by Janelle Anderson
Before having children, we loved ticking off multi-pitch climbs which took us to beautiful places we wouldn’t have otherwise considered visiting…places like the Bugaboos, Sawtooths, Wind Rivers and more. We enjoyed the adventure, hard work and rewarding views these climbs provided. When kids entered the picture, our climbing evolved into short and sweet sport climbs. Multi-pitch climbing was a rare event when we had dedicated babysitters. Nevertheless, we retained hope for the future. We dreamed that some day our whole family would be able to rope up and enjoy multi-pitch climbs together. This dream was always in the far off future until this past weekend!
With Danger (10 years old) and Adventure (7 years old), the four off us set off for our first family multi-pitch climb in Boulder, CO. The Flatirons provide fun, easy and highly textured slab routes which we felt would suit our family perfectly. We chose the Direct East Face of the First Flatiron, a 10-ish pitch 5.6, but we planned to bail off to the North Arete when possible (about 7 pitches up). We discussed our plan with the boys the day before, to get them mentally prepared for a new adventure. They seemed psyched but slightly confused on how we were all going to get up the rock face. Having three tied into the end of a rope was a new concept for them.
The Flatirons face straight East so they get direct sunlight until later in the afternoon. The sun can be brutal for sure but we lucked out with passing light clouds keeping the sun at bay.
We weren’t totally sure about how we should tie in the whole crew and the fact that we brought a shorter-than-planned rope didn’t help. We decided that Adventure was the most likely to fall or need top rope security so he was tied in first using a locking carabiner and a figure 8 bite. Danger was tied in the same way about 6 feet lower and then I tied into the end of the rope. On this climb, it worked beautifully. There was a little learning needed, and communication was key so that no one was getting pulled or tugged unexpectedly. Since we were on a really easy climb, I was able to easily assist the boys or give a little spot or encouragement along the way. I don’t think this set up would have worked as well if the climb was more difficult. If the first climber fell, it would be little to no impact on the two following. If the middle climber fell, it would have been exciting for them and the first climber who would have been tugged off. If I fell, well, everyone was in for a real surprise! Luckily, we choose a perfect route so we didn’t have to test the falling scenario. The boys also used an extra long sling and locking biner to use as a back-up tie-in at the belays. While climbing we wrapped the slings around their waist and that really worked well.
The top of Pitch 4. You can see the long slings made things really easy and quick to get the boys tied into the anchors. We were using the red and white Trango Low Bulk 11 Sling (120cm).
Postscript from Mike: Ever since I was a young man, I’ve wanted a family, and I envisioned introducing my kids to climbing — I imagined big climbing adventures while sharing a rope, and pictured these climbs far off in the future. It’s somewhat surreal to realize that I’ve now reached that part of my life, and I’m thrilled to enter this new phase in my climbing career — passing it on to my kids. I will still push myself hard for as long as my mind and body will allow, but I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my climbing “roots” by re-experiencing those longer, moderate classic climbs that drew me to climbing in the first place. Now that my boys are “of age”, I feel like an entire new world is opening up before us, one in which we are no longer tied to single-pitch sport crags. Thanks Lucas and Axel for being such great kids, and having such a great attitude! I’ll never forget this climb, and I look forward to many, many more.
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