Kids Climbing Wall

by Mark Anderson

Growing up, I rarely had the opportunity climb. As a teenager, I occasionally had the chance to try it, typically on the most pitiful excuses for climbing walls you could imagine (one vertical sheet of 4×8 plywood with 2x4s nailed on for holds, and the like). The small geographical area within my reach was completely devoid of rock, but the local libraries had enough books to pique my interest—Steck and Roper’s 50 Classics, Harlin’s Climber’s Guide to North America, Watts’ Smith Rock guide. I knew I wanted climb, despite virtually no experience actually doing it. It wasn’t until the end of college that I finally had sufficient freedom and transportation to really get into it.

I now have two kids, Logan (4.5 years old) and Amelie (2). I sincerely don’t care if they become climbers, but if they choose to pursue it, I want them to have the opportunities that I lacked, and that means regular access to climbing terrain. The Lazy H Barn provides them far more opportunity than I had, but it’s a bit of a hike for their small legs, and they can’t physically open the door. Not to mention, the terrain isn’t exactly designed for them, and the few vertical sections quickly become dull. I expect as they grow up they’ll find it more enticing, but currently they rarely climb in it more than about once a month.

With that in mind, I decided last year to build a climbing wall inside the house, designed specifically for the kids. This would greatly improve their access, especially during winter when our place is frequently snowbound. We have a pair of really kid-friendly gyms on the Front Range (ABC Kids in Boulder and CityROCK in Colorado Springs). These gyms have done a great job of including elements that make the experince fun and entertaining. I wanted to do the same because more than anything, I want climbing to be fun for them.

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding)

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding).

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

A look at the Monkey Bars that connect the two walls.

A look at the Monkey Bars and catwalk that connect the two walls.

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

The finished product.

The finished product.

A closer look at the right half…

A closer look at the right half…

…and the slabby left half.

…and the slabby left half.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

I got a number of great holds sets for this wall from e-Grips. In addition to their outstanding collection of killer normal-human grips, they have a number of sets that are super kid-friendly. Many typical jug sets don’t work so well for kids because their stubby fingers aren’t long enough to reach into the incut part of the “jug”, effectively leaving them with a sloper. The sets described below are kid-tested and great for small hands:

Big Buttons These are the perfect thickness for tiny hands, super incut and non-slopey.

Meridian Pulls Medium-depth edges for adults, moderately-incut full-finger jugs to kids.

Pure Line Finger Buckets Full-hand buckets for small-sized climbers.

Pure Line Mini-Jugs These are actually pretty monstrous from a kids’ perspective—two full hands, but thin enough to wrap their short fingers around.

Jr. Bugguy Interesting shapes, but also plentiful kid-size features. Best on slabby to vertical walls.

Sea Food The Sea Horse and Starfish are among Amelie’s favorite holds.

Jungle Animals Easily Amelie’s favorite set. Every time she comes in the room, she runs and points out the Ape, gesticulating while say “ooh-ooh, ahh-ahh”. Holds like these really do help attract the kids to the wall. That said, this set is non-positive, so best used on a slab.

The wall has been a huge success. My kids love it, and so far, so does every other kid who’s seen it. Instead of me asking Logan if he wants to go out to the barn (to which he usually says “no”), he’s asking me to come climb with him.  Both Logan’s and Amelie’s climbing skills have improved dramatically since it was finished. I really try not to push my kids towards climbing, but if erecting a fluorescent opportunity right in front of their faces influences them, so be it. 🙂

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