Keeping your children safe when climbing and walking.
by Rich Hogan MIA.
When you take children into the mountains there are many risks that need to be managed carefully, hopefully this article will give some parents the confidence to manage these risks.
First of all you need to keep your kids warm and dry so lets look at equipment and clothing suitable for a mountain day.
waterproof jacket with hood
Good socks (stop blisters)
Spare socks and trousers
Navigation skills - map and compass
Shelter, bivvi shelter/bag
First aid kit - mobile phone
DMM Alpine Harness
30m Dynamic Climbing Rope
Once you have the above equipment you can consider taking a child out in a backpack / child carrier. I have carried kids in a variety of packs some better than others. Be aware that kids can extract themselves from some packs whilst on your back! - keep a close eye on them! One of your main considerations should be to plan the walk carefully to cut out any difficult terrain like difficult scrambling, I'd be hesitant taking a young child up on the Skye Ridge for instance. One slip and you could fall with the child on your back, so bearing in mind that this could be dangerous good footwork and route choice are very important. I usually carry a ski pole to help stability.
Seasons: Summer is usually fine, but winter
walks should be very short, for instance I wouldn't advise taking kids
out when there is a need for crampons.
As the child grows to around 2 years you find a stage when they want to walk, but can't walk very far and will not happily sit in a pack. You may need to find alternative activities such as mountain biking on easy trails as they will still fit in a bike seat.
Once they reach 2.5 to 3 years or so some children can be encouraged to climb and walk - the complications of managing kids can be overwhelming when faced with steep grassy slopes, steep cliffs and exposed narrow / slippery paths so here are some tips.
I have extensive experience short roping and recommend this approach at most times. I also teach short roping skills for parents call 01335 344982 for more information.
For walks a 16' climbing sling can be
attached to a child (with harness) allowing the carer to keep a steady
hold of the child as they wobble, if a fall occurs you can arrest the
fall via the sling preventing possible injury. There will always be a
few stumbles, scratched and bruised knees are common place.
The sling allows the child to walk without holding hands with a parent and thus teaches them to gain balance and footwork skills in a controlled environment.
Be aware that short roping a child for long distances is tiring, they need constant attention unlike adults.
Do not allow a very young child to roam without sling or rope protection in a mountain environment as they tend to be experts in finding very unusual ways to hurt themselves.
For scrambles (these should be very short
and non committing) a helmet should be worn with a suitable climbing
harness. The DMM Alpine harness is an excellent choice
as it has a high attachment point and will fit all age groups, this can
be used in conjunction with a chest harness or you could make one up
from a sling. The helmet could be a bike helmet or
a specialist climbing helmet. I use a 30m 9mm diameter rope for shrt
roping and carry coils over my shoulder or the rope is stashed in my
rucksack with a 5' length available to manage the climbing with.
need a confident partner to help manage the child. The
ratio has to be 1:2 ( you need a helper) or it could get tricky,
kids have a habit of moving around and not doing what you expect. The
helper is there to ensure the child stays put at the stances between
Ensure you are well within your comfort zone before introducing children to the activity. Remember to stop regularly and give fluids and snacks to the child during the activity, they require regular breaks.
Kids knocking you off balance.
Energy levels depleting.
This is a tricky one, I have taken small children from the age of 3 yrs on climbs in Derbyshire, North Wales and also up sports climbs in Chamonix, first of all 3 yr old kids are very small with a tiny ape index, therefore you need to choose slabby (off vertical) routes that are plastered in holds, then you have 2 options on safely managing the youngster on the climb. Helmets are a must- even at the bottom of crags. Increasingly I note parents bringing babies and placing them at the foot of climbs unprotected.
1. Climb up first and top rope (belay
This is for very short straight forward climbs and scrambles with no pendulum prospects, the rope must be directly above the child. On longer routes communication may be difficult and little ones need loads of positive encouragement.
2. Be top roped yourself and short rope as you climb. (picture on left)
A good option for the very experienced climber, short roping experience is required. A swing or pendulum risk can be managed well and you are there with the child on the climb enabling you to give positive encouragement. The climb has to be ledgy and suited to short roping, if in any doubt about your ability don't do this. To be safe you need to be an experienced short roper, and be able to abseil tandem keeping the child off the crag face.