Despite the rocky start to our climbing year, our family has been trying hard to make up for lost time the past few weekends, and it’s been refreshingly awesome. Typically by this point of the year we are tired of melting off the rock and ready to exchange our climbing gear for paddleboards and kayaks. But after all the spring clovid closures, we have been far less picky with conditions than we usually are by mid-June! Not to mention, the weather has been seasonably tolerable, especially up at Hidden Valley, which is where we’ve spent the past couple of weekends. (Looking to check it out and want beta? Check out this series of posts.)
Two weekends ago the whole family was able to get lots of mileage on some old favorites as well as new to us sends, and this past weekend CragDaddy and I not only ticked our first post-quarantine 5.12s, but also unlocked a new Crag Parent achievement – our 10 year old is officially on the sharp end!!!!
For those of you not familiar with climbing lingo, the “sharp end” refers to lead climbing, which involves bringing the rope up from the bottom and securing to various anchor points along the way. This is different from top-roping, which is what most people think of when they picture a birthday party at a climbing gym – the rope is already hanging from an anchor at the top, and as the climber ascends, the belayer takes up the slack, holding the climber in mid-air in the event the climber falls. In lead climbing, the belayer both takes up and feeds out slack, depending on what the climber needs. A fall while lead climbing has the potential to be much more significant, as many times the last secured anchor point is below the climber, rather than always at the top as it is in top-roping.
Because lead climbing puts a lot more safety responsibility on the climber rather than almost solely the belayer, the decision to do it is not something to be taken lightly. CragDad and I had been on the fence for a while about it with regards to Big C, and had decided a few weeks ago that if he expressed an interest to learn, we would start teaching him…but that we would wait until he brought it up. Fast forward to Saturday when 10 year old Big C watched 13 year old Myles Kish from Greenville, SC work his 13a project out the roof of the Planetarium at Hidden Valley. Apparently seeing someone close to his own age climbing “like the grown-ups” was all the inspiration he needed.
The next day it was all he could talk about. So we decided to take him to an out of the way spot for a Lead Climbing 101 tutorial. We talked about clipping, rope management, the physics of falling, and practiced scenarios on the ground. Then we had him do a “mock lead” on It’s Schwinging 5.6. (Mock leading is where the climber is tied into both a top-rope as well as a lead rope, allowing the climber to practice the components of lead climbing while still on a top rope belay.) He crushed it, and was ready for the real thing…but this particular route had bolts a little farther apart than CragDad or I wanted for his first lead. The route next to it (“Where’s the Beef?”) was the same grade, but slightly steeper with bigger holds, as well as a couple more bolts, all of which meant much safer fall potentials.
He said he was “nervous but excited” as he tied in, which in my opinion was a good thing. I wouldn’t want him to be terrified, but a little bit of nerves shows me he comprehends the added risk, at least as far as a 10 year old is capable of comprehending it.
His first lead went great. He did better than most adults I’ve seen on their first lead. After he got down, his first comment was, “Leading is really fun!!!” This immediately brought to mind the memory of myself on my first lead, Jim Dandy 5.5 at Table Rock, where I clearly remember saying, “If this is what lead climbing feels like, I don’t want any part of it!” (Turns out my first “sport” lead was actually a mixed route and that 25 feet between bolts was not the norm. When ya know better, ya do better 😉 )
His first lead experience was so positive, in fact, that he was chomping at the bit to do another one. After much debate, we settled on Snake Crack 5.9+, a short well-bolted route he had just top-roped the week before. The crux is under the first bolt (which we obviously stick-clipped), and the rest of the climbing is substantially easier. My concern with this one was that some of the clips he would have to make one-handed, as opposed to the awesome hands-free stances he had encountered on “Where’s the Beef?” But he practiced one-handed clipping on the ground the entire time the grown-ups were taking their turns, and by the time his turn came up again he seemed ready. And once again, he crushed it!
As a Cragmama, I couldn’t be prouder of him. As a mom, I think I aged 5 years watching him, especially on the second one, even though he did everything right. Watching your child on the sharp end is nerve-wracking, to say the least. But he has shown every sign I could ask for of his being ready for this, and I am so excited about where this new achievement will take him!
To the parents out there reading this – how old was your child when you first started letting them take some personal risks in their adventures? I’d love to hear stories!