Sharing the Outdoors with our Kids

Yes, you really can take kids out into the wilderness.
Placeholder Contact Profile Jessi Loerch
March 01, 2016
Sharing the Outdoors with our Kids
by Jessi Loerch, professional journalist

When I joined the Mountaineers, my daughter was two. Since she was born, I’ve been tailoring my adventures to accommodate a baby carrier. 

While I was pregnant, people told me that being a parent would make me reel things in. “Have your adventures before you have kids,” they said, over and over. I bought it. 

They were wrong. I was wrong.

Instead, being a parent made me want to grow, to push my limits. So I signed up for alpine scrambling and quickly fell in love with The Mountaineers. Even as I left Hazel with my family so I could go scrambling, I fantasized about bringing her with me someday.

Not long after I started scrambling, I filled out an online survey about the future of The Mountaineers. With a sort of glee, I voted for more youth programs over and over. I knew Hazel wouldn’t be old enough to enjoy them for years, but no matter, she’ll grow.

Historically, The Mountaineers have mostly served adults. But that’s changing. The group added youth programs in Seattle first. This year, to my delight, they expanded to my hometown of Everett and I got my first chance to volunteer. The scrambling course led me to start climbing. So I was happy to show up in Everett to belay middle-schoolers in the YMCA’s Minority Achievers Program.

That day I ended up belaying on a hard section of wall, 5.12. I figured no one would get far up the wall, and I was right. I was wrong, though, when I thought most kids would give up quickly. The kids fell again and again, but they kept trying. They were creative about trying different strategies. No one seemed to think that falling was failing. I couldn’t help but think that’s a pretty valuable lesson to learn – even more practical than how to tie a figure-eight follow-through knot.  

One young climber, Wulfric Mangkornkeo, convinced the group leader to let him try one more climb as our time was running out. I belayed him on a route with an overhang. I wasn’t certain he’d be able to make it, but I kept my doubts to myself. I was wrong again. He struggled for a bit, but he kept trying until he found a combination of foot- and hand-holds that got him up. When he made it, we both cheered. I was more elated than if I’d made it up myself. (Which, frankly, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do.) 

I talked with Todd McNeal, executive director of Hand in Hand, a group that helps foster kids and has also climbed with The Mountaineers in Everett. Todd told me that sometimes volunteers think the kids need rescuing or looking after, but he doesn’t think that’s true. What they need is someone with passion who wants to share the things they love.

Mountaineers have passion to share and spare. After all, isn’t that what we’ve done for our whole history? We have taught each other to love the outdoors, and safely, for more than a century; now we’re including kids in our passions. 

My daughter is turning five soon. The challenge of starting kindergarten is ahead of us. But we’ll also have the mountains.  I can feel our limits pushing farther out all the time. 

This article originally appeared in our Jul/Aug 2015 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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