Climbing with your kid on your back: Good idea or not?

Coming to us from the UK’s Telegraph, I bring you this photo:

Menna Pritchard climbing with her daughter. (Hook News photo)

The two are pictured climbing in the UK. According to the article, they were climbing a relatively easy route, and as you can see, they’re top-roped in and have a spotter on belay below.

There’s a little uproar over this. Is it safe? Do any of us have a right to judge what outdoorsy people do with their kids? Are we so overprotective of our kids that we scream bloody murder when we see this? Or is this just too risky?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

6 thoughts on “Climbing with your kid on your back: Good idea or not?

  1. Saw this last week on-line mate and the questions you ask…
    Tricky and layered to say the least. Safe and Risk are loaded terms and the barometer for them can be all over the place.
    So as you described above and not reading into the picture too much- It looks fine to me as a parent.
    Yes parents are way to over protective, for some good and bad reasons. We could toss examples back and forth ad nauseam. As a parent I look to control things I can control, the parents above look in control so that’s cool. Now when they finish for the day and put little Jasper in the car seat and head off on the way home. They no longer are in control of the “things” around them and are significantly at greater risk than they were climbing and having a solid family moment.
    Nice post!!!

    • Very good points, and thank you for your input.

      I don’t want to judge too harshly because I think kids need to learn that life does not have handrails present throughout. I wish the kid had a brain bucket on his head. And I’d hate to think what would happen if the mom somehow slipped, got turned around and slammed into the wall back first with the little girl hitting the rock first. But the mechanics of the rope and harness setup would seem to prevent that.

      Good take.

  2. I also saw this, and I’ve hesitated to comment on it too much… I view this story through two lenses, that of the slightly independantly minded individual, and that of the professional climbing instructor/climbing guide. The independantly minded individual in me firmly believes that fundamentally, people have the right to engage in any kind of risky behavior they want to, so long as it does not put others at risk. Parents also have the right to parent their children in any way they see fit. So I see no problem with the idea of this parent allowing her daughter to climb or be in a climbing environment.

    The climbing instructor in me agrees that children should rock climb. However, I question whether this is the best way, for several reasons. First, one of the things we preach as climbing instructors is that all equipment MUST be climbing spec; that is, designed with the forces and demands of catching climbing falls in mind. I doubt that the child carrier that is pictured here is climbing spec, and I know it was not designed with rock climbing falls in mind. I also don’t see that the baby is attached to the rope and belay system. As good as the belay and toprope system is, technically, if the mother falls only she is protected by it. If the child were to topple out of the pack, or if the pack straps were to break under the increased strain from the fall force, it does not appear that she is tethered into the climbing system.

    I can live with the helmet issue, though I would tend to agree that the kid should be wearing one; I don’t wear helmets everytime I climb, and I do understand that in some areas there is so little danger from rock fall that helmets are optional. It is also entirely possible to rotate in a top-rope system so that your back contacts the rock wall. The rope attaches to the harness at the front, and its possible to easily spin in circles. So, your fear of the little girl being “squished” against the rock wall is actually a legitimate one.

    One last thing I take some exception to; in the article, the mother is quoted as saying “A friend was solo climbing–without ropes–beside me. He’s a qualified mountain leader and rock climber. It means we had someone very experienced right next to us at all times.” Solo climbing is insanly dangerous, and the mother reports that they were 10 meters, or about 35 feet off the ground when the photo was taken; that’s a long enough fall to be fatal. I’m not sure what being a “qualified mountain leader and rock climber” means, but I’d suggest that soloing as the group leader was maybe not the best plan. I’d also question what he would have done if he was needed; remember, he had no gear with him, and could not have really done much anyway as he couldn’t just hang on his own rope (when solo, you have to keep at least one hand on the rock…).

    I also do not want to judge too harshly, and I do agree that many parents are overprotective; I view this as (perhaps) too far in the opposite direction. Sorry to write a book here…so much to say in such a small amount of space!

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