by Robyn Robledo – “I’m next!” I hear my six year old yelling while I’m still at the top setting the anchors.
“No, I’m next.” I hear her nine year old brother argue back.
My husband steps in and reminds them that there is plenty of time for them both to get in many turns.
They go back to their imaginary world of play while I scream down to my husband to bring me down. As he lowers me, I look to my left and see my sixteen year old daughter leading a much harder route while my thirteen year old daughter is attentively belaying her.
When my feet touch the ground, I see my eighteen year old son has set up the hammock and is enjoy a read. While he has an aversion to heights and no interest in climbing, he still enjoys the solitude of nature and being together as a family. At some point today, I know he will take off for a run and get his adrenaline fix on the trails.
For the past two years this has become the common scenario of our days spent traveling. Whether it be California, Colorado, Canada, or Croatia, we are always seeking out new heights.
Our Family Climbing Story
We were late to the game. I didn’t start climbing until three years ago, but instantly fell in love with what the sport did for me physically and mentally. But the bigger, more important lesson was how it has brought our family together to create bonds that hold us tightly together.
There are many reasons why I drag my kids around the world to climb, but the top five reasons are these.
1. A Family Climbing Experience for Every Ability
Yosemite Decimal System is a rating system for rock climbing routes and all the climbs are rated so you know your level of comfort and can put yourself on an appropriately difficult or easy route. The nice thing is that on the same wall there are often a mix of difficulties making it possible for my younger children to climb easy 5.5 to 5.7 routes, while my older daughters and I climb 5.8 to 5.10. I also love to surf, but the ocean doesn’t deliver waves easy enough for my six year old to paddle in and strong enough for my sixteen year old to shred on at the same time.
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2. Family Climbing Is Better Than a Day at The Beach
I love the beach as much as the next person but there’s only so much lying around, soaking in the sun that I can take. For us, a day spent climbing is the equivalent to another family’s day at the beach or lake. We pack snacks, drinks, maybe a hammock, and a book. Instead of sand toys, my younger kids take our extra draws and slings and create imaginary games. Depending on the weather, we find walls that are in the sun or the shade. Nothing makes me happier than being active in nature with my family.
3. Family Climbing Offers Hands On Learning
Rock climbing is extremely safe but you have to be intelligent and focused. Whether you are a climber on the wall playing detective looking for the next handhold or the belayer responding to your climbers every move, the awareness and attentiveness of the sport helps keep the mind creative and sharp.
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4. Rock Climbing Helps You Earn Your Carbs
In addition to all the calories expended, most family climbing areas require a hike to get to from the car. This approach may be only five minutes if you are somewhere like Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia or Smoke Bluffs Park in Squamish, British Columbia, but this is not the norm. Typically, you can expect a 15 to 30 minute hike each way, and some spots like Smith Rock in Oregon will take about an hour.
I love the amount of exercise my family gets when we spend a day climbing and having a voracious appetite makes dinnertime a very special time for our family. Occasionally, we may use these opportunities to try out the latest brewery in town, but typically we finish our climbing days back in the campground with a huge meal of sourdough bread smothered in grass fed butter, ginormous salads, farm raised meats, dark chocolate, and an ice cold IPA.
5. Family Climbing Give Us Direction
I like that this sport gives us so much focus and direction for our travels. Instead on spending money on tourist traps and going from one restaurant to another in new towns, we sit around a campfire at night with our mountain project app open, looking for our next family climbing destination or planning which walls we will hit the next day that will have something for everyone. It feels like planning a trip to Disneyland, “do you want to do space mountain or California screaming first?” Except that this is adding to the health and well being of my kids.
Ease Into Family Climbing
Rock climbing can be intimidating so if you are new to the sport here are three things you can do to test it out before investing in gear.
Hire a Family Climbing Guide
That’s how I got hooked. I didn’t even have this sport on my radar a few years ago. I just happened to be on Groupon and saw a coupon for rock climbing and thought, “That sounds fun!” Like I said, I was instantly hooked. There are many great guiding services out there, and if you can’t find one you like, come climb with me.
Try an Indoor Family Climbing Gym
Indoor gyms are fun and can be a great place to learn to belay and practice your skills in a systematic approach. Start with 5.5 and 5.6 and remember to keep your fingers a little soft so you don’t overgrip (common for first timers). As you get comfortable, remember to use your legs, keep your hips to the wall, and think feet first. Once you get the basics down, then get outside. The absolute best part of this sport is that it puts you right in the middle of mother nature.
A Good Scramble Leads to Family Climbing
Find some great boulders to climb and scramble over outside. Joshua Tree National Park has some of the greatest big boulders for scrambling, but we’ve also found some great hikes in the UK and in Canada that involve scrambling.
There are rocks everywhere around the world ready to be climbed. Start small with areas in your own hometown then try venturing to new areas. These are some of my favorite rock climbing areas in the world that have been great for beginning lead climbers and families with younger kids. One of the perks of rock climbing is that there are almost always cheap campgrounds or even free areas to camp nearby, making a family climbing trip the perfect, and very inexpensive way, to see the world.
If you are new to camping check out my book 1000 Miles of Memories: How to plan your first epic road trip and save money by camping. This simple and easy-to-read guide will show you why road trips are so much fun and why they create the most memorable experience for your family, as well as give you all the necessary knowledge and how-to’s to plan your own amazing adventure.
If you need even more of a reason to try climbing, I’ve found climbers to be some of the nicest people. I can’t count the number of times a fellow climber has helped me out with beta (information), let me borrow a draw when I’ve been short, learning to set anchors correctly, or just offering words of encouragement. There’s an abundance of rock out there and we climbers want others to experience the magic that happens when your feet leave the ground and you start reaching new heights. See you on the crag.
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Robyn Robledo travels full time with her husband & 5 kids spending their days climbing, surfing, hiking, biking, and camping. She inspires others to live a playful life on her website Nomads with a Purpose and has written 3 books: A Playful Life, 1000 Miles of Memories, & the Road Less Traveled.