Alas, but I think my son Jack has the heart of a cragger, not a mountaineer. My dreams of repeating my favorite epic day hikes, backpacking trips, and obscure wilderness climbs together may just have to remain dreams.
You see, from the time he learned to walk, Jack has been avid when it comes to climbing around on rocks. On the other hand, he does not much enjoy a hike of any length. After about a mile, he seems to think that it's just too long.
He's only 8, so there's time, but I think I'll hold off on the plans and permits for now.
Fortunately, we live close to Great Falls Park, where there are scenic but short hiking trails, kayaking opportunities, and, most importantly, cliffs for technical climbing. Although the climbs are only one pitch and the longest are only about 60', I don't complain, for most people on the East Coast do not have decent outdoor climbing within a 30-minute drive from home. Great Falls Park is what helps me keep my sanity living in the Washington, D.C. area; I can't honestly say I like anything else about the area except that the grocery stores have excellent variety on the shelves, and when that's a major plus about an area, that's awfully lame. Oh, and there's no shortage of selection when it comes to good beer and wine; if I lived in one of the many small towns in America that I've visited, I might have to give up drinking because I don't think I can ever again return to Budweiser, Coors, and that ilk!
Last spring, after finally getting off my tail and learning about setting toprope anchors, I asked Jack if he'd like to try doing "real" climbing, the kind you do on a rope. He was eager to do so, and out we went one afternoon.
Knowing he can get frustrated and then lose interest in something, I did get him a kid's harness and helmet but held off on rock shoes, wanting to hold down the cash outlay until I knew he was into climbing.
For his first climb, I picked Jay's Discovery, a 5.1 that feels slightly harder than that and which is located at the Dihedrals crag. Several times, I've scrambled it, and I thus had a good sense of the route and that it would be a good start for Jack.
Considering it was his first time and he was wearing slippery Keens, Jack did an awesome job. Hardest for him was actually coming back down and trusting both me and the rope as I told him it was easier to lean back and basically walk than to climb down with both hands and feet. We're still working on that.
The next time I took him out, it was to climb an unnamed route next to Beginner's Chimney, also at Dihedrals. BC is 5.0, and we downclimbed that to access the base of the climb, and the climb he did instead is, I'd say, 5.2 or 5.3. Before fatherhood really set in as a reality in my mind, this was another route I used to free solo just for fun. Now I look at it and ask myself what I was thinking to do that as a father of young children. Sigh.
Anyway, this one was a little tougher for Jack, but he did nail it. Twice. I ordered some rock shoes as a birthday present (September).
The harder alternate to Beginner's Chimney
Looking down the route
There was one more climbing outing that spring, to Carderock, but it was a bit of a throwaway because we invited Jack's younger cousin, who was climbing for the first time, which meant we stuck to things that were already too easy for Jack.
Then came the summer, most of which Jack spent in Las Vegas with his grandparents. Out there, he did not do any roped climbing, but I did take him out early one morning to climb Red Cap in Red Rock Canyon, which he smugly announced was easy. We climbed the west face and made sure to get up and down before the sun got high enough to turn it into an inferno.
In the fall, weather, games, and other obligations meant we only got out one weekend before the days turned too cold, but Jack made the most of it. To get started, I set up at Sandbox Corner, an easy 5.4 that is super-popular, many a Great Falls climber's first climb, and often snapped up by climbing classes. But we had it to ourselves this day.
5.4 was, to that date, the hardest Jack had been on, and I was eager to see how he'd do. As it turned out, he had no trouble at all. After climbing it a second time, he even said it was way too easy. Then he climbed the 5.7-ish wall to its right, and although he didn't get onto the 5.7 spots, he definitely played on harder than 5.4. As I started to consider nearby 5.6 Sandbox Crack, people started showing up, so I asked if he wanted to leave and go home or go find a different spot.
Opting for the latter, he let me lead him a short distance downstream to his former haunt Dihedrals. There, I set up for Pride and Prejudice, two side-by-side area classics. Pride is 5.4 and Prejudice 5.5, but almost everyone who has climbed them agrees that Pride is harder. Now Jack is among them, for although they both challenged him, he kept at them and beat them (and he agreed Pride was harder). Honestly, I was extremely proud. Like a lot of kids his age, Jack can get really frustrated if something is hard, and then he wants to give up, but he never for a second displayed that when climbing that day or any of the others. Maybe climbing is going to be his thing!
Pride and Prejudice
Winter hasn't given us any good chances to climb. On a couple of warm days, I took Jack to Great Falls for some Class 3 and 4 scrambling, but I had his younger brother, too, and there was no way I could responsibly watch one while belaying the other, especially with a river famous for its deadly currents and drownings so close by, and even more especially since we were by one of its most turbulent stretches.
But spring is around the corner. I already have a lot of climbs in mind. And when Jack gets a bit bigger and can belay me, it will be even better!
...and for Jack. I'm sure you're proud, as well as happy to see him enjoying the crags. Even though he doesn't love the hiking yet, I'm sure you're already thinking of all the summit opportunities and associated epic trips these climbing skills will allow you two to reach once he finally does get the bug. Trust me, 8 is still pretty young for the hiking thing...so don't panic yet! Fortunately, spring is right around the corner. (Hard to believe Jack is 8 already...)