“Oh Wow—I’m Really Going to Have to Do This!”

“Oh Wow—I’m Really Going to Have to Do This!”

Showing loved ones the outdoors

Recently, I took my mom rock climbing for the first time at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas, where she and my dad live. On the drive out, we ran into a good friend of mine. An experienced rock climber and mountain guide, he poignantly told us, “it’s either going to be really fun or really stressful.” All of us laughed (some more nervously than others) and then my mom and I hopped into my dirty pickup truck and headed to the cliff.

My mind was swirling with a crazy soup of logistics, anxiety, excitement, and even pride. Even though I knew I was comfortable teaching the basics would need for a short climbing day, I had no idea how it would play out. Climbing, like many outdoor sports, is inherently dangerous and can legitimately frighten even highly experienced athletes. Beginners are notoriously vulnerable to these aspects of the sport.

Still, fear and risk add vital flavor to the climbing experience. It is usually exciting because we are scared, or because we are stepping outside of comfort zones. How would I show my mom climbing in a way that excited and educated her without shell-shocking her?

How could I make this really fun, not really stressful?

I realized a lot of people probably grapple with this problem when trying to introduce their loved ones to their outdoor passions. Luckily, my mom was cool enough to sit down with me for an interview after our climbing day to explore some solutions. During the interview, I realized she was leading the way to the answers, and we came up with a few keys to success.


1. Be sensitive to their life experience—level of fitness, other priorities, medical history, etc. My mom, Chris, is 52, a career public school teacher, and has always been athletically active. Still, I needed to be sympathetic to what she could comfortably handle.

Mom: I had some experience rock scrambling and that kind of thing, and I had been interested, even separately from you, in rock climbing, though I had never done it. Running has always been my go-to activity, and I had done some cycling in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. But I don’t run very much anymore—it’s hard on my knees and back.

My first impression of going climbing was, “Oh, wow—I’m really going to have to do this!” [mutual laughter]. I was a little worried about it, but I knew it would be fun. Plus, I spend a lot of time outside, which is important to me. It improves my outlook and my energy and makes me better at what I do.

2. Be able to explain and execute the process of your activity, especially while performing it. Since I knew my mom had no rope or rigging experience and was apprehensive about climbing in general, I needed to be able to elucidate the technical aspects of climbing safety perfectly.

Mom: The way that we did it, I realized how safe it is when you take it seriously and when you are well trained. I was impressed by all of your knowledge, and the skill and calmness you brought to it, as well as a sense of fun and adventure.

I saw that you had the knowledge required. I was like “ok; I get it. He is teaching me, and I do need to learn this.” That’s part of the educational experience I love, and one of the biggest reasons I am a teacher is that moment when the teacher and the student understand each other. There’s that connection where you go “we’re going to do this thing together, this is how this is going to work.”


3. Let them explore. Shut down the impulse to run their lives for them. Remember, the adventurous aspect of what you are doing is usually your favorite part of it too.

Mom: I was thinking, “I’ve never done this before, I’m clinging to the rock by with hands and feet and this rope that my kid is holding at the bottom, and now I’m going to walk up this mountain!” I found rock climbing has multiple aspects. I was physically tired at the end of the day, and sore, for days! [mutual laughter].

Me: Yeah, so it goes. Sorry about that. [more laughter].

Mom: Oh, it’s ok. It taught me about myself—about my body and my mind, even in a short amount of time. It was challenging, which I liked, and I think the more I’ll do it, the more I’ll learn. That’s interesting.

And it awakened something in me. I haven’t been very adventurous of late. It had been a couple of years since I had done something really outside my comfort zone, and it reminded me, “hey, you can still do this. You need to keep pushing.” And that was exciting.

To my delight, as well as that of two other climbers at the cliff that day, my mom cruised both routes we got on, Go Ahead and Jump and Ok Ok Ok (both graded 5.6). Two days after that, she volunteered in an American Mountain Guide Association certification exam at Red Rock. She climbed four routes, learned how to rig a toprope anchor, and helped correct another volunteer’s belay technique. She plans to continue to explore climbing through Chicks Climbing & Skiing, an organization which educates and empowers women through mountain sports.


Chicks Climbing & Skiing can be reached online at chickswithpicks.net, Instagram @chicksclimbingandskiing, or Facebook @chicksclimbingrockandice.