Crag Courtesies for Climbing Families

I took a deep breath. Exhaled. And with it let go of the stress of my day. I focused in on my next foot placement, moving my hand up into a finger pocket. More than any other sport, climbing helps me unwind and leave the chaos of life behind, if even for a moment.

But then a loud screech, out of excitement or terror I cannot tell.  I lose concentration. My next exhale isn’t one of peace but an internal groan. There are a group of kids at the crag…


Perhaps you are wondering where I am going with this post. Well, I am entering into one of the most heated conversations in the climbing world, after the “bolt or not to bolt” conversation: Should kids be at the crag? And if they are, how should they act? I am, after all, one of the many parents that is bringing my small herd of kids to the crag. Not only that, I champion the effort. I encourage parents to get their kids climbing! All the time!

Boy at Climbing crag

I read a recent article on crag dogs. In short they said your dog should not be at the crag if:

He barks and/or whines incessantly
She shows any signs of aggression toward people or other dogs
He likes to dig
She doesn’t respond to verbal commands

What was SO funny were the many comments on this article where climbers were calling for these “rules” to be applied to kids! Honestly, I agree.

We have specific rules or expectations for our kids, because even we, who have and love kids, can quickly become exasperated with unruly kids at the crag. I can imagine (slightly) what it must be like for you single folk.

Crag Courtesies for Climbing Families:

Quiet voices – This is top on our list, especially if there are other groups around or if someone is climbing a tricky route. This is both a safety and common courtesy issue. Climbers need to be able to communicate with their belayer. My kids should not be an obstacle to this. We expect our kids to be able to talk in normal tones while at a crag. No yelling, unless something is really wrong. While they require constant reminders, we believe this is crucial.

kids and families climbing outdoors

Quick obedience – Obviously this is a work in progress with most of our kids, especially the really young ones. But it is a battle I would encourage parents to fight. In our current social climate the issue of obedience has been lost, many parents not expecting their kids to actually do what they say. In the outdoor sporting world this is a safety hazard. If you hire a guide to raft you down the Colorado River, you will pack how he says to pack. You sit where he says to sit. When he shouts, “paddle now, hard!” You do it.

Now I am not saying you should be a drill sergeant. But if your kid is playing with the rope while you belay, and you say no, do they obey? Do they obey immediately without hesitation or arguing? Or do you have to enter into a battle of the wills every time? Choosing to take your kids into higher risk situations requires that they listen to and obey you.

Limit group size – This is a new one for us, one that we’ve only started contemplating. It is hard because we want to get out and take climbing as many families as we can. Every year we have a huge Labor Day Family Climbing Trip. But as these trips have increased in popularity, I’ve begun to wonder if we should split into smaller groups, lessening our impact in terms of “route hogging”, noise, and crowd factor.

Be wise is choosing your crag – Perhaps you are one of the parents sighing in exasperation as you read this. You want to climb but your two year old is loud and boisterous at the crag. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily. But until he/she learns some climbing manners, choose crags that are often vacant and/or for beginners as the atmosphere is usually more relaxed.

Quiet Activities for kids while climbing

As parents we need to to remember two things (excluding the million other things bringing kids involves). First, we need to remember it isn’t all about us. Yes, our kids are the next generation of climbers but this doesn’t excuse us ruining the day for the current generation of climbers. And lastly, we need to balance our rules with fun. Constant harping on the kids and restraining their play them will only lead them to resenting climbing. How to balance childish fun and climbing curtesy takes some wisdom, creativity, and pre-planning in terms of quiet activities you can pull out when needed.

How about you? Do you have “crag rules” for your kids that weren’t mentioned? Are you single or kid-less and think I missed the boat? Let us know!

boy crack climbing in Yosemite


For more info on climbing with kids:

Creating a Cragbaby – Rules for the Ropes

Crag-ing it with the babies (repurposing indoor gear for the outdoors)

7 comments on “Crag Courtesies for Climbing Families
  1. I am grateful for this post as my husband and I have just gotten into climbing in the last year and have 2 boys soon to be 2 & 4 years old. So far, we have not gotten too much opposition taking them with us. We definitely try to keep their fun in mind as you mentioned, and teach them about staying away from other climbers ropes and gear and being beneath climbers. Snacks are the biggest key to success for us too!

  2. Pingback: Alyssa Erickson: Climbing Outdoor Ethics with Kids | The Mad Rock Team Blog

  3. To be honest most of the “singles” at the crag are boisterous annoying jerks to begin with. Playing their God awful dup step and flashing their gear and muscles. My family and I have been climbing since my son was weeks old. We just dragged the pack and play up to the wall that was a little further away from people and set up our area. Making others that came to the area climb around us. We still do that even if we’re climbing at garden of the gods or down at shelf road.

  4. Alyssa,
    Everything you wrote on is what I call “common sense” or just being a normal human being. I do have to comment on your “Be wise in choosing your crag” section.
    I NEVER like what I call “The Dude Culture”. The guys that go climbing or bouldering with their beers, smokes and loudness. Never got why there must be so many Shits and Fucks flying in the air when climbing.
    So these days when I go with my kids, I try to find the less crowded areas so My Kids don’t have to hear Shits and Fucks all day long.
    So this is a Parent’s request to all Dude-climbers out there:
    Please learn to control your words – especially when there are others (with or without kids) around you.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply