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Learning the ropes

Jason Starr

SUMMIT COUNTY – You’re never too young to belay. Just ask 8-year-old Kaitie Hamlett, who was one of about a dozen youngsters testing their rock climbing skills Friday on Swan Mountain as part of the Breckenridge Recreation Center’s youth climbing camp.

“I like it because it’s fun and challenging,” she said in between turns on the rock. It was the first outdoor climbing experience for many of the kids after spending time on the indoor wall earlier this week.

“I’ve learned a lot from this,” said camper Randy Clark, “and had a lot of help, too.”

The help came from Diane McBride and Brad LaRochelle, instructors from the Breck Rec Center. They have been teaching kids to climb on the rec center wall for three years with an afterschool program and a climbing team. This four-day camp gave the youth climbing program some continuity through the summer, although many of the climbers were first-timers.

“This is a good way for them to be introduced to climbing,” LaRochelle said. “We started out in the climbing gym just working on basic skills, and we came out here to do something a little different.”

The camp held session in the relative safety of the indoor wall for three days before coming to Swan Mountain for a bigger challenge.

“It’s a little more difficult when you’re outside,” said 13-year-old climber Emily Woessner. “You have to pick your way around, and you have to find what’s easier and what’s not. Indoors you know what you’re doing.”

By the end of Friday’s session, all the campers seemed to know what they were doing, both on the belay rope and on the rock. They learned a lot of the rope-work indoors and, by Friday, were working on technique and efficiency. They tested themselves on several different Swan Mountain routes, one with an overhang.

“There is a lot you can teach someone who has never done it before,” LaRochelle said. “But it is one of those things you have to do a lot of if you want to be good at it.”

And it helps to start young. Shari Evans began climbing in her 20s and was at the bottom of the rock Friday watching her 6-year-old-daughter, Lisa.

“It’s great to start young,” Shari Evans said, “because you’re not as afraid, you’re just having fun. You’re not hard on yourself, you’re not thinking a lot. You’re just having a good time.”

It’s hard to say whether this was just a fun summertime diversion or the beginning of a lifelong athletic endeavor for these children. There are, after all, many activities to choose from. But the rock wall at the rec center will always be there, as will the year-round climbing programs the rec center offers.

“Hopefully a lot of them will stick with it and try some of the other programs we have,” LaRochelle said.

Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at jstarr@summitdaily.com.


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