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Renewing a love of climbing with the family

September 2, 2017

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 29, 2017

I moved to Boulder, Colorado when I was 34, drawn to the mountains and a community. I was starting graduate school and seeking a fresh start.

Soon my days were filled with studying and outdoor adventure. While hiking, biking, trail running and backpacking ranked high on my list of favorite activities, rock climbing captivated me.

Sure, there was all the gear – the rope, hardware, harness, shoes, helmet — that initially was exciting. But the actual climbing outdoors on a rock formation was engrossing. Studying and feeling every variation in the surface of the rock, learning when to push and pull, gripping with fingers, wedging hands and feet, all in the service of countering gravity, had me fully present in the moment. The ideas, worries and daily happenings that often flooded my over-active mind disappeared. I felt mentally cleansed.

After completing school and returning to regular work, I met Lori, and for a time, amidst our many outdoor adventures, we enjoyed climbing together, enlivened by the experience. Then we married, started a family and more than 10-years passed without us climbing together.

But recently, we returned to Boulder, for a week’s vacation, with our children, Zoe and Adam, who are nearly 11 and 8 years old, respectively. For months leading up to our trip, we discussed and planned the many outdoor adventures that awaited us, including an introduction to rock climbing for the kids. They were thrilled!

Once in Boulder, we set about outfitting Zoe and Adam with basic climbing gear, which we funded through the sale of our family canoe that had sat unused in our backyard for three years. First, we visited an old haunt — a gear shop — where Zoe and Adam were each fitted for climbing harnesses. Next stop, a friend with a climbing accessory home business, who loaned us a rope and hardware and then allowed Zoe and Adam to each pick out a chalk bag, which climbers use to dust their finger tips for better grip. Last stop, a used equipment shop, where we found discounted climbing shoes for each.

The next day, we loaded our packs with gear, snacks and drinks, drove a short distance to a familiar trail, and hiked to a climbing area with beginner routes, where I could easily secure a rope.

In a short-time the kids were climbing, first Adam, then Zoe, then each a second time. And they were smiling – big smiles — brimming with a sense of accomplishment. And Lori and I were smiling, too — big smiles, brimming with pure joy.

A few days later we enjoyed a second climbing outing, offering Zoe and Adam an opportunity to build their confidence and feel inspired by the Colorado landscape. This time, I watched more closely when they were climbing, noticing how each intently studied the rock surface, moving their bodies with natural ease, and — it seemed to me – fully present with the experience.

And, once again, I felt captivated by the sport I had once loved.

Time will tell whether climbing becomes for Zoe and Adam what it once was for me — and for Lori and me — but for now, I’m simply relishing my renewed love of climbing as a family.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 5, 2017 5:03 pm

    So cool you took the effort to try something new with your kids. I tend to steer away from activities that require much equipment. But so worth it here!!!

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