A risk worth taking? I want your thoughts.

Last week Adventure Parents posted a link (on their facebook page) to an article about a woman rock climbing with a  two-year-old on her back

This article was accompanied by the photo on the right.

I wanted to comment on his post. I just couldn’t find the words… I mean, the photo looks pretty sketchy, and while I personally wouldn’t have felt comfortable with this, I sorta get why she made this decision. I know what it’s like to want so badly to continue all the outdoor hobbies you did before you had children. You crave that feeling of adventure, adrenaline, the freedom and just plain feeling like yourself!

…and lets face it, you want to prove wrong all those people who made you think your adventurous life was over the day you got pregnant.

I’ve been just as tempted as the next guy to strap a pack-n-play to the front of a raft. But it never seemed quite like the good idea I wanted it to be. For me it came down to the risks involved. Or is it because as Menna says in the article: we have become a “sue-and-blame culture” where “so many people are nervous, so afraid of getting into trouble, and taking small risks.”?

I want your thoughts on this! Does this look like a “small risk”? Do you agree with her decision? Is our culture just over paranoid?

All thoughts are welcome!

43 Comments so far

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  1. Angeerah

    I’ll begin by stating that my husband and I used to rock climb when we lived in Vermont and Utah. I love the sport and it is a real thrill. I think it is great to get children involve in the activity. However, I think a two year old is way too young. And in this picture, the child is not even wearing a helmet! There are numerous things that could go wrong. Even a slight slip and the child’s head could get whipped back (think whiplash or shaken baby syndrome.) The exposure to risk is too significant to place a child in this position. Plus, I do not think a child of this age would truly “get” the adrenaline rush. Instead, it would be safer and more fun to take the child hiking where the parents can take breaks and let the child explore his/her surrounding. Then, when the child is older, begin by bringing the child to a local indoor rock climbing wall and if she likes it, go from there.

    • Angeerah – I agree. Rock climbing is a great sport for kids, if done right. You pointed out several key elements that are just too risky in this scenario. One bad move and a lot could go wrong.

  2. Yes it is easy to criticize. The first thing I noticed is that they are both wearing helmets and the kid is not. Then I thought about the ride I just did with the Chariot. I wore my helmet yet my son in the Chariot did not. We can’t use a helmet and the baby support so I go with the baby support. I normally don’t wear my helmet when I commute around with the Chariot but this was a longer ride and I also balance setting an example for my 6 yr old so he doesn’t question wearing his helmet. So many things to pick apart on my behavior. Then we are here in Costa Rica this month. Families buzz by on motorbikes with their toddlers tucked between their legs. No helmets or even glasses to keep the dirt out of their eyes. A bit relative and I think the media likes a good story.

    • Jen – I’m so glad you brought up the chariot. I’ve done that too, well, still do it. I’ll take a ride to the store, or on a trail, sometimes my kid has a helmet sometimes they don’t. It’s not the safest way to go, and some might think we irresponsible. I know better, but I have my reasons and the good just seems to outweigh the bad.

      I also think your Costa Rica motorcycle example is completely relevant. While that’s obviously not the safest way to travel I’m sure their lack of laws in that regard have made them overall a less paranoid society. They would think nothing of your child in a chariot with no helmet. In fact that probably looks pretty safe!

  3. The more I think about this, the harder it is for me to figure out what I think! I know parents who’ve driven in excess of 30mph on windy roads, with their kids riding on the roof of the car. I bet that was unforgettable for the kids, but… man, if something went wrong? It’s a parent’s job to keep their kids safe, but it’s also a parent’s job to give their kids unforgettable childhood memories… Somewhere in there is a fine line between “okay in our society” and “not okay at all”. Seems like everyone (including me–I wince when I see that unhelmeted little head) thinks this mom crossed the line. But if she were in Costa Rica (like Jen said), maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal!

    • Liv – The roof of a car!! Hahaaa. Sorta reminds me of flying down dirt roads while sitting on the tailgate, only slightly safer. I do agree that there is a fine line, but is “what’s not ok in our society” mean that it’s just plain not ok? And I dare to say yes, it would be ok in Coasta Rica.

  4. Sarah

    Why are the parents wearing helmets and not the kid? That was my main concern.

    Other than that, I completely understand the feeling. And in my head, this exact scenario has definitely happened, as well as the belayer having a kid on their back, tying the child to a tree (in one of those bunjee jumper things you put in doorways?)
    I consider myself a pretty hands off mom. I was raised by people who gave us a lot of those great memories (bumper skiing behind the van on a frozen road, dirtbikes, rock climbing) and I approach my kids the same way. There are a lot of risks I take with my kids that I consider healthy risks, and others do not.
    But for me, climbing is different. Our toddler has a harness and he’ll start climbing soon (he’ll be three in the spring) but I personally would never do this. When we discuss all the above scenarios with climbing with children, it always comes down to safety for the climber/belayer, not neccesarily the kids. Climbing and belaying are one of those things were you have to be paying attention at all times, and a kid on your back/hanging from a tree is a distraction, which becomes a big risk factor. We are the kind of climbers who, after ten years of climbing, still check each other’s knots before getting on anything. It’s our style, and that extends to children at the crag.
    But I understand where they are coming from. And I’d volunteer to babysit.

    • Sarah – First of all I love that you went bumper skiing behind the van. Please tell me your kids will do that too! Hahaa, I love it. And thanks for bringing up the safety of the climber and belayer. Your right, it’s not always just about the kids, it’s about making sure EVERYONE is in the safest position possible.

  5. It is easy to criticize! I reposted the link as well and think Adventure Parents got it from me. I commend her ambition to keep going and taking her kids outdoor. But with 13 years climbing experience under my belt I would change things a bit. For example I would have my child in a harness and clipped to me with them in the carrier. Carriers are not rated or tested for climbing use. In fact Ergo made a statement about their carriers in response to this photo because it is their carrier that is depicted. Along with the harness I would have a helmet for my child. Safety first is my motto. It is a noble thing to get your kids outdoors and involved in activities, but please be safe about it.

    • Backcountry Parenting – Thanks for the comment! Sorry I missed your FB post on this, missed ERGO’s too. Man, I need to check my facebook feed more often!! I just looked up ERGO’s statement so I’m posting it there, thanks for drawing that to my attention, defiantly worth mentioning.

      “Ok, so we know you can do a lot with an ERGObaby Carrier, but not everything. We’ve gotten a few questions about rock climbing based on the attached article from the BBC. For your information: Rock climbing is not an activity that we promote as safe with your ERGObaby Carrier.” – ERGO

    • Backcountry Parenting – I think you make some great points! There are ways that it can be done safely. I think it also depends on how good of a climber you are. If you can comfortably climb 5.10, and you take your child on a 5.7, its not likely that something will go wrong. For me, as a beginner, I don’t think I would attempt it because I slip too often.

  6. Wow! That is a really interesting thought. I think it depends on how well you know yourself and your abilities. I’ve see pregnant moms do circus tricks and I have a friend that went downhill skiing with their 1 year old in a backpack carrier. So who’s to say I guess! I’d probably try a little something like this but not far because I’m not a real rock climber. Then sometimes I don’t think of the risks that even my husband thinks of… for example I’d let the kids play in the woods but he’s afraid of the creek and what if they drowned but that sadly or not never occurred to me :S Then like the posts above there are families that rip around on little motorbikes with their kids hanging off the side so it seems and this is normal for them. Maybe the angle of the photo makes what she’s doing look more dangerous than it really is at that moment. But all in all I agree that this mom should be allowed to make this decision and not have someone prohibit her from doing it – she knows what she can do and she is completely different than me. Somehow I would think what she is doing is safer than balancing one of those baby carriers on a shopping cart.

    • Kimberly – I love all your thoughts, thanks! Particularly fond of that last statement “Somehow I would think what she is doing is safer than balancing one of those baby carriers on a shopping cart.” Hahaa, made ma laugh.

      I too have a friend who downhill skis with a kid on his back. It would freak me out, but that’s probably because I’m not a very good skier. For me it would be a much greater risk than it would be for my friend, since he just happens to be a stellar skier. I agree with you that as parents (yes, as you mention sometimes it takes two heads) we know our limits and from there can judge the risks accordingly.

  7. Daktari

    When I was in Belize, I took away a full-size machete from a 3 y.o. child. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the knife was 2/3 as long as the child was tall. Maybe it was my Puritanical American attitude toward a third-world situation. The child’s parent walked up to me and ask why I took his kid’s knife. Sheepishly, I handed the knife back to the child. I don’t know what part of my action was wrong, whether it was all of it or none of it.

    • Daktari – Wow, that kinda puts the climbing with a kid on your back in perspective. Seems pretty safe next to a 3 year old wielding a machete! Hahaaa.

  8. I’m going to side with those who say it’s a bad idea. No brain bucket on the kid. If in some way there was a fall and snap-back, the child would have no protection if the climber somehow got twisted around and hit the wall. It’s a tough call, and chances are, the odds were really remote anything bad would happen. But is it worth it if an accident does occur? Could you get a sitter to watch the child for a day while you go climb? Give it another couple of years and your kid can probably go with you to a climbing gym and learn the ropes there.

    • Bob D – I agree that just the addition of a helmet would have made this look a lot more safe! Would have at least lessened the risk of getting twisted and whacking your kids head or encountering falling rocks. And it’s true, odds are small that anything would happen. In fact I wonder if the child would have been at greater risk of injury being driven to a babysitters on a highway in rush hour?

  9. Sarah

    For me this is a no-brainer – it’s wrong. An ERGO is not designed for this purpose, the child is not harnessed or strapped to mom, and the child is not wearing a helmet or any other safety equipment. Go out, explore, and have fun with your children, but use common sense!!

    • That is a really good point.

    • Sarah – Yes, ERGO’s are awesome, but not that awesome. It’s not a 3 point harness system with locking carabiners, it’s cotton and plastic. Thanks for the comment!

  10. True – more common sense and better equipment would be smarter. And hey she could climb it herself and the kid could watch and try to climb it himself and someday I bet he’d climb it on his own. That would work! I figure how high he can climb on his own is about how high he should go ;) lol

  11. I’ll say the same thing that I said when I first saw this post. Any activity that requires you to wear a helmet is too risky for a toddler NOT wearing one.

    • Suzi – That’s a good rule of thumb! I like it.

      • I should say that we generally employ that rule in reverse as well. If the activity is too risky for a toddler not to wear a helmet, it’s to risky for the parent not to. We wear our helmets when we’re skiing, biking, skating and sledding. Not only is it good protection against injury but you also provide a positive role model.

        • Suzi – Thanks for the comment. As I read through these comments I have to wonder. Did you always wear a helmet as a child? I know I never wore one as a child, but I’m pretty strict about it with my own kids…

  12. Thanks for the link, Lindsey.

    I was on the fence about this when I first saw the article, perhaps I still am. On one hand, the article states that the mom climbed up just a portion of the route, which was obviously low-angle and juggy (low Class 5?), took the picture, then was lowered down.

    However, I agree that the backpack carrier is a poor substitute for a climbing harness.

    Her second biggest mistake was letting this photo hit the interwebz.

    • Mark – Ya, I can see that. A quick trip up the rock for a photo op “yea look at me, I’m climbing with my kid”, then back down. And yes, BIG mistake to put it on the web. Unless of course she was vying for her own reality show…

  13. I like Mark’s response!

  14. Bonnie

    If I were at the bottom of a slot canyon with a dark sky overhead and the sound of thunder in the distance, I would do this in a heartbeat. I might even secure my baby to my back with nothing more than a torn up t-shirt. But without the slot canyon and impending storm…no. For all the reasons stated above and because things that can go wrong, will go wrong in some unpredictable, chaotic fashion when you least expect it. I have learned to avoid courting disaster unless I have no choice (and yes, I had to learn it–just as this adventurous Mom will learn it)

    • Bonnie – I like this comment! Makes one think, if you climb up a cliff with a child strapped to your back by t-shirt threads for survival purposes you would be a hero. If you do it for fun, with a secure pack, your irresponsible. It comes down to the risk calculation involved.

      PS Bonnie, I can actually see you climbing out of a slot canyon with 2 babies and 3 dogs tied to your back :)

  15. Lacey

    Would I do this?…No, but having said that we did take Adan down the famous slot canyon Subway when he was 10 months old that requires several repels (he was in a Deuter backpack securely strapped in) and a few swims that he was placed in a dry bag for. Still not sure it was what I would call “smart”.

    • Lacey – Wow. I’m glad you brought this up. I forgot about that! Makes me think maybe I’m a hypocrite because at the time you did that I thought I was a fabulous idea, and had we been living nearby we would have been right there with you. But that sure doesn’t sound safe does it! Rappelling with a child on your back, floating them through a slot canyon… Huh. But on the other hand you did this with your spouse, who happens to be a climbing/canyoneering guide/EMT. That has to count for something. Right?

  16. As someone who is a crappy climber, this does look sketchy to me. But, I think if you know your own abilities you can make the right decision. I cross-country ski all over the place with a kid in a front pack (under my jacket) or a backpack (as they got older). (Well, not anymore since they are too big…) Anyway, I had friends who would never do that because they fall down a lot on their skis. I rarely fall and don’t take gnarly slopes with lots of trees when I have a kid attached. You know what you can handle, and that mitigates the risk. Maybe this is an easy climb for this gal.

    I’m also guilty of the helmet-less Chariot bike ride. It seems to uncomfortable when they are leaning back with a helmet on. I guess it’s more uncomfortable to have your head cracked open, though.

    • Mel – Love your comments, particularly the one about the uncomfortable head cracking thing. I need to be better about the chariot helmet…

      And I agree that you know your limits, and the parents skill level can count for a lot! I would never go anywhere near skis with a kid strapped to me, since I can’t guarantee I’m not going to kill MYSELF. However, I would feel comfortable mountain biking a somewhat technical trail with my kid on a trail-a-bike behind me. It’s a sport in which I feel I have pretty good control, and can as you say, mitigate risks. Perhaps parents need more credit here.

  17. Joe

    I have resisted posting a comment cause I didn’t want to offend anyone, but I think a lot of whats wrong with this picture can be traced back to selfishness. Like Bonnie said I think it is best to “avoid courting disaster unless I have no choice”. I agree with many of the comments here that it would be best to wait until the kid can climb himself. I think that as a parent who enjoys outdoor activities it is easy to feel like you have to put your hobbies and activities aside for your kids, and in fact, I think that you do have to put some things aside… but only temporarily. I understand wanting to get your kids involved with your likes and hobbies but I think climbing with kids on your back (or most other outdoor sports with kids on your back) is not smart, I think there is a temptation to try it, but I think it is largely a selfish desire (you may want to think to yourself “am I doing this for the kid or for myself”?. I would guess that most of the time if we asked ourself this question we would find that we are doing it for ourself more than for the kid. Sure we can try to convince ourself that we are doing it for the kid, like in the article the kid was having fun and wanting to go higher, but I think the root drive to do things like this is we want to have the life we had before kids. It is best to wait till the kids are old enough to go with you safely! I love to mountain bike but I would never think of mountain biking with a kid in a backpack (I think a chariot is a different story), sure I dont get to bike as often, or with my spouse as often as I would like, but in time when my kids get older I will have a pack of new mountainbikers to go with. I guess my main point is that we as parents need to be less selfish about doing what we want despite having kids, remember, little kids only last a short while, soon enough we will be able to climb, bike, ski or whatever when are kids are old enough to enjoy it safely.

  18. C Wilson

    First of all I have to say that my viewpoint my be a little different from some of yours, as I didn’t grow up just in a western suburban area. My family moved a lot (I lived in at least eight different places in several different states before I was ten) and our landing spots were as diversified as the Californian desert, the woods and swamps of Arkansas, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and the Puerto Rican jungle–to name just a few. I had a lot of different experiences in lots of different cultures, and that shaped us a little differently. As a young girl I would take off alone through the mountains in Puerto Rico and just explore. Alone. I remember swimming alone with my sisters in a small lake/large pond on our property in Arkansas and I was the oldest at age 9. The over-protectiveness stuff wasn’t happening with my family. And I had no idea growing up that there was any special gear for activities other than a life jacket for rowing on the lake (for those who couldn’t swim) and a saddle for a horse if you wanted it. We just used what we had and went anyway. So this picture would be normal for me if she also weren’t wearing her helmet. But she is, so she should probably know a little better.

    On the other hand, while I don’t think I’ve done anything quite as risky with my children as this photo looks to be, I have done quite a few things that have gotten me some raised eyebrows and comments. Most of these were because I was doing them alone with my three young kids. I have often traveled cross-country alone with them, camped and hiked with them alone, climbed and explored slot canyons with them alone (we had to get pretty creative for some of those as my kids were aged 2, 6 and 8 at the time and some of the drops were more than a simple mom-climb-down-first- and-then-reach-up-to-grab-your-kid kind). I don’t think it’s wise to take unnecessary risks, but I think a lot of people have a different idea of what that is. I try to be outfitted, prepared, and ready for any occurrence or emergency, but the fact is that if I wanted to be safe I would just stay home with my kids and wait for the times that my husband can take work off and can go with me. Those happen only a few times a year.

    I don’t want to stay home. I don’t enjoy the suburbs. I don’t like the feeling of being trapped and unable to just get up and go. If I’m stuck inside I get depressed in a big way. So I have to get out. I have to travel, to move, and to have adventures. And it has to be with my kids. I can’t just find a sitter for several days who can watch my kids while I go off adventuring. My husband can’t quit work, and unfortunately I don’t have any friends who want to do what I do! Nobody else wants to just take off with their kids at the drop of a hat, possibly leaving home and husbands behind. Everyone says, “I could never do that alone, or without my husband, etc etc.” Oh well. So, I do what I have to, and me and my kids have a blast! Yes, there might be an emergency situation someday, and we will have to deal with it, but in the meantime we’re being as safe as possible while still taking “risks” that others won’t, and enjoying life and our time together. Waiting until they are old enough to enjoy it safely is definitely relative, and possibly much more risky in the long run. ;)

    • CWilson – Aaaaah. What a great comment. I second every one of your words. I often think of the things I did as a child and know that in todays world my parents quite likely would have been seen as a bit irresponsible. And quite frankly I took risks as a child I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable letting my kids take now. But my parents had a different view of risk, and because of that I learned how to assess risk at an early age. I wouldn’t change that for the world!

      As for taking adventures alone with your kids. I think it’s fabulous. Obviously you know your limits as well as the limits of your kids. No kid would wish down the road that their Mom would have just stayed home more often!! This is why I happen to think your a fabulous Mom.

      Thanks for the comment. I love it.

  19. Morning C.

    My biggest problem with this picture is that, just as signs warn and is listed on every piece of climbing gear you buy, rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. The young woman even states that she is a beginner climber in the article. When discussing this article and picture with my husband (who has climbed for over 25 years), he pointed out how much this woman is relying on her little experience and a cotton-canvas backpack to keep her child safe. Yes, the child is not wearing a helmet. Rock fall is the least of my worries in this situation. Gear fails. Petzl recalled the GriGri 2 last year for mechanical problems. Ropes slip or fray. Even Lynn Hill, one of the greatest climbers of all time, nearly died falling off of a cliff in Spain because she and her partner failed to ensure her belay was secure. Accidents and mistakes happen. When they happen to consenting adults, it is sad. If it were to happen for a child whose mother couldn’t wait to get back on the wall, that is tragic.

    As with C Wilson, I also did not have a childhood with helicopter parents. However, my parents taught me to be smart in the world as much as they could. They outfitted me as safely as possible, such as teaching me how to swim. I understood there were consequences for my actions and my mistakes at an age-appropriate level.

    And yes, I understand the frustration and the pent-up need to just get back out there. My daughter was born in at the end of August. I admit that I have never felt more vulnerable in my life than I do now caring for a young one as well as myself. However, I know that I will be her best example of strength and courage by also teaching her patience and respect for the risks involved in being in wilderness. Because of this, I can wait to be a safe Cragmama.

    • Morning C – Great thoughts! Ya, the whole beginner climber thing had me a little worried too. But your right, beginner or no beginner accidents happen.

      It sounds like your daughter is one lucky little girl. It seems like an ever increasing trend for parents to shelter their kids, but I tend to think parents who know how to assess risk are imperative! It’s a good skill for kids to have.

  20. Ashley K.

    The thing that gets me about the photo is that the mom is wearing a helmet and the child is not. If the activity necesitates the use of protective gear, ALL participants should be using said gear. Also, I would be afraid that if she slipped there would be a risk of crushing the kid. Not from falling to the ground, but from spinning on the rope and crashing into the rock. Seems too risky for me, but I am a worst case senario type of person.

  21. Much like skiing with a child in a backpack, I believe that it’s about your own confidence. If you are confident as a parent that you can do these things, and you can do them well, and you can do them well with your child on your back, then It’s your choice, isn’t it? I too am so frustrated by the culture of safety that surrounds parenthood. Everyone always asking, “Is that safe”. Accidents DO happen, but if you are a diligent and watchful parent many of the things that society has deemed “unsafe” are far from it. If I am confident that my husband can put my baby in a backpack, and ski down a mountain then he should be able to without the criticism of people who no nothing about his skiing abilities.

    • Kaelee – Very well put! Iv’e been thinking more and more about this article and all it’s comments since I wrote it. And your right, parental skill level and parent know-how has a lot to do with it. I’ve been paying closer attention to my own actions and have realized that I do things with my kids that a lot of parents would find ‘unsafe’, I however feel totally comfortable with it! It’s all a matter of personal perspective and knowing how to weigh the risks.

      Thanks for the comment!!

  22. and one other thing. Life is inherently dangerous. putting your child in a car, an airplane, letting them play on a tall playground, teaching them to ride a bike, going sledding-all inherently dangerous. All could potentially end in disaster under the right (or wrong) circumstances . The reason their are warnings on climbing gear and rock walls (basically anything) has a lot less to do with your safety and a lot more to do with liability (ie money) than anything. as a “beginner climber perhaps we all believe she was taking a risk, but we need to stop pointing fingers, and just start enjoying life more and worrying less. It’s important to be responsible about safety, and we all have a different idea of what that means and that is okay. If we followed every safety warning printed on every sign and tag we’d be sitting at home on the floor, because the couch is a suffocation hazard for small babies, being scared of everything.


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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