Climbing with Kids: Choosing a Crag

Tips on finding a climb that suits the whole family

Not all crags are created equal. The characteristics that make a climbing area perfect depend on what your party is looking for and, believe it or not, there's more to it than finding good rock. At least when you're a parent. Since Cragbaby came along, we've realized that there's more to a great day than just great climbing. Here’s a list of the factors we consider when we are gearing up for a day out on the rocks:

Distance
Remember that short little legs tire out quickly. If your little ones are hiking in under their own power, make sure you choose distances that are short enough to remain enjoyable. Take breaks when you need to, and don’t forget to bring plenty of snacks and water for along the way. If the kiddos are getting to the crag via YOU (in a front carrier or backpack), the question is merely how far you want to hike with the added weight of a growing boy or girl.

Terrain
Again, if your child is young enough to be in a carrier, then the “do-ability” of an approach is based on you—make sure you're comfortable with the amount of scrambling and hiking involved. Research beforehand on whether or not there are any steeper, fifth-class sections on the hike that might require the use of a fixed line or ladder, or other hazards such as water crossings or scree slopes, and then decide if you can maneuver through those sections safely. (You might have to get creative—we discovered that we can still do ladders safely by gearing up beforehand and anchoring in on the rungs.)

Cliff Base
Remember that once you get there, you are staying there…probably all day. Make sure that the base of the routes you want to climb provide ample room for all of your gear (which you will have three times more of than your non-kid partners!). If you’ve got a baby who isn’t mobile yet, you’ll need to have enough flat, level ground to spread out a blanket for naps and diaper changes. For toddlers and older children, you’ll need an even bigger area to make exploration safe. Steer clear of steep slopes and drop-offs, poison ivy and thorns, as well as rocky areas. (Although kid-sized boulders are great entertainment for older kids to practice what the grown-ups are doing, they can be difficult to maneuver around for early walkers.)

Crowd Control
“Party Crags” with large groups of (often loud) climbers make it hard for little tykes to get some midday shut-eye, which in turn makes it a lot harder on everyone involved. Look for crags that get less traffic or have plenty of routes to accomodate lots of people.

Exit Strategy
Also don’t forget that usually what (and who) hikes down must hike up, and vice versa.  Some approaches are a lot more difficult on the way out, so be sure to factor that in when you're planning your day (it might not be wise to try and squeeze in one more climb if you’re wanting to make it out by dark).

Know Your Limits
But probably the most important thing to remember is that all of these factors are relative to your own ability/comfort level, as well as the temperament and age of your child.  Be aware of both your and your child’s limits, and don’t do anything stupid that lands you both in an unsafe situation.

Click here for a list of Erica's top family-friendly crags in the Southeast.
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To read more gear reviews, helpful tips and how-to’s for taking your family into the great outdoors, check out Erica's blog, Cragmama.com, an online resource for adventurous families and families-to-be.

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