Scrambling with children – I’m sat at home on a lovely summer’s day looking after 3 young girls and waiting for news of my new nephew, so I thought I’d distract myself and regale you with a few stories about scrambling with my daughter, Hannah.
Children love to scramble and my daughter is no exception. They have no fear and have a low centre of gravity which makes them superb scramblers. They also have no idea about risk and will get themselves into precarious situations with no thought about how they are going to get down which can make the whole undertaking rather nerve wracking for adults.
My first proper scramble with Hannah was Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark in May 2017 on a beautiful summer’s day when she was 6. I was apprehensive, no doubt about that, and I knew the onus was on me to manage the risk. The price to pay for not managing the risk was unthinkable. I roped her up as I was unsure of how she would cope with the exposure on a large cliff. Needless to say, she coped magnificently and we had a great day, finishing off with a swim in Stickle Tarn.
The next trip was Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag in August 2017. This was harder and I asked another adult, Mark Eddy, to come along so we could rope up on the hard step. A crucial part of scrambling with children is that you must always be in your comfort zone. If you’re in your “stretched” zone then your child will be in their “terrified” zone and that’s not going to end well. If it all goes wrong you can’t expect a child to get help – although Hannah and I do have a chat these days at the start of every walk about what she would do if I suddenly collapsed or if she got separated from me, and she does carry her own survival bag and whistle.
In October 2017 we did Sharp Edge and this time I carried a rope but didn’t automatically rope her up. The rock was greasy and I stayed right behind her with an occasional hand on her bottom when she started sliding backwards, but there were no issues.
We did Jack’s Rake again the following May when Hannah was 7 and this time we took a friend and her mum with us. That trip wasn’t as much of a success as the friend didn’t cope with the exposure well and was scared. The anxiousness or otherwise of the adults is crucial and the friend’s mum was nervous. Children are very good at picking up on emotions and if you are scared then they will be too. I have learnt to look completely calm and relaxed on the outside whilst on the inside I am watching Hannah’s every move, weighing up the next steps, watching the weather and figuring out the route. It helps a lot if you’ve done the scramble before and know exactly which way to go and what difficulties you are going to be faced with.
In October 2018 we did Cam Crag Ridge in Borrowdale and also Striding Edge. Cam Crag is a lovely, clean, grade 2 scramble which Hannah enjoyed. We roped up but I let Hannah go first on the easier parts, placing slings round rocks for me to take off as I passed. We did Striding Edge on a bitterly cold day with frost on the ground and ice in the puddles, although the rock was dry. We were the only women on the ridge and we overtook an all male adult group with a sense of pride.
In April 2019 when Hannah was 8 we had our first trip to North Wales, staying at my climbing club hut at Cwm Dyli and we climbed the north ridge of Tryfan. That was followed the same summer by Snowdon via Y Gribin and then Cneifion Arete the following day. Cneifion Arete is a grade 3 scramble which is given the grade of Difficult in climbing guidebooks. The difficulty is confined to the first pitch and above that it becomes an easier scramble up an alpine ridge. It is one of the greatest scrambles in Wales. I wanted another adult with me and as we were on a climbing club meet, one of the older ladies, Royanne, agreed to come with us. I had the pleasure of leading an 8 year old and a 70 year old up the Arete with the mist swirling around my feet. Hannah took it all in her stride and was more impressed by the fact that Royanne’s daughter was a real life eco-warrior who held the record for the longest time spent underground in protest.
On New Year’s Eve 2019 we traversed Crib Goch with my friend James, CEO of the Youth Hostels Association. The ridge was greasy and wet and my heart was in my mouth as Hannah skipped happily along. I’m not sure I shall ever be able to completely relax when scrambling with my daughter. We were greeted on the summit by a cloud inversion and walked down to Llanberis in glorious afternoon sunshine. A fitting end to a great year.
2020 has been a lean year for scrambling and for outdoor adventures in general, but that will change. My challenge now is to keep Hannah enthused and fit as she enters the more difficult teenage years and to find scrambles that will continue to stretch her whilst I stay in my comfort zone. As she gets better I have to always be a few steps ahead which is an interesting challenge as I get older.
So why do I take Hannah scrambling? Because I believe that life is an adventure and we have to take the opportunities we are given, wherever they may take us. Because risk is to be managed, not avoided, and the rewards for successfully managing risks are far greater than the benefits of staying at home, risk free. Because I like a challenge and ultimately, because I love scrambling and I want to share what I love with others.