Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Children at the crag – Ethics in climbing

“Whilst there are no rules in climbing a code of ethics has evolved over time.” – The BMC

After a recent trip to Windgather whilst the weather was particularly warm, I realised how many families actually come to climb together. Most of my climbing has been conducted over the winter months when we’ve been the only people at the crag, and to see how many people actually climb during warmer weather has completely astounded me.

Over the short period that I’ve been lead climbing I’ve quickly picked up the prejudices around climbing ethics such as bolting, erosion caused from groups, and etiquette at the crag. I’ve never really heard much around the subject of children climbing, I was aware that it happens as I know there are kids clubs at my local climbing walls. I’m also an instructor at an outdoor education centre, and we take children of all ages out climbing, but they’re always well supervised.

I started off the day with a positive attitude towards all of the families at the crag, thinking that it’s amazing that there are parents that are getting their children outside and off their computer games. All the children looked like they were really enjoying themselves, and the parents were getting a good amount of climbing in too, setting up routes for the children whilst belaying each other. But then throughout the day different events happened, which made me question my earlier views, but not about the children, it was about their parents suitability.

Positive start to the day

The way I see it there is a spectrum of types of families that rock climb, but the two most important points for consideration should always be safety and enjoyment. If your children are safe and aren’t causing safety issues for other climbers, and they are enjoying themselves then that surely is all that matters?

The first incident was only a minor incident but it really annoyed me and I felt sorry for the child. It was a boy who was probably about 8 or 9 climbing with his dad, he’s clearly not done a lot of trad climbing as the first thing that came out of his mouth upon arrival was “where are the bolts?” Well the dad looked absolutely horrified, he quickly had a look around to check no one had heard and then shouted at his son “Do not say that word around here you will get us into trouble”. I have two problems with this incident, firstly, I know most trad climbers are against the idea of bolts, however I don’t think any of them would spring to action and beat this man and his son up because they’ve done some sport climbing. Secondly, if the father knew the son had never done any trad climbing before why has he not given him a briefing on the process of how to do it before they came out of the house? Rather than scolding him for just asking a question that he knew nothing about. Later that day he was trying to tie his son into the rope, but the son was running around playing with a stick, he then turned around to me, unaware that I heard the debriefing he gave him earlier and said “you just can’t get the seconds these days”. I just laughed this off and normally I would have thought none the wiser, but I just thought to myself why are you here if you can’t put up with bringing your son? It’s meant to be enjoyable for you both not just a stressful exercise.

The second incident was something that really gets under my skin, pushy parent syndrome. There was a child next to us that clearly had plenty of climbing experience as she was sat there reading a guide book looking at the routes, she had all the gear and had been up a few climbs earlier. She just didn’t want to climb anymore, and had clearly had enough. Yet her parents were stood there giving her a loud debriefing on the fact the route was a lot easier than many climbs she’d done before, she just needed to get up there and she needed to concentrate and stop picking up bad habits. The dad had lead the climb and the mum was sat at the bottom shouting at her. When she got up to about head height she was struggling with the crux move on an overhang, and her foot kept slipping. Yet her mum was shouting to stop being pathetic and she’d seen where her dad had gone and she needed to shut up and just get on with it. At this point the girl jumped off the wall shouting for “god sake stop being so bossy” to her mum and sat there on the climb dangling in her harness in a strop for about 5 minutes.

The BMC have information available for anyone interested in getting into climbing as a family

The final incident was one that quite frankly horrified me. Safety at the crag should always be a top consideration, whether it’s your own or other climbers, but when it’s your own child’s it should be top of the list, no questions asked. The dad of the family in question clearly had experience as he was setting up top ropes for his kids, the harnesses were fitted well and while the children were in his eyesight were always wearing helmets. As soon as he left to set up a top rope all hell broke loose. The kids were running around squealing, two out of three of them had taken helmets off. Frankly it’s just irresponsible parenting, you don’t need to be a climber to have the common sense of knowing running around under climbers squealing without a helmet could result in a head injury, whether this is from a trip or something falling onto their heads. You can guarantee that the moment this happens it won’t be the kids or parents fault, it will be the person climbing, and they will get an earful off the irresponsible mum.  Also I then realised the helmets that they were wearing (when they had them on) were cycling helmets! I know wearing a cycling helmet is better than no helmet if a rock was to fall and hit you on the head, and that’s an informed risk you have to take for yourself. I won’t bore you going into the different types of impacts and how the designs of cycling and climbing helmets are different as you probably know more than me. In my opinion if you are prepared to take your children to do an extreme sport then surely you should ensure they have all the proper safety equipment in place to prevent injury, you can’t put a price on your child’s safety, but obviously in this case they can.

And all of this came after all three children were climbing unsupervised on a barbed wire fence, it made my nerves bad just watching, I dread to think what could have happened if one slipped. Later the little boy (probably about 4 years old) started running around with his ‘bits’ out chasing after his sister, with her screeching “mum he’s trying to wee on me”. The mum then proceeded to ignore the commotion that was going on and tell the other daughter off for sitting there upset saying “well this is very unprofessional of you” (she must have been about 7 so I don’t know what is professional at that age but obviously the mum has a clear image). The little boy then proceeded to wee right up in the air like a fountain all over himself and his harness and get it over some of the rocks people sit on for a break. While this was going on I was mid-way up a climb, it was quite an easy climb so it wasn’t that much of a distraction but you can imagine how distracting this could have been for a climber on one of the harder routes.

Wearing the right head protection

In conclusion I am not against families climbing, as there were plenty of families there that weren’t doing anything unsafe/distracting to other climbers. I also don't want to put anyone off getting into climbing, it's just a plea for the application of common sense. We all have to start somewhere, and I’d have loved to have climbed from a young age, I can only imagine the sheer amount of experience and how good they will be when they’re my age. It’s a brilliant way to get involved with the great outdoors, challenge yourself and you can see and feel your own personal development. What I am against is unsafe practices and the lack of such affecting the other climbers at the crag. I’m a very positive person and absolutely hate moaning, but if I’ve managed to pick up on this other climbers must have too.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article, I must admit I agree with you on your point about lack of supervision at crags, particular at popular areas, the last thing I want when I am climbing is to be worried about stupidity a child is doing below me.