From Crib to Rock: How to Get Your Kids Climbing in Vermont

Getting lowered off of Forty Winks (5.2) at The Nap in Bolton
Getting lowered off of Forty Winks (5.2) at The Nap in Bolton Gribbin Loring
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Anyone who is a climber knows that once you become a parent, your climbing routine changes a bit. The trips to the crag tend to falter, your delaminated fingers become more familiar with your keyboard than any schist or granite, and you decide to trade in your high performance shoe for something a bit more comfortable. And it’s hard.

But then there’s this little light at the end of the tunnel—this tiny bundle of joy who you just know  is someday going to love climbing as much as you do. So you do what you can to instill this love for the crag and the rock and the climb early on. You bring them to the crag in their bucket seats, you buy them climbing shoes when they start walking, and you sit together and watch videos of Tommy Caldwell, Steph Davis, Alex Honnold, and Lynn Hill for inspiration. And it’s fun.

Luckily, there are a lot of parent-climbers in the Burlington area. If you can find them, you have found a way to get yourself and your child to the crag much more often. It is during these group outings that kids get a chance to see other kids climbing, to try climbing themselves, to hang on the rope, and to begin to trust the gear. At the same time, this gives you an opportunity to get back on the rock and back to some semblance of your former climbing self. (Note: you need at least three adults for this endeavor if you want to climb. One to belay, one to climb, and one to watch the little ones on the ground.) 

Being in the Green Mountains, Burlington has a handful of crags in the area that are actually really good introductions for the young or beginner climber. Two sit just outside of downtown Burlington, in the climbing mecca of Bolton. With nine crags in the area, it’s no surprise that there are one or two appropriate for the little ones.

Lower West is the first spot. While most of the climbs here are difficult, you can top rope all of them and many have bolted anchors, although not all. Harvest Moon is the best climb for kids here. It’s a 5.8, but the bottom 20 feet or so has great holds and good footing, so kids can really get a feel for climbing. And the rest of the climb is fun for the adults. In addition to the decent climbing for all parties involved, the base of the crag is relatively flat and borders the woods, where kids can easily entertain themselves while the adults sneak in a few extra climbs.

Getting lowered off of Forty Winks (5.2) at The Nap in Bolton
Getting lowered off of Forty Winks (5.2) at The Nap in Bolton Gribbin Loring

Another Bolton favorite for beginners is The Nap, which is located just up the road from Lower West on the far right side of Upper Upper West. It has an easy, short approach as well as a nice selection of low-angle climbs rated from 5.2 to 5.7. Forty Winks is a great climb for kids, rated at 5.2, Although it might feel a little stiffer for the grade, it offers climbers the chance to play around on slab or a low angled crack. There are bolted anchors, but the climb needs to be led to get to them. The base area here is even better than Lower West. It’s big and flat with a smooth dirt base, perfect for playing and hanging out in between climbs.  

Smugglers Notch, aka Smuggs, is a bit further afield in Stowe, but has the best bouldering around. What makes this great for kid-climbing is that most of the boulders are large enough for you to set up a top rope. Kids can then try their hand at a climb that looks smaller than a crag wall and may be a bit less intimidating. Trying to find a boulder with V0's on it is the trick, so your kid can at least get up off the ground. Smuggs offers a prime opportunity for you to be able to challenge yourself with much harder problems in the same vicinity as the easier ones you set for your kids.

According to some Vermonters, Prospect Rock is actually the best spot for young and beginner climbers. It’s 30-40 minutes outside Burlington, but offers a good selection of climbs for everyone, with nine climbs rated at 5.6 and under. Like "The Nap," kids can try out crack climbing and slabs in a comfortable environment. Please note that this crag can get pretty busy when Johnson State College is in session.

The last piece of advice, get out there and have fun.

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