If given the option, kids generally wouldn’t choose a documentary when they’re handed the TV remote. But “The Dawn Wall” was different.
Our five only needed to watch the true adventure film of two climbers ascending a sheer granite face on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park once to find themselves identifying every boulder they saw as their own Dawn Wall.
And by every boulder, we mean every single one. If it was small enough for them to stand on, they’d reached the top of their Dawn Wall. If they could climb it just a little bit, they were scrambling up their Dawn Wall. And if they could bounce off of it, they jumped off their Dawn Wall.
Climbing, like racing, seems to be primal.
How often do we as parents cringe as our toddlers attempt to scale something that will definitely require Band-Aids in the moments that follow? How often do we have to tell our elementary-age kids to “get down off of that?” And how many times do we have to remind our kids that door jams and pillars and brick walls in strip malls actually aren’t meant for climbing?
The answer is a lot. Climbing is a natural craving. And, it makes sense. It’s an activity that infuses the climber with confidence, builds strength and endurance, and has the capacity to test limits.
“It’s innate,” agrees Kevin Berk, owner of AZ on the Rocks, an indoor Scottsdale climbing gym. “It’s physically and mentally challenging. … For me, climbing is a metaphor for life.”
As parents, we can revel in the knowledge that climbing pushes kids to make their own decisions on the fly, knowing they have only themselves and the rope clipped to their backs to support them. And by doing that, the pure act of climbing instills a sense of self-trust that is important to feel at an age when the hardest decisions they’re making is between two different slushee flavors or whether they should trade lunches with their friends.
It puts them on paths where they have to overcome obstacles — like scary overhangs or a long reach — in order to move forward, giving them a primer for tough situations they’ll experience in life. And, it strengthens their mental muscle, positioning them in places where they have to rely on personal endurance to carry them through tough spots while testing their physical limits of flexibility and exhaustion.
Yeah. Climbing is a total workout.
Climbing doesn’t involve rights and wrongs, scoreboards or teams. It’s simply the climber and the climb, a live puzzle, a challenge and someone who wants to conquer it. And the sooner they taste that achievement, the sooner it will influence their ability to tackle tough “climbs” in life.
Or, at least that’s what we think. That, and kids just want to do something cool without really knowing how beneficial it is for them.
5 places to start kids climbing
If your kiddo is constantly crawling on the big red ball at Target, grabbing hold of a ledge and trying to pull up, or scrambling to the top of the bedroom doorway, it’s probably time to get them into a harness. Here are a few places to get started:
- AZ on the Rocks is an indoor gym with plenty of routes to tackle, and they teach you how to belay on the spot. 16447 N. 91st St., Suite 105, Scottsdale. 480-502-9777
- Echo Canyon at Camelback Mountain is a difficult trail with lots of bouldering opportunities where parents can engage and supervise climbers who are eager to scramble up and over big boulders. The hike is a challenge, so it may be better to emphasize getting over the boulders rather than getting to the top.
- Papago Park has some areas that are good for scrambling, but nothing official. Take a hike and see where it leads you. 625 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. 602-256-3220
- Phoenix Rock Gym offers spots to climb and boulder, allowing all levels of abilities to find a challenge. Pros teach you how to belay before you climb. 1353 E. University Drive, Tempe. 480-921-8322
- Black Rock Bouldering Gym allows climbers to boulder and hosts classes on climbing, yoga and boot camp-style fitness. 10436 N. 32nd St., Phoenix. 602-843-2724