his way up to the top anchor. For anybody who's ever climbed before knows, getting to the top is often only half the challenge. Rappelling back down can be more unnerving and difficult. I explained that because of his light weight Elias was going to need to really lean back and walk backwards down the cliff. Like a pro he did exactly what he was supposed to and was soon back on flat ground ready for more.

Frêney, of course wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps so we put a harness on him and watched him try to get up the wall. After a few minutes he was frustrated and finished. What seemed like fun wasn't quite as expected. Soon enough though he'll move on from bouldering on rocks his size and be following his brother up longer and more difficult ascents. As outdoor parents we'll be happy to seem them pursue adventures in the mountains and be sure to observe and cultivate their interests, whatever they end up being.


Ellen said...

Wow, good for them having you giving them theese challenges!