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Author Topic: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)  (Read 3445 times)

DLottmann

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Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« on: September 03, 2012, 05:49:27 PM »

The other day I saw a father/son team on Whitehorse. The father was leading the dike route, and the son, I'm guessing around 6-9, was struggling to keep up with the belay (double ropes it appeared from below).

I can't wait to get my son climbing, though I know it will be a few years as he is not even 1 yet, but twice in the last 2 weeks I have seen some younger kids belaying leaders and it's caused me to pause and think about the outcome of a leader fall on a 50-70lb kid, even on the slabs. There are two main issues of concern IMO:

1) Obvious weight difference. A 60lb kid is going to get yanked hard should the leader fall. In most cases there is no convenient "lower piece" like a ground anchor in many top-rope scenarios, so if the leader falls there is a good chance for belayer injury.

2) Little fingers. I can imagine a kid getting his hand stuck in a belay device if he/she panicks as they watch their father/mother slip of the crux move of Standard, Sliding Board, Wavelength, what have you...

I see two options that should be considered for parents itching to get their kids on a classic multi-pitch route.

1) Bring another adult to belay and clean the route so junior can enjoy the climb. Granted, you may not have an available climber buddy to come along, but this is definitely the best option.

2) Climb something you would feel comfortable soloing, and don't take a belay.

Probably best to bring someone over 90lbs for belaying on multi-pitch though...

What are your thoughts? Any tricks for managing safety with little kids on MP climbs?

« Last Edit: September 03, 2012, 05:51:43 PM by DMan »
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ELM

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2012, 06:29:52 PM »

  I have seen many a guy weighing 200+lbs being belayed by a 125lb partner.....will not be fun for them if he falls either. 
  I think/ hope the climber you saw felt very comfortable on that climb and that the belay was more of a learning experiance for his son. The very few times I have had my daughter belay me (in the gym) I knew I was soloing.
  I know you as a guide have has clients belaying you that were not the best.
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sneoh

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2012, 06:55:30 PM »

Poor kid, and doubles got to be tough for the young one to handle.
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DLottmann

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2012, 10:48:10 PM »

  I know you as a guide have has clients belaying you that were not the best.

Of course. I climb with "un-tested" belayers 90% of the time, if not more. You won't find me pushing my leading limits with a 1st day client.

I took my 11 year old niece up Upper Refuse a couple weeks ago. She's quite small, but a very athletic dancer and natural climber. She walked up Seventh Seal with hardly any effort and zero coaching on her 2nd day of climbing. On Upper Refuse, being a climb I am comfortable on without a rope, I felt it safer to not have her belay me. I still placed gear, as it is needed in spots for directionals, but sometimes it may be better with the little ones to climb without a belay*. I remember one day many summers ago taking 2 8 year old girl-scouts up the slabs, and it just made sense to stack the rope and climb.

*This is obviously something some climbers do on routes well below their limit, or below their solo limit if they are so inclined. It is obviously dangerous since if the leader takes the unexpected big whip you'll probably have some pretty traumatized kiddos at the anchor, hence my original best option;

1) Have another adult come along if the belayer is itsy bitsy.

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lucky luke

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2012, 07:53:20 AM »

  I think/ hope the climber you saw felt very comfortable on that climb and that the belay was more of a learning experiance for his son. The very few times I have had my daughter belay me (in the gym) I knew I was soloing.
 

I agree with you. When you teach how to take risk, you must place the young in a situation where he have the impression that he is important for the climb. As he don't want that his father fall...and he his in a situation where he can make a differences...he will remind a lot of think. As he is very light, the importance to be anchor to the belay (not just to fall down the slope) to stop the belayer from a fall is one of the very important learning, plus handling the rope, keeping is attention...etc. One of the most important lesson is the team work.

We can saw very easily the difference of mentality between a kind of climb where you take risk and an other where it is closer to playing safe. In the exemple with the leader, the climber think at what his child will learn to be save his life when he will climb death mountain at eighteen year old. In the other example, the climber think about what happen if he felt (the rope will pull the belayer out of stance and the leader will be more injure than if he didn't have any belay). Althought the advice of Dman his good and more general for most climber who can't solo a route like the dike (Base will laught at me because I bail at the top, not understanding the move). For my child, I will take a guide who teach my son how to be safe in the futur, and avoid a "balade" on the cliff.
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Derek Doucet

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2012, 09:04:24 AM »

This is a serious issue which I find troubling for a number of reasons. My perspective is informed by being the father of three young climbing daughters, 20+ years of climbing experience, and many years of professional guiding. I can't wait to take my girls on long routes, but will not do so without another competent adult present until I'm completely satisfied that they are ready. Any comparison between this and climbing with an inexperienced belayer in a guiding context is apples and oranges at best. All clients are either developmentally competent to provide informed consent to participate, or are accompanied by parents or legal guardians present at the belays with them. That isn't even in the same ballpark as the sort of scenario under discussion.

The most obvious problems are mechanical: Weight discrepancy, little fingers sucked in to devices, etc. I'm extremely skeptical that an 8 year old belayer is going to hold an adult taking a real leader fall in the best of circumstances. I think there is essentially no chance when dealing with a violent impact combined with their fingers being severely pinched. These issues are merely mechanical however and with thought and care the risks they pose could perhaps be mitigated to an acceptable level.

Unfortunately there are other more intractable problems. Young kids are not developmentally capable of understanding the seriousness of the situation, and should never have that level of responsibility thrust upon them. Likewise, they are typically not developmentally capable of maintaining the absolute focus and attention to detail necessary to be left unaccompanied at a belay stance off the deck. Trust me, even adult novices do astounding and foolish things at stances.

We all have to make our own decisions about what's best for our children. YMMV, but that's my perspective.

If one does choose to take a young kid up a multipitch route unaccompanied, here are some things to consider:

1. First, examine your reasons for doing it. Is it really what's best for the kid, or is it actually about your desire to climb when on kid-duty? One is ethically defensible. The other is totally irresponsible.
2. Shorten your pitches, and ALWAYS maintain direct line of sight and easy verbal communication.
3. Drag the rope up without taking a belay, clipping directionals as needed. I often feel like a novice belayer is more of a hazard than a benefit on truly easy terrain. Don't fool yourself: You're soloing anyway.
4. Choose routes with non technical descents, or be completely dialed in your technical descent skills. This doesn't mean just knowing how to rappel. Know how to competently lower from above and below, tandem rap, etc. If any of this isn't second nature to you, please reconsider your plans.

Sorry for the rant. As a father of climbing kids, this issue touches a nerve with me...
« Last Edit: September 04, 2012, 09:20:06 AM by Derek Doucet »
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DLottmann

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2012, 09:14:13 AM »

Very well said Derek, that was the type of thoughtful response I was hoping this topic might generate, and I agree with it 100%. Good point, RE: it is not helpful to compare what we might do in a guiding context.

The absolute best solution is bringing another adult along on MP routes until the kids reach a more mature age, probably 12+ IMO.
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David_G48

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2012, 11:14:45 AM »

DMan
Being the father of 2 grown children, who I did take with me to climb, maturity happens different for each child and you will be able to judge that for yourself. Derek has provided a good response from which you can develop a guideline. For some parents the biggest let down is that the child has no interest in serious climbing and some make the mistake of trying to convince their child to climb anyway. If you start with single pitch top rope situations you will know in short  order if they are interested and have the ability. As time goes on you can judge their maturity and size to ensure it is safe to have them belay you.
 I think that starting a parents group in the area is the right way to go as each partent can help support the others and not worry that you are dragging anyone down as they all have children. The Gunks has a very active parent group (CliffMama,Jeanette) so there is no reason that a group here would not be as active.
David
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DLottmann

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2012, 01:49:30 PM »

DMan
Being the father of 2 grown children, who I did take with me to climb, maturity happens different for each child and you will be able to judge that for yourself. Derek has provided a good response from which you can develop a guideline. For some parents the biggest let down is that the child has no interest in serious climbing and some make the mistake of trying to convince their child to climb anyway. If you start with single pitch top rope situations you will know in short  order if they are interested and have the ability. As time goes on you can judge their maturity and size to ensure it is safe to have them belay you.
 I think that starting a parents group in the area is the right way to go as each partent can help support the others and not worry that you are dragging anyone down as they all have children. The Gunks has a very active parent group (CliffMama,Jeanette) so there is no reason that a group here would not be as active.
David

Must be every climbing parents nightmare huh? From the start my wife and I have understood what ever he likes climbing, ballet, rugby, origami, he'll receive all the love and support he needs for whatever hobbies he pursues. He is, after all, not only my son but he will become his own person. It will be great if climbing is part of that, but I've already accepted it might not be part of him. Perhaps my wife not being a climber helped me see that early on...

I like the idea of an active parent group, but TBH the local climbers with young kids, or kids on the way, is actually a very small group in relation to the average Gunks population. The most active (parent) climbers in the area have kids in highschool or older.

I'm all for it, and as I posted in the partners forum I am down to go climbing Mon-Fri days with as many pack-and-plays as need be :)
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sneoh

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2012, 02:12:37 PM »

There is a small group of us who have kids 6 and 7 years old and would be interested in an active parent group for MA and maybe as far north as Rumney (less than 2-hr drive from Boston).  I hope my daughter will show genuine interest in climbing soon but forcing her is really out of the question.
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danf

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2012, 07:03:49 PM »

I can't really add anything to what's been said- I pretty much agree with the sentiment.  That being said....

I would definitely be up for a climbing parenting group!  I have a 6 year old son and 9 year old daughter, and I have them 3 weekends per month.  My daughter loves to climb, my son says he likes it but typically gets "scared" on anything approaching vertical (though he did 3/4 of the way up the Chimney at Square Ledge last weekend before that happened....).  I've been fortunate that my girlfriend and her kids enjoy climbing, but the weekends that I have my kids and my girlfriend can't come along for whatever reason there is no climbing for us...
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lucky luke

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2012, 10:10:43 PM »

The most obvious problems are mechanical: Weight discrepancy, little fingers sucked in to devices, etc. I'm extremely skeptical that an 8 year old belayer is going to hold an adult taking a real leader fall in the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately there are other more intractable problems. Young kids are not developmentally capable of understanding the seriousness of the situation, and should never have that level of responsibility thrust upon them. [...]

If one does choose to take a young kid up a multipitch route unaccompanied, here are some things to consider:

This is an interesting point of view.

You look at the problem as if the most important point is that the climber do a very difficult route and he asked to his son to belay him in case of a fall.

I think that the point of ELM is more if someone go climbing with his son or an other child, choose a route at the level of the kid, gave him a sens of responsability (even if he didn't have any responsability, the dike is a 5.2. Even the initiator of this thread didn't rope up if he climb the slab before the ledge of standard), make him think that he is part of a team, make it understand that rope technique is not simple and that he have to train to learn it corectly and be proud of him when he go back.

with the mentality that you present, it is like if the climber is stupid. I saw Joe Cote climbing with the daughter of his daughter. He is not stupid, but she learned more with him than with any session of "don't touch the rope, I will show you how to do that". When they growth, the child are tired of that kind of monitoring and, climbing with there budy...without being involve in a real team with his father/guide...he can kill himself making stupid think. Taking the chance that my son will be involve in a big accident and thinking at the 0.1 percent chance of fall of the dike...I will climb the dike with a child.

What his the conclusion of that. If you are in class, and the teacher do a mathematical problem on the blackboard, you can write it down on your paper, but you are not be able to do it in real life. If you do the mathematical problem and solve a multiplication, you will be able to do division...and later integral or statistic.

if you listen to climber who onsight multi pitch in remote area, you will understand that they learned by climbing with a good leader who will bring them to there limit, training a lot in different situation and always estimate there limit. What I saw in the father bringing his kid to the dike is someone who teach how to climb to his son as an animal teach to there baby how to hunt.

But there is just one good way to do it...yours!
« Last Edit: September 05, 2012, 09:44:20 PM by lucky luke »
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DLottmann

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2012, 12:13:41 AM »

Somebody? Want to take this one? Please?... OK... I'll keep it short and simple...

We are talking about how to prevent tiny kids from getting hurt while belaying Champ. I agree it is important they understand they are part of a team. And I agree they should learn the mechanics of belaying. However part of that lesson is the limitations of what a 70lb kid should be responsible for on the non-sharp end of the rope, not because they are incapable, but they could get maimed (seriously hurt) catching a leader fall...

That is all...
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lucky luke

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2012, 07:42:06 AM »

All clients are either developmentally competent to provide informed consent to participate, or are accompanied by parents or legal guardians present at the belays with them. That isn't even in the same ballpark as the sort of scenario under discussion.

We can understand that the presence of the parent is not to protect the hand of the kid. if the kid belay and there is a fall, a parent at the belay won't take the device from the hand of the little one. The kid will have the same stress on his hand as if he was alone on the belay...more the stress of the parent. I saw often parent talking togheter as the leader think that he can try harder move because of the presence of an adult.

I don't say that it is good or bad, just say that a lot of climber don't talk because there is always more than one solution for any body. personally, I like that the kid learn by himself in a stressfull situation because he will be able to think when he will be in real danger. For that reason, climbing with his son the dike is for me a gift to the child that can open a door for many safe adventure

« Last Edit: September 07, 2012, 02:59:54 PM by lucky luke »
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om

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Re: Smaller kids belaying adults (multi-pitch)
« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2012, 10:32:44 PM »

I agree with Derek's post and do think that mechanics are not the most critical issue here. I weight under 100lbs and had been yanked and landed on by larger partners, so i know the issue first hand. It is present and real  yet it can be mitigated with some skills and on the selected climbs. Also, I’m sure there is no real chance that any parent/adult is planning on taking a leader fall in such scenario. So this is not what I would concentrate on.
My primary concern is with responsibility and stress that a child is being exposed to being unsupervised on a multi-pitch climb. I tend to think that my 8 year old daughter is a bright and independent child, but imagining her 2 pitches up trying to figure out if she is doing the right thing breaking down the belay anchor gives me chills. Even with direct visual and voice communication I cannot control her anxiety  level, her comprehension,  impression of the situation and her actual movements. And even if she is confident, composed and manages all the tasks well, there are still number of unexpected variables that might present themselves that a small child cannot deal with - rock fall, bee sting, someone nearby getting hurt - just to name a few. So I will not be bringing her alone on a multipitch any time soon. But that is MY judgment, I will not impose it on anyone else. If I find myself in a situation described, I will probably stick around and try to be a silent observer in case I can be of any assistance.
At the same time I want to echo the frustration that people expressed with the “hands-off” way in which kids are sometimes exposed to climbing or other high-complexity sports. Hands-on, real participation and certain level of responsibility  is invaluable and no words can replace the actual experience. Not too long ago there was an accident when child unclipped herself from the anchor on a sport-climb and fallen to the ground. Neither child or adult should ever be in a situation when they don’t understand simple principles and can put themselves in harm’s way because of it. I would rather watch my daughter’s fingers pinched in the baley device than have her oblivious to how this system works and what potential consequences there could be.  So she will start belaying very soon, assuming she expresses any interest, but I will be 2 feet away backing her up.
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