A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Intro to rock climbing

July 19, 2016
Emilie Phillips

We took Isaac rock climbing for the first time at a small rock outcropping just off Dolly Sods in WV.

Emilie learning how to climb on the same rocks as a kid.
Emilie learning how to climb on the same rocks as a kid.

My family named this rock the “little rocks” ages ago when I learned to climb there. It is a layered sandstone, specifically Pottsville sandstone. It is quite a bit harder than the smooth white sandstone outcroppings farther north on Cabin mountain. This part of the mountain has occasional talus slopes. To the north has white beaches under the rocks.

Isaac has a proper little kid climbing harness. We purchased it for hiking after getting close to cliffs in the Grand Tetons. And he has hand me down little climbing shoes which we have used twice in the gym. My parents and I pulled out our seldom used climbing gear for the occasion.

Trudy intent on belaying
Trudy intent on belaying

I had never set up an anchor on these rocks. My Dad had apparently forgotten what he used to do until we hiked to the top. Then he exclaimed “right, these rocks!” The layer of rock above the Pottsville sandstone had erroded clean leaving an unblemished flat top. There’s some gravel and a wide grassy area with a park bench to sit and enjoy the view over Canaan Valley. But there is nothing to put a nut or, had I brought mine, a cam into. Blueberry bushes grow behind the grass. I consoled myself by nibbling on a few while pondering our options. Behind the blueberries is a large conifer. The good news is the cliff itself is only ~25 feet tall. So we had the rest of the 60m rope for an anchor. We tied one end to the conifer and laid the rope out over the blueberries, through the grass, past the bench, over the gravel and finally down the cliff. There was just enough extra rope for the belayer at the top to tie off and climbers to maneuver at the bottom.

Isaac's first climb
Isaac’s first climb

Having set up the belay, now it was time to climb. Isaac went first. The bottom foot of rock is massively overhung, so we picked him up over that each time. For his first climb, we picked a crack where the layered sandstone split into stair steps. He stuck to the biggest holds. Our long anchor was useful because Isaac traversed far left and right going for the easiest route. He fell once on the way up. It took him a while to believe the rope was holding him and he wasn’t plummeting to his doom. After regaining his footing on the wall, we pointed out an easier route and he made it all the way up.

John climbing.
John climbing.

Isaac was so excited climbing that he only let one adult have a turn between his turns. For the adults, it was a game of “how can I avoid all the easy holds.”

Isaac repeated the same climb several times. Each time he got better at finding holds by himself and he wandered over less of the cliff. Isaac had a triumphant grin each time he reached the top. I never quite got there in time with my camera to capture it.

Isaac proving to Grandpa that he can do the harder climb.
Isaac proving to Grandpa that he can do the harder climb.

Once Isaac tired, we moved the rope over to a different, harder crack for one last adult climb. All the adults climbed it and then Isaac wanted to also. He needed a bit of rope tension in several places, but he made it. As soon as he reached the top, he yelled down “See Grandpa, I climbed the hard one!”

A good start. Now we need to figure out how to continue climbing in NH despite Tyson’s injured knee.

Photos From the Day


Second Trip to the Little Rocks

I had to work, but my parents took Isaac up to the little rocks to climb a couple days later.