Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rock Climbing With Kids in Kananaskis

I'm not sure I ever thought we'd be the family heading out to the crag on a Sunday afternoon with a child in tow, but that's exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago while camping in Kananaskis.  We needed something to do en route back to Calgary and thought, hey, why don't we head over to Wasootch Creek and get Noah and his friends up on the rock!

First Outdoor Climb at Wasootch Creek

Family Climbing History:

My son has taken some indoor climbing classes and my husband takes him to a gym a few times a year but that's it for Noah's previous climbing experience.  Up until his first day at Wasootch, he had never climbed outdoors and I was a little nervous that it would end up being a train wreck!  I envisioned tears, wailing, and a child frozen way up this cliff - unable to go up or down.  I was very wrong!  Noah LOVES outdoor climbing!  Much more than his mom (me) who has decided she prefers every other outdoor sport under the sun.  He is definitely Daddy's boy when it comes to climbing!

LOVING his first outdoor climbing experience!

Climbing at the Wasootch Slabs

To get to the Wasootch Slabs, we parked at the Wasootch Day Use Area and hiked a short ways up the creek until we reached the popular climbing area.   The Wasootch Slabs are very close to Kananaskis Village and it being a Sunday afternoon, were very busy.

Walking to the slabs in Wasootch Creek

Trying to Find a Route

We probably spent a good half hour (or more) walking around the slabs trying to find an easy place to let the kids climb.  Most of the easy routes were already claimed and the popular walls were crowded with groups or other families.  I definitely learned a few things about rock climbing on weekends.   Most importantly, go early if you need an easy route or wall!

The kids managed to entertain themselves while we searched out a wall for them to climb

We finally ended up way down at the D Slab which was a bit farther than we wanted to hike in, but at least our wall was empty and there was nobody climbing nearby to knock rocks down on our children.

On the downside, in an attempt to choose a super easy wall, we ended up picking an unofficial route for the kids that had no anchor point.   It was awesome in that the adults in our group could practically scramble it without ropes (meaning it was easy for two preschoolers), but we needed to do a fair bit of house cleaning before we would let the kids climb.  Our chosen route wasn't exactly what most climbers would be seeking out so it was very untouched and debris-covered.  We knocked down all of the loose rocks we could find and tried to make our "unofficial" route as clean and safe for the kids as possible. 

We used large trees at the top of our route as an anchor, put up our rope, and then finally got to let the kids climb about an hour after the time we arrived in the canyon. 

Getting ready for the first climb and testing the harness
First Climb

Outfitting the Kids to Climb

Being that this was the first time the kids had ever climbed outside, we didn't have official climbing helmets for them but we had our son wear his hockey helmet knowing it was at least tested for multiple impact.  Noah already has a great harness that we bought him for indoor climbing and the only other thing we needed was climbing shoes which we figure can wait.  For now, he climbs in his Keen Sandals.  (and rest assured, we will buy Noah a proper climbing helmet!  I promise.  So no need to leave comments below about the choice of helmet we used for this trip.)

The kids climbing in their KEEN shoes

Noah LOVES Outdoor Climbing

We were pretty shocked once Noah got up on the wall because he's never done exceptionally well at indoor climbing and I know from experience that outdoor climbing is harder.  Somehow though, Noah LOVES outdoor climbing and has none of the fear that he does inside.  Go figure!

The only challenge was in getting him to sit in his harness to come down.  I swear his fingers were glued to the wall and there was no way he was letting go of the rock to let us lower him.  Finally, my friend scrambled up to help him figure out the whole lowering process (which I promise, we did teach him in the gym) and after that, he quickly became a pro. at the whole thing!

We were very glad that we had chosen an easy route for the kids' first climb because there was a lot of adult scrambling up and down to help out the first few times.  By the end, Noah needed zero help on the wall and could be guided from the bottom, but it took a few attempts before that would work efficiently.

Finally figured out the whole lowering process

Lessons we learned from our first family rock climbing day


One - Go early to claim the easy routes!
Easy First Climb

Two - Bring a guide book with you so that you know approximately where in the crag you should be looking for family routes.  For this area, you want to buy Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies.

Three - Go as a group.  Multiple parents make the process much easier because the person belaying is hardly the best choice to hand out snacks to the kids waiting at the bottom!  Kids can also play together while waiting for their turn to climb (and waiting around, let's admit, isn't the most fun part of climbing.)  We had four adults and always had two on duty to help the child climbing, with the other two supervising the kids playing below or taking photos.

Four - Choose easy routes when kids are just learning and don't let them go too high until they know how to come down!  Sounds straight forward but my son just wanted to keep going higher, and higher, and higher - and THEN he figured out that he didn't know how to come down.  That was kind of a problem. 

Five - Choose a route that is easy for you, the adult!  The route we chose was more of a scramble than a climb and it made it easy to climb alongside the kids when they needed a hand here or there.

Dad giving a helping hand for lowering

We definitely plan to take Noah climbing again and I see a climbing helmet on the shopping list.

Learning to Climb!


  1. What a fascinating post! I wonder whether climbing outside just felt more organic and natural to Noah. Glad it worked out so well for all of you.

    1. Thanks Gail. I'm glad it worked out too! Always nice to have a trip work out better than expected.