It was early in the morning as we set off for our first day of technical canyoneering.
Utah’s Zion National Park is a beautiful place. The magnificent red rock and amazing scenery provided an amazing backdrop as we made our last-minute safety checks and headed off. But beauty can’t lead to complacency – six people have died in this canyon in the past two years and that always nags at the back of my mind.
It is no place to take shortcuts with safety checks. And some might say no place for kids. Or at least a high adventure activity like the canyoneering we were about to do.
We don’t agree.
Reaching the trail, we grabbed our wet suits, harnesses, packs, ropes, rappel devices, helmets, water and food and started the short hike in. An hour later we reached our destination. We changed into our wet suits, donned our helmets and set into the canyon full of excitement and anticipation.
Slot canyons in Utah are amazing. The cool thing is, with canyoneering, once you descend you are committed to finishing the canyon. Climbing out once you’re in is impossible so there is no way to turn back. Once you start a canyon, you must finish it.
When the anchor was set we began to rappel down, one by one into the canyon’s cold water. Along our trail we met many obstacles like steep down climbs, difficult rappels, hidden swimming holes and areas we have to shimmy down. In some places, we needed to assist the person behind us in manoeuvring down drops of varying height.
Four adults and eight kids went into the canyon and four adults and eight kids came out! We finished successfully with the same sentiment of awe and feeling accomplishment we always get with high adventure. A superb way to spend the day as a family!
High Adventure Teaches The Kids To Be Strong, Confident, Safe… And So Much More
Like any good parent, I often look at where we go wrong in parenting and what we could do better. And I look at what we are doing right. As I look at my children and their lack of fear, their desire to try new things and their ability to handle themselves well in unexpected situations I am grateful that we are doing something right. Even if I wonder how we are doing it.
Then it hits me.
Allowing our children and encouraging them to participate in high adventure activities is something we do right. Our children are learning to conquer their fear as they run off cliffs to paraglide and as they descend over ledges in slot canyons without being able to see the ground. They are pushed out of their comfort zone to a new level where anything is possible. They experience success and begin to understand their future potential.
They learn teamwork. Clearly this is a desired skill in any outdoor adventure. In high adventure it is vital and one that is strengthened very quickly. Learning to support one another, help others before yourself, and reach out for help when you need it. These qualities add to our character.
The kids become more safety conscious because we teach them why safety is important and how to be safe in different activities. I notice my children double check their harnesses, grab their helmets without being asked, wear life vests and check ropes for damage. It is amazing what kids learn when we take the time to teach them.
They understand safety checks like they understand how to tie their shoes. They are learning how to assess and handle risk so when we aren’t there when they’re grown up and facing the world, they will never get into a situation they can’t handle.
We are creating so many beautiful memories, watching our kids blossom as they learn lessons only mother nature can teach.
Our youngest was only 4 years old as we attempted to hike the Wolverine Cirque as a family. Climbing hand and foot over huge boulders and loose rocks to the first summit he began to cry. Big elephant tears tumbled down his face.
He wanted to turn around, but that was not a safe option so he continued upward with our help. As he approached the summit, tears still visibly falling down his cheeks he looked up with a big smile on his face and yelled, “I did it! Mom, dad I did it!” That memory is etched in my mind as the first time he conquered mother nature and she taught him what it means to gain self-confidence through accomplishing hard things.
Not Always Easy As A High Adventure Parent
As a mother one of my most difficult challenges has been allowing my children to do high adventure activities. In reality, I have been taught the same lessons my children are being taught. Overcoming my fear that they will get hurt, pushing me outside my parental comfort zone and realizing that although each child is different, they all need to do hard things and gain the self-confidence that comes with those accomplishments.
Engaging in high adventures with children takes a certain amount of grit and lots of preparation. Gathering gear, getting everyone prepared to go and packing day bags can wear me out. Teaching them how to pack, what to pack and double checking everything is a big job. Parents are also responsible to teach the necessary skills, research safe routes and find experienced group leaders or become experienced adventure leaders themselves.
There is no argument that it is easier to go on adult only trips, when you only need to prepare for yourself. But it is so much more rewarding to take the family. The bond that is built, the memories that are made and the lessons learned last a lifetime.
Do yourself and your children a favor and go have an adventure!