Climbing as a Parent

7:21 p.m. on February 5, 2007 (EST)
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I’ve often wondered how other people deal with this issue. If you are a parent and a climber/mountaineer, what risks are you willing to take and which ones are you unwilling to take in climbing, since your child would be affected by any accident to you?

One extreme would be never climbing (at least as long as you have a minor) and the other extreme would be not changing how or when you climb at all. However, I suspect most people fall somewhere in that huge middle range.

So, when/if you had/have kids, did you make up climbing rules with your spouse/partner? Did your spouse/partner (if they climb) continue to do so? Would you climb with your spouse/partner? Would you climb only up to a certain level? No leading? Or did you forget making up rules and decide you’d just do it as long as you felt comfortable?

I’m not looking for any right or wrong answers, but am just curious about how other people have handled the issue of being a climber and a responsible parent.

8:42 p.m. on February 5, 2007 (EST)
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In talking to many people over the years, I appear to be in a very small minority, albeit one heavily influenced by my mentors. I not only did not change my climbing, but I started introducing my son to climbing and skiing at a fairly young age. His first backpack was in the Canadian Rockies at about age 3. Barb dropped me off at the trailhead into the Bugaboos and she and Young Son headed for Lake Ohara. It wasn't much of a backpack for them - take the bus from the parking area to the lodge and backpack a half-mile to the campground. But it also turned into William's first snowcamp (yes, it snows in the Canadian Rockies in summer).

And yes, I taught him technical climbing by the time he was 9 or 10 - and he skis better than I do, as well.

Among my mentors were John and Ruth Mendenhall, both of whose daughters Vivian and Valerie, climbed the Matterhorn at a very young age. John Wedberg was another partner and mentor in the 1960s. His son, Kurt, is a professional guide these days (I ran into him down in Antarctica at Vinson Base Camp). John Harlan, father of John Harlan III, the well-known author and editor of the American Alpine Journal, was another acquaintance who did not change his climbing or skiing (died on the Eiger).

On the other hand, I know many climbers who decided they had "responsibilities" to their families as soon as they got married, often even before they had kids.

The way I look at it, climbing, backpacking, backcountry skiing, and such activities are a fundamental part of who I am. I plan to do them for many years to come, so I consider the risks I undertake and how to deal with them. I would also note that more climbers and backcountry skiers of my acquaintance and with whom I have had adventures have died in car accidents and, at my advanced age, of heart attacks, strokes, and cancer than in climbing. Consider that statistically, half of all Americans will be involved in a serious car accident during their lifetimes (in my case, it was someone who ran a stop sign on a small residential street and hit me right at the driver's door pillar without slowing - "didn't see the stop sign" - even though I was on a 4-lane major street - totaled her car and left mine barely drivable to the body shop a half mile away).

If you have kids, yeah, you have some responsibility for providing for their continued well-being. But that goes whether you are climbing, working in a convenience store (do you wear your flak-jacket?), commute more than a couple miles to work, or just live in Florida's hurricane zone, California's earthquake zone, Washington State's lahar zone, or in New England where they have ice storms and people slide off the roads.

So have you written your will, with provisions for care of the kids? Do you max your credit cards and mortgage so there is no money to care for the kids or send them to college when you aren't there to take care of that? Accidents, natural disasters, and pandemics happen. These are more risky than climbing, even though we would like to believe "it can never happen to me."

Take care out there, no matter what your activity. Know the risks, including the part about driving to and from the activity (and your job and your grocery shopping), take precautions, stay alert, and have that emergency kit close at hand at all times.

Oh, yeah, didn't answer the specific questions -

"did you make up climbing rules with your spouse/partner?"

We used to climb together, until Barb tore her ACL while following Young Son through the trees while skiing - Adults should NEVER follow 9 or 10 yr olds on skis through the trees!

"Did your spouse/partner (if they climb) continue to do so? "

Ummm, well, yes, until the ski incident slowed her climbing - the knee never healed properly, so her climbing is at a lower level these days. But she still goes BC skiing with me, and she orienteers on advanced courses, albeit at a leisurely pace.

"Would you climb with your spouse/partner?"

Yup. Did (look on my website for some photos of us climbing together). Still do some. Barb's a great rope gun when I do top rope or (shudder) "sport" climbs ("Sport climbing is neither")

"Would you climb only up to a certain level? No leading? Or did you forget making up rules and decide you’d just do it as long as you felt comfortable?"

That's what I've always done. Well, I do push things to the slightly uncomfortable level - that's the challenge, after all.

10:00 a.m. on February 12, 2007 (EST)
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Seems like every time I'm out in the BC or on a hill I'm wishing I was with my kids & wife & wondering why I'm doing this & when I'm with them here at the house I'm wishing I was on a hill somewhere. Hmmm...

I do know that I've lowered my level of risks that I'd take (reduced risk exposure) but it hasn't negativley affected the quality of the time, just reduced the quantity of time climbing.

10:57 a.m. on February 12, 2007 (EST)
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I've taken my kids into the woods since they were quite young - my middle child is quite the rock climber (at 17) - she loves it. No matter what stage of life you're in, should tragedy befall you (be it a fall on K2 or an accident on interstate 81) you're going to leave people behind who will mourn your passing and miss you. All you can really do is have your will and finances in order -

I probably take fewer foolish risks now than I did when I was younger - but feel that's more of a function of getting older - and dealing with my own mortality - than a concern for my families future. I find myself less apt to accept long leadouts on marginal protection at 48 than I accepted at 18 - but again - that's a case of knowing I don't heal as fast - and knowing that a lot of the joint pain I feel now is a direct result of falls I took years ago.

I believe that, as a parent, the best thing you can do is to set an example of identifying and dealing with risks, probably the greatest disservice you can do is to attempt to eliminate all risk from your life - were you to do that you'd end up sitting and doing nothing - not a great example for children.

Interesting topic - I just read this morning that a guy who was kayaking across the tasman sea disappeared over the weekend - leaving behind a wife and three year old. He had paddled almost 1000KM and was 80KM from his goal -

8:37 p.m. on March 24, 2007 (EDT)
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Stopped climbing before I had kids (moved away from climbing friends. Spouse has no interest in climbing, and then we had kids.

I have allowed their existence and that percieved need to be more responsible to keep me from climbing again. Oddly I do ride my bicycle on roads which I consider more hazardous than rock climbing or BC skiing.

Can't wait for the trails to dry up enough for dirt rides. My son has finally expressed an interest in both nordic sking and now mountain bikes. his fear of high places will probably keep him off of the rocks nad out of the tree-stands.


9:59 a.m. on April 19, 2007 (EDT)
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My kids (three of them) had started climbing when they were 5 years old. I would belay them and we climbed only top roped. I would also use a chest harness at times if the grade called for it. As they grew older they started belaying (with me backing up the belay). As they grew in age, maturity and skill, they were weened on belaying with a autoblock. They are all teenagers now and they belay without a backup (auto block or another adult backing them up). My two oldest teenagers 15 and 16 y/o are now begining sport climbing and are setting up thier own TR sites by themselfs. They are also able to do some basic self rescues. I dont normally climb with anybody else but my wife and three kids.

Kids are amazing people. They learn quickly and are very eager to learn new things. All three of my kids has been SCUBA diving since the age of eight and received their open water certifications at age 12. They also progressed into rescue diving, ice diving, wreck diving and Nitrox. Some of these classes are pretty complicated (at least for me they were) but yet my kids did well on thier training.

June 20, 2018
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