Friday, 12 February 2016

Youth Ice Climbing with the University of Calgary

Mack belaying his old man.

One of the dilemmas facing parents who want their teenagers to get off their butts and go hiking, is the lack of groups for teens that go hiking. Want them to go snowshoeing, rock climbing or ice climbing? Good luck.

When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to belong to a Scouting group that was more interested in getting out to the Rocky Mountains than in earning badges, and that had Ventures and Rovers so we had a social group to go hiking, scrambling and even mountaineering with. But Scouts had already lost its cool back then. Today, the concept of a youth organization with uniforms and salutes and badges is, to put it mildly, not relevant to most teens. Just saying.

I'm fortunate that my sons, now 16 and 11, still want to spend time with their dad. Or at least they pretend to, which is good enough for me. Not only that, they genuinely enjoy going to the mountains with their old man. But what about other teens, and pre-teens for that matter, who don't have outdoorsy parents to take them out? Unless they have friends with the inclination to get out and a driver's license to get them to the trail, they're hooped.

When I saw the University of Calgary's Outdoor Centre offering Youth Ice Climbing lessons, and that parents could take it too, I jumped at it. First, I asked Mack, if he'd like to go ice climbing. Affirmative. Then I asked if he'd mind if I tagged along. He said he'd prefer it. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I'd get to share the brotherhood of the rope with my son, and maybe meet some other like minded parents.

I was a little surprised when we showed up and the other six participants were all teens. I was the only parent. But Mack didn't seem to care, the other teens didn't seem to care, so neither did I. And all six teens were keen to be there. There was no complaining about the cold. No complaining about having to carry the ropes to ice falls at King's Creek in Kananaskis. No complaining at all. They encouraged each other. They were excited by the beauty of the surroundings and the challenge of the ice.

A few of the teens were clearly interested in more than a one day ice climbing course could offer. They wanted to go again...but how? They didn't have many options other than paid ones. It's either talk their parents into shelling out a hundred bucks or more for a guided day in the mountains, or not go. Luckily, these kids had parents who were willing and financially able to send them. In fact, one kid's parents had shelled out for so many outdoor programs at the U of C that all of the guides knew him.

For all the talk and hype about the need to get youth, from tots to teens, out into nature, there hasn't been much action to make it happen. Thankfully there are a handful of organizations like the University of Calgary that are starting to run outdoor programs for teens. The six on the ice climbing trip may have to wait until the U of C's summer backcountry trips for teens, but at least there's something for them.

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