Earlier this month, a tragic accident in Orpierre, France, claimed the life of 12-year-old Italian climber Tito Claudio Traversa. Traversa was warming up on a route when the quickdraws used for safety failed and he fell 50 feet to the ground. Traversa was airlifted to a hospital in Grenoble, France, where he died three days later from his injuries.
Traversa was known as a climbing prodigy who conquered some of the hardest routes in the world by the age of 10. The death of this tiny phenom begs the question: Even if kids are passionate about extreme sports, should they be allowed to pursue these risky hobbies?
Younger and younger children are climbing to greater—and riskier—heights. At almost every climbing gym, you can find full-body harnesses made for kids as young as five years old. Predictably, those who start earlier also excel at an earlier age. This is likely why, in recent years, a slew of young climbers—including 12-year-olds Ashima Shiraishi, Brooke Raboutou and Mirko Caballero—have risen through the ranks of the climbing community and now give adults a run for their money. These young people are climbing some of the hardest established routes in the world, leaving many of their older counterparts in the dust.
The issue becomes even more complex when you consider that many young climbers have the sport in their blood. Brooke, for instance, is the daughter of Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou—a five-time national climbing champion and four-time World Cup Champion who previously coached the USA Climbing Team. The family connection means parents understand their child’s passion, as well as the risk involved. And although parents with experience can help their kids become safer climbers, they can’t control for every factor, such as falling rocks or equipment failure.
As we talked over this question, we were reminded of our interview with mountaineering legend Michael Kennedy whose 23-year-old son Hayden now takes on some of the most challenging alpine climbs around the world. Although Michael and his wife, Julie, do have concerns, they still support Hayden in his mission to conquer remote and dangerous peaks.
“Yes, ‘extreme mountaineering’ (a simplistic description I detest) is a dangerous and perhaps foolish pursuit,” Michael said. “Yet the experiences I’ve had in the mountains are among the most profound and powerful of my entire life. Why wouldn’t I want Hayden to feel the same wonder and joy, the same intensity, the same sense of being in the present?”
Readers, we’re interested to know your thoughts on children in extreme sports. Should kids be allowed to be climbers or mountaineers? If so, should there be any additional regulations for young people? Leave your thoughts and comments below.