Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Backpacking in the Bugaboos (and our first family glacier traverse)

I still remember the first time I saw the granite spires of Bugaboo Provincial Park 11 years ago. We had planned a September backpacking trip to the Conrad Kain Hut with friends and it was our first visit to this provincial park in the Purcell Mountains of Southeastern British Columbia.

Going over a rise on the drive in, we caught our first glimpse of Hounds Tooth Spire and Marmolata Peak, and promptly jumped out of the vehicle, mouths wide open! "Did we suddenly get teletransported to Patagonia" I remember asking? "There's no way we're in Canada anymore" was next out of my mouth.

The Bugaboos with the Conrad Kain Hut

I still get the same feeling that I'm been whisked off to South America every time I visit the Bugaboos, even now after my fourth visit, and I am pretty sure I could never become complacent with this park's beauty no matter how many times I return. One thing that has changed over the years though is that "Bugaboo weekend" doesn't have to equate to "climbing weekend."

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with Hounds Tooth Spire as our backdrop

We've just tackled our first family trip to the Conrad Kain Hut this past summer and it was every bit as enjoyable as previous adult trips. We spent a free day at the hut traversing the wildest terrain our son has experienced yet, and did our first glacier walk as a family (something I never imagined we'd be doing with a 7 year old!) We enjoyed scrambling around the Applebee Dome Campground above the hut, sent the dads off to do a fun little scramble up East Post Spire (the first spire that we'll attempt as a family in another year or two,) and entertained ourselves just playing on giant boulders outside our cozy cabin.

Playing on giant boulders outside the Conrad Kain Hut (Bugaboo Glacier in the background)

Getting to Bugaboo Provincial Park

Bugaboo Provincial Park is located between the towns of Golden and Radium Hot Springs in Southeastern British Columbia.You start your trip from the small town of Brisco, where you leave Hwy 95 and switch to gravel roads for the next 50 kms.

While you won't "need" a 4x4 vehicle, it is recommended that you have something with good clearance on the final section of road leading to the parking lot for the Conrad Kain Hut. You'll also want to protect your vehicle with chicken wire when arriving at the parking lot to ward off feisty porcupines who supposedly like to chew on brake lines and tires at night. (You don't need to do this if just taking a day trip up the valley.)

To note if it's been a while since your last trip to the Bugaboos, the road has improved a LOT. Back when we first visited the Bugaboos, you really did need a 4x4 truck. Today you can make it in with pretty much anything if you drive slowly and proceed with care on the rough sections. Also, you don't need to bring your own chicken wire and stakes anymore. There are bins in the parking lot where people are encouraged to leave their used wire for the next user (and they were full.) I'd still encourage you to bring wooden stakes or long pieces of wood though if you have anything kicking around the house.

Protecting the truck from critters with sharp teeth

Hiking to the Conrad Kain Hut

While there certainly are other hiking trails in the park, the one up to the Conrad Kain Hut is definitely the most popular. It's also the hike that will get you closest to the granite spires, and at 4.6 km in length, is definitely doable as a day trip.

We could have hiked in for the day to introduce our gaggle of kids to the Bugaboos, but why would you when there's a gorgeous backcountry hut perched on a bench overlooking the glacier and several large spires including Snowpatch and Hounds Tooth!

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with a gaggle of kids (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

The Alpine Club of Canada website told us to expect a 3 hour hike but we got an early start because nothing ever takes "just 3 hours" with kids. Well, this is one trip where I was pleasantly surprised! Our kids, not burdened down by heavy climbing gear (unlike most visitors to the area,) made it to the hut in LESS than 3 hours! My husband jokes that I was the limiting factor in our speed and that we probably could have made it up in 2.5 hours. (And I'd pretend to be offended except that he's probably right.)

One of the more interesting parts of the trail into the Bugaboos (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

While much of the hike is just "steep walking" on a very well maintained trail, there are a few narrow sections with hand lines and cables. I imagine climbers with heavy packs appreciate the extra security if they are feeling unstable with the weight on their backs. Our kids however, were fine and didn't seem too phased by the narrow ledges we had to traverse. My husband briefly put our son on a length of short rope on the way up but we quickly realized it wasn't necessary at all.

Rock stairs carved into the hiking trail up to the Conrad Kain Hut (are we in Peru now?)

For the kids, the highlight of the hike in was the giant ladder that they had to climb to get up a cliff blocking our way to higher slopes. The ladder is permanently bolted in place and very secure. We still kept a careful watch on the kids though and tried to place an adult right behind the youngest children.

Now if every hiking trail had ladders at the cliff bands! (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Ladder and ledges aside, it was a beautiful hiking trail and not terribly challenging. If I had to choose the hardest thing about this trail I'd actually say that it's the heat!! It gets pretty intense on warm days when you're down in the trees on this trail. Reaching the upper ledges is actually a relief because you finally get a breeze.

Ladder bridge crossing to reach the Hut with Snowpatch Spire in the background


The Conrad Kain Hut (5 Star Backcountry Lodging in the Bugaboos)

It doesn't get much fancier than the Conrad Kain Hut for backcountry "camping." Maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada under the jurisdiction of BC Parks, this is the only ACC hut that can boast of having electricity, hot running water, lights, and heat!

Thanks to a pretty awesome hydro generator, one could easily be fooled into thinking they were in a front country hostel or lodge while staying at the Conrad Kain Hut. You can walk into the kitchen, turn on a tap, and wash your dishes with clean hot water. You can fill your water bottle straight from the tap (no filtering required!) When it's dark, turn on the lights (no propane lanterns here.) And when it starts to cool off at night, the heaters come on guaranteeing a toasty warm hut stay.

The only challenge with staying at the Conrad Kain Hut is knowing that the next hut you stay at will feel very primitive by comparison.

Kitchen facilities at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Unlike a luxury hotel, you will be sharing sleeping accommodations at the hut but you can't really expect much more in the backcountry. And at $25.00 a night per person ($50.00 per family,) I'm ok sharing a bedroom with a few strangers.

Fortunately, there are two floors or levels to spread yourselves out on for sleeping and both are above the main cooking and living area. This isn't one of the smaller huts where you'll sleep, eat, and hang out all in the same room. (thank god!) If your child goes to bed early, just put him or her down on the top floor far away from the main area, and they won't hear a peep.

Room with a view at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

For  more information on the hut and what to bring, visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website.

Morning at the Conrad Kain Hut

Exploring Around the Conrad Kain Hut

One doesn't have to go far to get good views from the hut. Simply look out the windows from the tables where you're playing cards, walk outside to the bathrooms, or take a short jaunt through the boulder gardens towards the Bugaboo Glacier.

Team work! (and believe it or not, nobody fell off any of the boulders!)

Our kids loved playing on the huge boulders and practiced a bit of climbing on the biggest one beside the hut.

Two small boys, a stick, and a giant boulder garden for hours of amusement

I'm pretty sure we could have actually spent the whole day just playing outside the hut without going anywhere for a day hike.

Climbing up the biggest boulder outside the hut

Day Hiking from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to actually go exploring while at the hut? Applebee Dome it is then! The climbers base camp is perched a kilometre above the hut on giant rock slabs. It's an impressive campground to see and the setting is pretty hard to beat for views of the various climbing objectives surrounding the dome.

Applebee dome Campground above the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

We took the kids up the well maintained path towards the campground and wow has this trail improved since I first hiked it 11 years ago!!!! I warned everybody about how hard it would be to hike back down at the end on the slippery gravel trail, only to find that they'd carved out rock steps and made it into a pretty decent hiking trail! Thank you to everybody who helped with that!!

Our group of kids on the way up to Applebee Dome

We didn't go all the way to the campground but cut off earlier towards the Crescent Glacier and the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. We had no intention of taking the kids anywhere dangerous but knew we could safely do a small circuit around the area, traversing the glacier, and returning via the campground for a round trip distance of roughly 7 km.

Hiking towards the Crescent Glacier below Snowpatch Spire (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Crossing the glacier was definitely the highlight of the outing and I have dozens of photos I could share! I had never thought of taking kids as young as as 5 - 10 years old on a glacier traverse but the Crescent Glacier was the perfect choice for a family outing. The part that we were on was flat, crevasse free, and without any technical difficulties.

Approaching the glacier on snow fields and rubble covered ice

Those who had helmets wore them but we were not in any danger from rock fall so they weren't needed in any way. We did put ice cleats on every child and adult though so that there was no risk of slipping and falling into the melt water pond at the bottom of the glacier.

Our mighty boys (ages 7 and 8) on Crescent Glacier in the Bugaboos

The kids had a blast running around on the glacier and it's probably the only time in their lives that they'll get to "play" on a glacier without being tied into a rope, without having to follow safety protocol, or without having to walk single file following a leader. The kids ran wild and free across the glacier and it was magical to see.

The kids leading the way across the Crescent Glacier with Bugaboo Spire in the background

Our only challenge now is finding another equally "safe" glacier to play on next summer! I'm not sure we'll find one.

Such great models these kids make!
Wild and Beautiful Bugaboo Provincial Park
The kids giving me their best "mighty mountain man and woman" poses
Summer Goal: Walk on a Glacier - check!

Getting back to the campground from the glacier actually turned out to be a lot more difficult than we'd expected it to be - and was the crux of the whole outing. There was lots of scrambling involved, short cliff bands, route finding, and false endings where our path would end in cliffs (causing us to either help the kids down or find another route around.)

Helping the kids down cliff bands on the way back to the campground

We also had to get around a small pond which ended up being a bit sketchy in spots (cliffs ending in water on one side, snow ending in water on the other side.) I'm happy to say though that nobody fell in!

Crossing snow slopes on our way back to the Applebee Dome

I was so proud of our kids and of how well they did on this wild and crazy adventure in the Bugaboos. There were definitely challenging moments but they rose to the occasion and kept good attitudes through most of it.

Family photo on Crescent Glacier, Bugaboo Provincial Park

The Best Part about the Trip - the Friends!

The hike out from the hut took roughly 2 to 2.5 hours (not much shorter than the hike in actually) and was uneventful, always a good thing. Best of all though, we'd made new friends on our trip that I hope to do many more trips with in the future.

When Outdoor Bloggers meet for the first time in epic places! (photo: Chris Erickson)

We planned the trip with friends visiting from Utah and this was the first time we'd met in person (despite being great friends on social media for years.)

Strangers to Best Friends in a weekend (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

I'd been collaborating and partnering with Alyssa of the blog, Kid Project, for several years, and this was our first time meeting in person, Utah and Calgary not exactly being neighbors.

The Mighty Bugaboo Junior Explorers

Alyssa and I already knew we'd love each other when we met but fortunately the kids all got along fabulously as well and we ended up spending many days in the mountains together while they spent a month in the Rockies this summer (those stories still to come.) Our husbands even got along super well and got to spend a day doing some multi pitch climbing in August.

The Calgary Team!

Next summer, we have another family from Utah coming to visit us so I'm thinking we'll just continue to invite amazing folks from the US to come visit us for a month each summer. Let me know if you want to come spend a month with us in 2018 and I'll start planning our epic backcountry trip. :)

Hiking out from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to plan your own trip to the Conrad Kain Hut? 

Please visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website for more information on booking huts. You'll need to be a member to make an advanced booking at most huts but reservations at the Conrad Kain Hut don't require membership since it is under the jurisdiction of BC Parks and not located in a national park. You can make a reservation for the Conrad Kain Hut now for next summer and I'd recommend booking early for prime summer spots.

To read Alyssa's trip report and see more of her photos (some featured in this story) follow this link to Backpacking into the Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboos.

Parting shot and my best mountain woman pose

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gym to Crag: How to Transition to Outdoor Rock Climbing

My son has always loved outdoor rock climbing but has never shown much interest in the indoor variety. Fortunately, my husband is an experienced climber with the knowledge, training, and gear required for a family day at the crag. We also have a great group of friends who like to climb so we can meet up with other families for an evening of family climbing after work.

Gym to Crag! Transitioning to Outdoor Climbing

I've participated in many conversations over the past year with families who'd like to reach the same point that we're at with family climbing. However, there are usually things standing in the way:

  • We lack the skill and training to climb outside on our own (knowing how to lead a route and set up a top rope, knowing how to build an anchor, knowing how to clean a route...)

  • We have our harnesses and shoes for inside climbing but don't have the gear for outdoor climbing. (no rope, no "rack" with quick draws and other important pieces of equipment for leading a route, no climbing helmets...)

  • We don't know where to go for outside climbing

  • We don't have anybody to go climbing outside with

  • I don't know if my kids would like it. Would they be safe? Is there protocol to follow at a crag to ensure happy relationships with other climbers? Is it a family-friendly environment at most crags?

Raising Crag Kids from a young age

Step One: Building the Skills you'll need for Outdoor Climbing

As with most sports, you can't just show up without some training, a lesson or two, and a good introduction from an experienced friend or teacher. Climbing is no different except that here, there's no room for errors! (kind of different from joining in on a game of soccer for the first time!)

1. Build your skills inside first.

Learning to climb at the Calgary Climbing Centre
The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre offers classes that will help you transition from indoor to outdoor climbing. With sessions like "Outdoor Transition," and "Complete Learn to Lead,"  you can build your skills at the gym and then move outside with confidence next summer.

The Calgary Climbing Centre also offers lessons (including family lessons) throughout the year at their facilities across the city and Yamnuska Mountain Adventures offers programs as well that will teach you to climb and lead outdoors.

Finally, I highly recommend joining the Alpine Club of Canada if you're serious about climbing. This past summer, the ACC Calgary section offered a cool program called "ROCK-IT! Real Outdoor Climbing Knowledge Introductory Training Program." Kids were allowed to tag along with adult's taking the weekly classes and if I'm correct, it was FREE for ACC members. The program was amazing  from what I heard and it introduced all of the skills required to climb outside. Hopefully the ACC offers this cool program again next summer.

Unfortunately most of these groups won't run too many programs over the winter, but you can find the program that would work best for you and plan to sign up next spring so that you're ready for outdoor climbing next summer. In the meantime, practice your indoor climbing so that you'll be comfortable on the wall when the time comes to move outdoors.

For kids, the Calgary Climbing Centre's "Climb Park" is an awesome intro to climbing

2. Sign up for an Guided or Organized Group Climbing Day

Sign up for a family climbing day with an outdoor club
If you'd rather go outside with a guide or with an organized group, check out the University of Calgary's Outdoor Family Climbing Sessions  next summer. They provide all of the equipment and set up the top ropes so you can just have fun climbing as a family.They also offer Rock Weekends where you can build your skills from indoor to outdoor climbing in a weekend. With an extra day you can try multi-pitch climbing for a day with guides from Yamnuska.

There are also many meet up groups in the city that plan climbing days for adults. Usually other members will have ropes and leading experience so beginners can just practice outdoor top roped climbing. And while this won't help you as a family, you can at least get comfortable climbing outdoors as an adult before you bring the kids (always recommended with any new sport.)

Finally, the Alpine Club of Canada organizes both indoor and outdoor climbing events through their local sections where you can learn from other members with more knowledge, gear, and experience. We're members of the Calgary section and can join up for climbing, scrambles, mountaineering, and even the odd family backcountry trip.

Climbing is always more fun with friends

3. Find a Mentor Family or Group to Teach you the Ropes

When we go out climbing with friends, we always allow novice climbers to come with us. The requirement is that you bring at least one harness for your children to share (ideally one harness per child climbing,) that at least one adult per family can help with belaying (and has their own harness, belay device and locking carabiner,) that you bring helmets for everybody in your family (even a bike helmet for the first time or two out,) and that ideally, if you have a rope, you bring it. If not, we share ropes amongst the group.

Ideally, we go as a large group when inviting new climbing families so that there are enough ropes. More than 2-3 kids per rope and you'll find that everybody is sitting around too much. Hence the photo below:

You'd better bring some toys if you are going to have more than 2-3 kids sharing a rope

Going to the crag with more experienced climbers is beneficial for many reasons:

  • You can share gear that you don't have yet (it takes a long time and a lot of money to collect a good climbing rack)

  • You'll learn proper crag etiquette if you go with an experienced group. (Hopefully anyway!!)

  • You'll learn where to go and can benefit from the guide book your friends probably have showing all of the routes at the local crag.

  • You can brush up on your technique, get some mentoring in the finer points of safety and attention to detail, and even practice your belaying while a more experience climber supervises the first couple of times. Once you are ready to try leading, friends can help you here too and can give you reminders on anything you may be rusty with.

  •  Going with a group gives you "supervisors" on the ground for kids who aren't climbing. It also gives you plenty of adults to carefully monitor younger children who may be hanging out, but not climbing much yet.
Extra adults means extra hands on the ground with younger chiildren


Step Two: Gearing Up for Outdoor Climbing

If you're going to join a club trip or are going to go out with a group of friends, you'll need the following: One harness per member of your family that is climbing or belaying, a belay device per adult who is climbing with a locking carabiner, and a helmet for everybody in your family.

Ideally, you'll invest in your own gear but you could rent the above items for your first time or two out. Ideally you'll also invest in real climbing helmets!  Bike helmets can be used but are not advisable as they are designed for side, front and back impact and not rock fall which is more common than actually falling on a climb and hitting one's head.

Climbing helmets are an investment but they are an important purchase for safety

The next piece of gear that you'll want to invest in is a rope. Even if you can't lead yet, bringing a rope is a good contribution when climbing with friends and shows that you are serious about getting into the sport. I find there are always two to three adults per group who can lead, but often not enough ropes for the 2-3 kids per rope ratio. If you don't want to buy a rope on your own, consider splitting the cost with friends who want to get into climbing.

The rest of your climbing equipment can be built up as you develop the skills to lead and put up a route on your own. At this point, I'm going to assume you'll learn what you need to invest in through the course you're taking or through the friends who are mentoring/teaching you.

We finally invested in real climbing shoes for our son. BIG difference!

Other items I always recommend bringing when climbing as a family:

  • Wet wipes! (trust me, the kids will be filthy at the end of your time out and you'll have to clean them up at least a little before letting them get in the car)

  • Spare clothes for the drive home (or pajamas if climbing in the evening after work)

  • Toys for those times when routes are being set up and for when the kids are waiting their turn to climb. We like sand toys and find they always get used when we bring them. We also like bringing a blanket to sit on while playing, eating snacks, or reading books

  • Lots of snacks!!

  • An emergency "bathroom kit" for those crags that are more than a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. (Even a couple of plastic bags and some wipes will work)

  • A first aid kit and band-aids

  • Bike gloves (many kids will freak out if they cut their hand on a sharp rock or accidentally brush up against a spider hiding in a hole in the wall. This helps!) - and as an adult, bringing gloves helps keep your hands clean when belaying 

  • Long pants if possible. I cringe when I have to let my son wear shorts when climbing on hot days. It always ends bad when he scrapes his leg or knee on a sharp rock.

  • Once your child is ready to climb a 5.6  to 5.7 route I recommend real climbing shoes. Before that kids can get by with a pair of running shoes. We recently upgraded our son's shoes and he can climb way better now! No more skiddering out on the rock, much better grip, and an easier time getting up steep walls.
Off to the crag with our gear and our sand toys

Step Three: Finding your Family Crag Crew

For us, this has been easy because we are friends with many like-minded outdoor families, many that also enjoy rock climbing. If you find yourself alone though and in need of family friends, I can offer a few suggestions.

  1.  Join an adult meet up group or club and hope that some of your new climbing buddies will have kids. Eventually, you might be able to plan some family days at the crag.

  2.  In Calgary, join the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community where many families enjoy rock climbing. There are often posts in the group from families looking for other families to climb with. Sometimes we post official climbing events too from the group.

  3. Refer back to number one (building your skills) and join an organized family climbing day, take family climbing lessons at an indoor gym, or join the Alpine Club of Canada. These are all great ways to make friends who climb.
The kids won't always be on the rock. In those times, they'll want a friend

Step Four: Crag Etiquette and Safety

This is a huge subject that honestly doesn't require me to say a lot. Ideally, you have an outdoor group you climb with and are learning smart etiquette and safety through them. Ideally you've taken rock climbing courses and were taught to belay, to build an anchor, and to pay attention to every little detail (over and over again) from professionals. And ideally, you learned to climb outdoors before bringing the kids with you. (Something I advise with all sports.)

A few things that do come to mind though (that perhaps we can all use reminders for:)

The belayer needs 100% focus at all times
  • Teach the kids to stay back from the wall when they aren't climbing. This way, when somebody screams "rope," from above, you won't have to worry that they are going to be hit in the head while playing with their sand toys, oblivious to what's going on above them. Kids are a distraction when you are trying to belay or climb, and are best entertained a short ways away from the climbing wall for everybody's safety. They also should not be free climbing up the wall when it is not their turn to climb. They are either on belay and actively climbing, or they are away from the wall playing.

  • We like to keep kids in their helmets the whole time we are at the crag. Wasootch Creek near Calgary is great with a group of children though because they can go out into the creek bed to play (ideally with an adult supervisor in case of wildlife) and wouldn't need helmets out here.

  • Don't hog a route! I've seen guided groups show up, claim multiple routes, and then hog the same routes all day (even keeping their ropes up while taking a lunch break.) This isn't entirely cool. When we go as a group, we also share ropes and routes. We work as a team to set up as many ropes as we can and then we all take turns climbing the various routes and even belaying the kids as a group (possible if you trust the other parents in your group.)

  • Keep an eye on your kids! Although "village rules" work in some instances, some climbers don't like kids running around the crag getting in their way. (Understandably so!)

  • Don't be afraid to tell the climbers next to your family that swearing is inappropriate with children present. In turn, be respectful back at them though and don't let your children run around screaming in their climbing space.

  • Always always double check everything. A girlfriend of mine tells a story of how she would have died on a rappel 19 years ago if it weren't for her obsession with double checking. On her last check she caught a mistake she had made that would have definitely killed her if she had leaned back on the rope.  "Climbing is an exercise in risk management, kids are distracting, and there is no room for error." 

  • Teach your children to double check their system too. They can check that their harness is on right, that their knot is correctly tied, that mom or dad's carabiner is locked and that the belay device is set up correctly (kids can and should also take climbing lessons at a local gym when old enough so that they learn their knots, learn how to belay, and learn how to stay safe at the gym or crag.

  • If you bring your dog to the crag, please ensure that he or she is on leash, tied to something (or at the very least if you are not in a park that requires this, that your dog is going to stay put while you are climbing.) People need to pay attention while belaying and don't need your dog running out and trying to knock them over. Some children are also scared of dogs.
The moment your anchor better be bomb proof!


Step Five: Top Tips and Tricks for FUN Family Climbing

For us, we started climbing with our son inside to see if he even liked the sport. We taught him how to come down from a climb (stressing a good "L shape" with his body,) and didn't let him get too high before ensuring he was comfortable with being lowered. We've also always made climbing about "social interaction" and "family fun" rather than about mastering a route. We climb with friends and the kids play as much as they climb. Finally we don't stress getting to the top of a route. If you want to come down, you come down. There might be some encouragement to at least "try" to go a little higher but in the end, the climber should always get to decide when they are ready to come down.

Starting on short walls is always a good idea!

Other advice friends have offered:

Kids are so dang flexible!!
  • Assume the kids might only climb one or two times, and spend the rest of the time goofing around. (Bring toys, books, or other items for them to play with when not climbing.)

  • Forced fun is no fun! If the kids don’t want to climb, they should not have to. Climbing is a "challenge by choice" activity.

  • Climbing is scary. If the kids don't want to do it,  I think it is ok for them to just watch.

  • Make sure your kid is very comfortable being lowered on the rope before they get up too high. (We've had to rescue kids at the crag before with a second adult free climbing up beside the child to help them get down! Not ideal, but it's what happens if you let them get too high before they are ok with coming down!)

  • It is good to have 3 adults at least when climbing with kids. One to lead the climb, one to belay, and one for kid management. Then the belayer can focus properly on belaying. (And personal story, I recently saw a dad out climbing with two children alone. The dad was high up the wall setting up an anchor, and was then belaying his one son up the wall from the anchor. No idea why he was doing that rather than coming down and belaying from the bottom!!! Anyway, the kid got scared trying to climb up and had nobody on the ground to help. He was crying, and dad was way up the wall. It wasn't a cool scenario and one I wouldn't like to see again.)

  • Expect it to take a long time to get your routes set up. Leading a route and building an anchor is no small matter. Plan for some kind of activity to entertain the kids while you take care of this. And if you have a large group of kids, it is going to take a while to get multiple routes up, and to get all kids climbing. This is where it really helps to have adults on the group supervising (yay for parents who don't climb and just come along to offer ground support,) and to bring toys or books.

  • Have the "bug talk" before the kids start climbing. Yes, there will be spiders on the wall. Yes, you will see bugs. Just leave them alone and ignore them. If you have a child who is petrified of spiders or bugs, anticipate a short climbing day or consider bike gloves so that at least they are not touching any bugs.

Kids love climbing up cracks

And last personal notes, I like to make sure we have at least one rope/route set up per two to three children so that they get plenty of opportunities to climb.

Also, it's important to choose a good crag with kids that has a short approach hike and offers plenty of room for the kids to run around when not climbing. Near Calgary, we love Wasootch Creek, and it's not uncommon to see an entire crag full of families climbing here on a sunny Saturday afternoon. (Show up with your own gear and rope, offer to set up a communal route, and you'll meet new friends pretty quickly.)

I highly recommend arriving early at popular crags too if you want to claim an easy wall.

Getting near the top of his route
Finally, if you have a child who doesn't like climbing, don't force them to spend every weekend at the crag out of loyalty to the family and "group interests." The individual is also important.  If you like climbing and the kids don't, find an adult climbing group and let the kids bow out. My husband goes out mid-week after work alone with buddies and gets his adult climbing time in. Then when we go as a family, we can focus on the kids without the adults fighting for time on the wall.

Whatever you do, please don't drag a reluctant child out to the crag for an entire day of sitting there watching you try to climb that 5.12 you've been working on for a month now.

If you do have one child in the family who is less enthusiastic about climbing than the rest of the family, make sure you seek balance (one day of climbing, and then one day of biking - or whatever the child would rather do for a day.)

Make sure they're comfortable with being lowered before you go this high!

Top Gear that We Recommend for Family Climbing

The first big thing you'll need for kids is a harness that really and truly fits and absolutely can not come off over their hips (if using a waist harness.) Kids are top heavy and more prone to flipping upside down if they fall. Full body harnesses prevent this, but they also need to fit well and be sure that the kid can't wriggle out of them. My son has always worn a waist harness but we tried a couple of models before we found the one that was the best fit. We love the one we chose, the Black Diamond Wiz Kids Harness.  

My son's harness even gets used when scrambling

For kids helmet, we love the Edelrid Shield Helmet because it actually FITS! I've seen so many ill fitting helmets on kids that slip around every time they look up or down, and absolutely hate the one I have for myself. But the Edelrid one never slips around and is super comfy. My son wears it for climbing and for scrambling. 

The cutest kids climbing helmet ever! And it fits!!!

We've recently introduced our son to real climbing shoes as well and it's made a HUGE difference! He can climb so much better and isn't skiddering out all over the rock. He was fine in his hiking shoes or sandals when he was younger but now that he's able to climb a 5.6 or 5.7, he needs real shoes with grip. The shoes we have right now are the Mad Monkey Shoes from Mad Rock. We got them through All Out Kids Gear, a local company based out of Alberta with a great collection of outdoor gear.

And note RE buying climbing shoes - buy them a size or two big and just use socks for now. This way you'll get more than one year out of them! 

"Rockin out" with the Mad Money shoes from Mad Rock

I encourage you to check out the All Out Kids Gear website and to order climbing shoes for your child online through them. It's always nice when you can shop local, and you'll be supporting owner Phillip Lund, an Alberta father who loves to take his own kids outside hiking, exploring, and climbing. On the All Out Kids Gear site, you can also check out the Mad Rock Solar Kids Harness and the Mad Rock Mountain Mama harness (The worlds first climbing specific harness for pregnant women.)

And while you're at the All Out Kids site, check out the Kids Bike Gloves from ZippyRooz (I can't say enough about these awesome gloves! Review to follow soon,) the Deuter Child Carriers and Backpacks (including children's backpacks which my son desperately needs in a bigger size for overnight trips) the Kids MSR Snowshoes (going on my personal list right now,) and the Roces adjustable ski boots (two different models for younger and older children) - and also going on my personal shopping list.

Note that there is free Canadian shipping and returns (on most items) from All Out Kids Gear.

Sporting the ZippyRooz  Bike Gloves

Additional Resources

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits 

Calgary's New Climb Park - the Hanger 

How to Keep Warm on Winter Climbing Days (fall climbing for those of us here) - Crag Mama

Climbing with Kids Leads to Lifelong Skills - Outdoor Families Magazine

Tips for Getting Your Fearful Kids Climbing - Kid Project

Crag Courtesies for Climbing Families - Kid Project

Reaching the anchor!

Special thanks to All Out Kids Gear for supplying us with a pair of Mad Monkey Shoes from Mad Rock for Review. All other climbing gear has been purchased on our own and we are not sponsored by any climbing company. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to write a favorable review for any of the gear that we use while climbing.