9 Tips for Rock Climbing With Kids

Rock climbing is great for children. It gets them outside, it teaches problem solving, communication, and trust, and most importantly, it offers them an outlet to expend their infinite energy reserves. For all these reasons, you should consider taking them with you the next time you head off to climb outdoors.

At the same time, a trip to the local crag becomes a bit more complicated when you add child-climbers into the mix. So, to prepare, here are nine tips to keep cragging with the kiddos fun and safe for everyone.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

1. Choose the Right Crag

Kid-friendly, top-roping crags typically have three things in common. First, there is an easy and short approach with no objective hazards. Second, the staging area at the base of the climb—where you’ll be spending the next couple of hours belaying and hanging out—is flat and safe. Third, the routes should be easy (between 5.0 to 5.5) and less than vertical, and should have smooth landings, in case they have trouble with the first few moves.

If you’re in the Boston area, the most concentrated selection of beginner climbs is on the Main Wall at Chestnut Hill’s Hammond Pond. The best route, an alcove at the far-left end, is a fun, easy climb that everybody can do.

2. Get Them the Right Gear

Kids need two pieces of equipment to climb safely: a harness and a climbing-specific helmet. Climbing shoes are not essential, but their sticky rubber soles do make things easier.

For children younger than 6 or 7, a full-body harness is recommended. These harnesses have a tie-in point at chest-level and are designed to prevent kids from falling out if they flip upside down.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

3. Help Them Through the Hard Moves

Climbing does not come easily for every kid. If your kiddo is struggling at a specific move low on the route, one simple technique that helps build confidence is the “foot-spot.” Just use your hand to stabilize her foot on the hold, so that she can climb through the difficulty to easier terrain.

If her crux is out of your reach, consider having the belayer take a little extra weight as the climber attempts the move. This extra “pull” is often enough to assist a child through the move and allows him or her to finish the climb.

4. What Goes Up Must Come Down

First-time climbers often struggle with transitioning to being lowered after they get to the top of the climb. So, before your kid leaves the ground, rehearse what will happen once she reaches the top. Kids are much more likely to “trust the rope” if you’ve had them climb up about six to seven feet and then do a practice lower. Moreover, it’s much easier to correct their body position for lowering when they are within arm’s reach than when they are swinging nervously at the top!

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

5. Bring Snacks and Toys

Bring a variety of small snacks for the kids after their “sends.” They help keep the energy levels high and usually provide enough distraction for the break between climbs.

If you are planning on climbing with a couple of kids, consider bringing toys and games to keep them busy and engaged throughout the outing. For example, we always bring my younger son’s toy trucks when we go climbing as a family. He’s only three, so his attention span for climbing can be quite short. But, he’s always happy to hang around and fill his dump truck with dirt while the rest of us get in a couple more top-rope laps.

6. Set Clear Expectations

Kids, especially young ones, require a lot of attention when climbing. Set expectations by articulating clear rules, particularly about edge safety. And, when climbing with several kids, having a second adult, who supervises the non-climbing children so the belayer can avoid distractions, keeps the focus solely on the climber’s safety.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

7. Manage Your Own Ambitions

When you head out to climb with your family, try not to get carried away with your own “sending” ambitions. Your project is probably too hard for your kids, and they’ll get bored—and want to go home—if they have to watch you work it for too long. Try instead to get your climbing fix either on the route they’re climbing or on an adjacent one.

8. Not Every Climbing Session Ends Perfectly

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the climbing is too crowded, the route is too hard, or your little climber just isn’t into it. To avoid a total loss, have a backup plan. Scrambling on a nearby easy boulder problem is often a good alternative. A quick hike or nature walk is another option.

9. Consider Taking a Lesson

Climbing is dangerous. If you are interested in climbing with your family, but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School.

Can you think of any other tips for rock climbing with kids? Share them here in the comments section!

Bouldering in the Ocean State: Lincoln Woods

To all but the locals, referring to Rhode Island as a climbing destination sounds like a joke. Even some struggle to believe that the nation’s smallest state is also home to some of the region’s best bouldering at Lincoln Woods (or, more simply, “The Woods”). In fact, some climbers even struggle to know where Rhode Island is.

I have two friends from the Ocean State who crisscrossed the U.S. on a climbing trip and claim they were treated like celebrities everywhere from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to Bishop, California. Why? Because no one had ever met someone from Rhode Island. The most common thing they heard on their trip was, “Rhode Island…That’s near Cape Cod. Right?”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Southern New England’s Secret

Perhaps it’s for the best that the rest of the country hasn’t learned of The Woods’ high-quality granite blocks. After all, it’s located just minutes outside of Providence, an hour from Boston, and an hour and a half from Hartford, making it an easy day trip for many in the Northeast’s major metropolitan areas.

Also, with a plenitude of moderate problems, The Woods is an attractive destination for groups of mixed abilities. Weekends here can get a little crazy, but don’t worry. There are plenty of problems to go around and solitude can be easily found by visiting the more out-of-the-way boulders. Be warned, though: To me, many of these challenges felt hard for their grade.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why It’s Popular

Like its proximity to the area’s big cities, The Woods’ bouldering logistics are also incredibly convenient. Unlike many New England crags, The Woods has an abundance of parking, with multiple lots to service the diverse user groups frequenting the park. In all my years going here, I have never struggled to find a spot for my car.

Furthermore, a paved road loops around the park and comes within a short distance of many of The Woods’ classic boulders, making navigation a breeze and climbing typically only a short walk away. Additionally, many of its quality sites are adjacent to each other, allowing climbers to hop from boulder to boulder with relative ease. 

For me, once snow’s on the ground, I gravitate from climbing shoes to ski boots. However, at Lincoln Woods, you can find something to climb year-round. Some boulders sit in the shade or frequently get a cooling wind, making for comfortable climbing on the warm days of spring and summer. And, for the cold days of late fall and winter, plenty sit in the sun or reside in spots that seem to hold warm air.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

So Much to Do

Many will spend years just trying to visit all of the park’s boulders, never mind send every problem. But, for your next visit, consider checking out some of The Woods’ can’t-miss spots at least once and trying some of its must-do problems. Here’s a look at some of its more popular areas, all within an easy walk from your car. And, the best part is, all of these spots are about a five-minute walk from one another, so try them all!

The Great Slab/Wave

A short walk down the road from the park’s main entrance and around the pond brings you to The Great Slab/Wave, considered one of The Woods’ most iconic problems. Depending on who you talk to or where you get your beta, this popular boulder is either called The Great Slab, after the imposing slab you see from the road, or The Wave, after the boulder’s most notorious problem.

Climbing The Wave (V2) is a rite of passage for Lincoln Woods boulderers and should not be missed. Like the many problems here, don’t let its moderate grade fool you. The Wave is hard and combines a wide variety of climbing styles, forcing you into steep terrain and requiring you to use everything from slopers to cracks.

The Ship’s Prow

If the leaves are off the trees, you can see the Ship’s Prow from The Wave, as it’s just across a well-used dirt path. An extremely popular boulder, the Ship’s Prow sees a great deal of traffic, thanks to its proliferation of easy-to-moderate climbs and confidence-inspiring flat landings. It’s not uncommon to find a group of beginners projecting here, next to hardcore climbers warming up.

Although this spot is home to multiple fun problems, the Ship’s Prow Traverse (V1) is the area’s must-do route. You’ll find that it traverses roughly half of the boulder before topping out at the rock’s highest point.

The Iron Cross Boulder

If you look left, across from the pond as you approach The Wave, you’ll see a few boulders scattered up the hill. Following a well-established path, head up the hill to three of The Woods’ most notorious boulders.

On the far right is the the Iron Cross Boulder. Much like The Wave, this boulder gets its name from its most notable problem, The Iron Cross (V4)—which itself is known for a signature iron-cross move.

Shorter people, be warned: The starting hold on The Iron Cross is pretty high off the ground, and I have witnessed all sorts of trickery—from stacking pads to jumping to getting a boost—to reach it. If the starting hold is a little too high, or you’re just looking for something more moderate, the vertical wall facing the road holds a bunch of fun—albeit tall—problems.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mack’s Traverse

To the left of the Iron Cross Boulder is Mack’s Traverse, which is also named after its signature problem. Mack’s Traverse (V2) crosses nearly all of the boulder’s entirety from right to left and is another classic problem that lures you in by looking easier than it is.

But, to send Mack’s Traverse, you need good beta and even better footwork. Like any classic at a high-traffic area, it seems that the boulder’s every hold is ticked, making where to go misleading at times. Furthermore, the problem is steeper than it appears. As well, because of the incredible amount of traffic it sees, the feet are pretty slippery. In fact, if you forget to keep pressure on them, you’re sure to slide off.

If Mack’s Traverse isn’t happening for you, you’ll find a handful of easier straight-up climbs on the right end and the face. And, if they seemed too easy, just walk down the short hill to the Warm-Up Cave, where you’ll find some of The Woods’ hardest problems.

Warm-Up Cave

Like all listed above, the Warm-Up Cave also sees a lot of traffic due to its high-quality problems and proximity to the park’s entrance. Although you’ll find a number of harder problems here, its easier routes keep beginner and intermediate climbers busy, too.

In spite of its harder climbs, the most notable problem at the Warm-Up Cave is within nearly every man’s reach. Neil’s Lunge (V4) starts in the boulder’s middle on a half-moon flake. Move up the flake to a small crimp, and then, psych yourself up for a dynamic lunge move to better holds.

Looking for something easier? The Cave Warm-Up (V1) follows a fun and obvious line of good holds to the boulder’s highest point. Be warned: Although you’ll encounter all positive holds, at some point, you’ll realize you’re pretty high off the ground, which can be a little intimidating.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These problems are an awesome place to get started, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. And, while Mountain Project or a guidebook has even more listed, over the years, locals have shown me all sorts of hidden variations and challenges. Of course, the only way you get that type of beta is going directly there. Like I said initially, there is no bad time to visit…so, attempt these challenges at the first available opportunity.

Winter-Summer Pairings: Shoulder Season Multisport Days

As we head into spring, many outdoor people find themselves conflicted on which sports to pursue. Should they get a head start on their favorite summer activities? Or, should they wring the last bit of life out of their favorite winter sports? Around this time each year, I find myself torn between the desire to get back on the trails (or rock) and—with the knowledge that, once the snow melts, it will be months before I can ski again—my love for spring corn. Luckily, New England is full of great opportunities for those of us who can’t decide what we want to do.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Bag a 4,000-footer and ski the resort

New England springs often offer cold nights and warm days. This means the snow is firm in the morning and soft in the afternoon, so the ski trails aren’t always in prime condition until later in the day.

Waterville Valley is perfect for days like this! With the Tecumseh Trail leading directly from the Waterville Valley parking lot to Mount Tecumseh’s summit, you can tag a 4,000-footer in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Being the shortest of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, Mount Tecumseh is one of the easier hikes to tick off your list (roughly six miles round trip and with 2,500 feet of elevation gain). This leaves you with plenty of energy to enjoy the steep runs located off Waterville’s aptly named Sunnyside Triple trail in the afternoon.

Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck
Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck

2. Ski and send

Over the years, Cannon Mountain has developed a loyal following of skiers and boarders more interested in amazing terrain than in on-mountain amenities. If you’re like me and consider a chairlift an amenity, they even offer an $8 uphill pass that allows you to skip the lifts and skin uphill on designated trails. Even better, in good seasons, the mountain will close for the year with an abundance of snow still on it, offering great skiing for only the price of the calories and sweat it takes to get you to the top of it.

Coming from south of Franconia Notch in the spring, I love to blend a morning of earning my turns at Cannon Mountain with clipping bolts at Rumney on the way home. With an abundance of crags close to the parking lot, many of which get great afternoon sun, this trip is the perfect way to bid farewell to skiing and usher in climbing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Mount Wachusett, multisport playground

For years, I was lucky enough to live close to Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts. While the mountain may be limited in terrain, it is in no way limited in opportunities for an incredible multisport spring day. Whether you’re skinning up the mountain before it opens, riding the lifts, or lucky enough to be getting turns after it has closed for the season, the skiing is almost always fun. As well, the mountain’s more limited terrain won’t have you feeling like you’re missing out as you leave to pursue other activities.

Much like Mount Tecumseh, Mount Wachusett’s summit is attainable simply by following trails leaving from the ski resort’s parking lot. Combining a morning on the slopes with a quick trek to the summit is a fantastic way to get your hiking legs under you without missing a chance to ski the soft spring snow. My favorite route has always been following the Balance Rock Trail to the Semuhenna Trail to the Harrington Trail to the summit.

Of course, as good as Mount Wachusett’s hiking trails are, the roads surrounding the mountain are basically tailor-made for cycling. After a morning on the slopes, I love to challenge myself with any number of loop rides that start in the ski resort’s parking lot and climb over the mountain. I like to descend Route 140 and hook up with Route 62. From Route 62, you can connect with Mountain Road to climb up and over Mount Wachusett.

If combining hiking or biking with skiing isn’t interesting enough for you, Mount Wachusett is also located only a few minutes down the road from Crow Hill, one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most notorious crags, and is roughly an hour away from some of New England’s most popular bouldering at Lincoln Woods in Rhode Island.

Although I am not big on playing in the water, one of my friends insists the ultimate multisport opportunity afforded by Mount Wachusett is the chance to play on frozen water in the morning and moving water in the afternoon. For those that don’t know, Mount Wachusett is roughly an hour away from popular surf spots in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.


While spring is the season in which we say goodbye to our favorite winter sports and welcome in our summer activities of choice, there are a few magical weeks where your outdoor options are almost unlimited, making it perfect for the person who wants to do everything.

The Boulderer's Valentine's Day

Over the years, I have found many great things at Eastern Mountain Sports—fantastic coworkers, lifelong friends, an increasingly large pile of gear, and, most importantly, my wife. EMS has also taught me to love new sports, such as trail running, skiing, and climbing, as well as some valuable life lessons along the way. As one, spending time with people who prioritize getting outside can warp things like what constitutes a romantic date.

To most, a climbing trip to Alabama for Valentine’s Day might sound bizarre.

For many people, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show the person with whom you’re romantically involved how much you care for them. Or, perhaps, it’s the chance to express to someone your feelings for them. Images of candlelit dinners in dimly-lit restaurants, romantic movies, and moonlight walks come to mind, along with traditional gifts like jewelry, heart-shaped chocolates, and bouquets of flowers. But, for me, when facing my first Valentine’s Day with my now-wife, I quickly thought to myself, “I should take her climbing at Horse Pens 40 in Alabama.”

To most, a climbing trip to Alabama for Valentine’s Day might sound bizarre. But, when you’re working in a store filled with fanatic climbers, one of whom you’re dating, a trip to the South’s Sandstone Belt to visit one of the country’s more unique bouldering destinations makes much more sense than dinner and a movie. So, with the school where she taught closed for vacation, my abundance of paid time off, and my need to wow her for our first year together, we packed our bags, climbing shoes, and crash pads, and headed to Horse Pens 40 to spend an uncommon romantic holiday— really, nine days total—together.

After an 18-hour car ride from Worcester, Mass., to Steele, Ala., we found ourselves amid a bouldering heaven. Rather than rest or set up the tent, we went right to work, tackling Horse Pens 40’s classic problems and distinctive slopers, and quickly settled into the “climb, rest, repeat” cycle that is the mark of any good adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

It was in the mid-fifties all week, and if you have just come from New England in February, it feels like stepping into the dead of summer.

When the 14th eventually rolled around, we were too focused on the climbs we wanted to do and our limited time left at Horse Pens to let Valentine’s Day interfere with our established pattern. We slept in—that is to say we slept in a tent and awakened early to take advantage of the good friction commonly found in the morning, before heading out like many couples do for brunch.

The closest thing we could find was Huddle House. Without disparaging the hot spot (it’s become a requisite stop for any Horse Pens trip my wife and I take together), imagine it as a less-prestigious version of Waffle House. But, after a cold night in the tent and a couple hours of climbing, there is something truly magical about their sausage and gravy. I am sure in the moment she was as wooed as she would’ve been if we were drinking mimosas in a fancy restaurant.

After brunch, we relaxed and digested in the soothing Southern February sun, laughing as the locals moving between the boulders layered up as if the weather were actually cold. We then returned for an afternoon session, where we attempted to burn off our heavy Southern breakfasts. It was in the mid-fifties all week, and if you have just come from New England in February, it feels like stepping into the dead of summer. Sure, it wasn’t laying in the sand on a tropical beach or deck chairs on a cruise, but it worked for us.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

When the 14th eventually rolled around, we were too focused on the climbs we wanted to do and our limited time left at Horse Pens to let Valentine’s Day interfere with our established climbing pattern.

For dinner, we cooked together, making ding-and-dent Chef Boyardee beef ravioli from the Dollar General on the Whisperlite stove while sipping our favorite offerings from SweetWater Brewing next to a roaring campfire. Essentially, it was the budget-conscious climber’s equivalent to that candlelit dinner. I can’t remember if I offered to take her out to dinner, and she declined, not wanting to eat at Huddle House twice in a day, or we just decided to “cook.” Either way, I felt like this was more memorable. Eventually, we ended the night by retiring to our tent and the warmth of our sleeping bags.

Although our first Valentine’s Day veered from the traditional, my now-wife loved every moment of our time in Horse Pens 40. This trip, too, was a precursor to numerous other off-the-beaten adventures.

In the six years since, we have made several trips back to Horse Pens to tackle unfinished projects, take a break from winter, relive our first Valentine’s Day together, eat at Huddle House, and bask in the romantic atmosphere of Horse Pens 40 (okay, maybe that last one’s a stretch). I even suggested Horse Pens 40 as a wedding location, but we couldn’t quite convince the parents to get on board.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Only Way Is Up: Type 2 Fun on Mount Shasta

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

It was supposed to be simple, a warm-up for the real climbing. But, one small navigational error, mixed with some consistently bad decision making, turned our supposedly easy journey into an epic that would be impossible to forget.

Two long-time friends, my wife, and I had hiked from Mount Shasta’s Bunny Flat trailhead to Lake Helen, where we set up camp, cooked dinner, and went to bed early in preparation for an alpine start and summit attempt. The following morning, the alarm came quickly, at a time most would consider more night than day. We slowly crawled from our sleeping bags and began to layer up, fill water bottles, and pack our bags for the big day. Our plan was to summit, return to camp, pack it up, and head back to the car at Bunny Flat. Over the course of the day, we would climb almost 4,000 feet and descend more than 7,000, all at an altitude unfamiliar to us four East Coasters.

The alarm came quickly, at a time most would consider more night than day.

We left Lake Helen around 1 a.m. and moved up Shasta’s icy, steep slope toward the day’s crux: the Red Banks. Passing through the Red Banks was our chosen route’s one real challenge, and climbers have two options: Attempt the steep-ish chimney that runs through the Red Banks, or hike around them. We had elected the former option. Roped up as a team of four, we made consistent upward progress through the early morning darkness, frequently stopping to check the GPS to ensure we were heading the right way. Here, however, is where we made our first mistake.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Two of us had previously climbed Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch route, and despite what the GPS said, we both felt like we were being pulled too far right, away from the chimney and toward the end of the Red Banks. Arriving at a cliff band with the sun beginning to rise, we realized our mistake. In fact, we trended too far to the left, missed the chimney, and were facing three options: One, traverse the icy slope, locate the chimney, and continue up the mountain, taking a time and effort penalty for our navigational misstep; two, descend back to camp, cut our losses, and begin preparing for the climbs on Shasta’s north side, the real reason we came here; or, three, just go up!

The only way out was up.

Going up sounded good. In theory, we could avoid any time lost from our mistake. After all, the climbing didn’t look that hard, and we would surely intersect with the Avalanche Gulch route farther up the mountain. But, whether blinded by ambition, overconfident, or just tired from traveling and the early start, this turned into our second mistake. Because of the route’s technical nature, we were no longer moving in unison; rather, one person would climb ahead and belay the other three up, significantly slowing our ascent and leaving us to nibble away at the 14,180 ft. mountain 200 feet at a time

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. After climbing one rope length, we discovered the cliff was bigger than we initially judged, leading to another rope length of technical climbing. After that, we ascended a steep snowfield, which brought us to a steep scree field, which further led us to another steep snowfield, all with bits of semi-technical climbing on crumbling volcanic rock (Type 2 Fun on its own) mixed in. At no time did we see or run into the Avalanche Gulch. It dawned on us pretty soon that we had climbed onto Casaval Ridge, one of the mountain’s more aesthetic lines and a far more challenging route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The good news was that we knew where we were and knew that if we continued climbing, we would, in fact, intersect with Avalanche Gulch eventually. The bad news was that the climbing was slow, we had only packed food and water for a quick summit attempt, we’d been on the go for a long time, nerves were getting frayed, and there was no turning around. From our location, reversing our route would be much more challenging and time consuming. The only way out was up.

The early morning’s psych had worn off, and no one was having fun anymore. When we stopped to belay, there was nothing but silence, as everyone was locked into their personal bubbles of suffering and anxiety. Each time we reached the top of a snowfield or cliff band, there was a moment of anticipation, with everyone hoping that we’d finally get to familiar territory, but it was followed by disappointment when we realized we had yet another obstacle to overcome.

We’d been on the move for almost twelve hours when we encountered the crux of Casaval Ridge, The Catwalk. As the name implies, The Catwalk is a narrow section of rock and snow measuring between one- to two-feet wide, with a bulging wall of loose rock on your left and the abyss on your right. While not technically challenging, it is a heady bit of climbing, with dire consequences if you make a mistake, and not exactly the place you would want to be if your original plan had you cracking beers in the parking lot by now.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Never have people been so happy to see a place called Misery Hill.

Reluctantly, we climbed The Catwalk—what other choice did we have? It was also here where the day assuredly became Type 2 Fun, as a few tears were already shed. Luckily, after The Catwalk, the terrain became easier, and we could now clearly see Misery Hill, the place where Casaval Ridge and Avalanche Gulch join. Looking back, never have people been so happy to see a place called Misery Hill.

Below Misery Hill and off Casaval Ridge, we sat in the afternoon sun while nibbling on our remaining food and sipping the last of our water. With the summit in sight, two of us made a push for the top, but our hearts were no longer in it. A couple hundred feet shy of the summit, we turned around, picked up the other two, who were sulking at the base of Misery Hill, and descended Avalanche Gulch toward our camp at Lake Helen. There, we ate, drank, and packed up before hiking back to the car and the promise of hot meals, cold beers, and comfy beds in town.

After a day of relaxing, we went back and climbed Mount Shasta via Avalanche Gulch efficiently and without incident, summiting in the early morning with the peak to ourselves. But, we never did make it to Shasta’s north side. Over the course of our two trips, we only summited once, but got to experience two types of fun. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky we didn’t experience the third.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Carried Away by The Eaglet

The Eaglet is New Hampshire’s only free-standing spire and, for climbers wanting a majestic adventure, is home to a few separate routes, with West Chimney (5.7) being the most popular. In 1929, Lincoln O’Brien and Robert Underhill recognized this beautiful structure and decided to take a closer look, unknowingly making the historic first ascent of a soon-to-be classic.

My alarm rang: It was 5:45 a.m. as I jumped out of bed, straight into my approach shoes. I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep. After packing my car, I drove two hours north to meet up with my climbing partner, Justin. We immediately began to discuss the routes on our objective, The Eaglet. As we conceptualized over some hot tea, we realized that the mountain face would only make this climb much more epic.

Justin and I began our short but steep 30-minute hike to the base. After some back-and-forth banter, we finally geared up. Due to the icy conditions, we discussed minor changes to our route and decided West Chimney was the best line of ascent. Justin and I climb often and have attempted many different crags, but nothing compared to The Eaglet on this day.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The First Pitch

West Chimney’s first pitch begins to the climbers’ left. Justin started on the first lead, threading his way up ledges and shallow corners on the spire’s left-hand skyline. Given the abnormally difficult conditions, I had decided to relinquish the sharp end, which was made easier by my partner’s vast experience in this type of dicey terrain. Playing into your partner’s strengths is the key to success and safety in the mountains, and this day was his turn.

Given the route’s circuitous line of ascent and the wind carrying our voices off into the void, we came to a resolution: to use an age-old mountaineering formula for voiceless communication. This code—primitive at best—is based on sharp, distinct rope tugs: Three clear pulls indicate on-belay. When you’re climbing multi-pitch walls, communication is critical.

“I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep”

Soon after Justin started out, I heard a holler of elation and subsequently felt three tugs. I got ready and began climbing, only to realize how icy the first hold was.

I continued up toward the route’s first crux, a small ceiling you need to climb up and around. There, I spotted a piton so old I assumed it was put in place by the first ascensionist. About 15 feet past this section, the climb got pretty slabby. This forced me to move quickly, so I didn’t slip.

After crushing through this part of the journey, I headed up and left to a loose and snowy vertical gully. A few tricky moves placed me at our first belay atop a ledge, where I joined Justin with a huge smile. With the energy of pure enjoyment, we were determined to get to the top.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The Final Pitch

The next pitch—my favorite—was a 60-foot crack, one splitting two walls and big enough to wedge our bodies into. After we snaked our way up using all sorts of abnormal moves, we reached the coolest feature: a chockstone the size of a Smart car blocking the crack’s exit. Still short of desperation and driven to succeed, I dug my way up. Trying so hard, I couldn’t help but look like I was in a cage fight. Justin began to laugh after witnessing my unusual facial expressions.

After grunting my way up to the second anchor, I once again reunited with Justin’s energy. He gets so stoked over climbing, and honestly at this point, it had completely rubbed off on me. It has been said that climbing is 90-percent mental. So, with this perspective, I’ve never had an unhappy moment out on these vertical adventures.

I finally set up for him to begin the final pitch. Making his way up the icy route, he began to spiral around the notch that stood between the cliff and its pinnacle. Justin then placed a quickdraw on a piton and turned to me to exclaim, “Rachael, you are going to love this!”

That was an obvious understatement. My eyes widened and my heart began to race from the exposure. Franconia Notch shimmered from a light dusting of snow and ice glimmering in the sun.

After one final hold to the top, I was standing next to Justin, looking at what we had just climbed and taking note of what we were actually standing on. This view once again made me speechless. Here we were, standing nearly midair with nothing but the White Mountains and an energetic atmosphere surrounding us.

This was hands down the most epic journey I’ve done in my two years of climbing. I cannot wait for the many more Justin and I will plan together and accomplish in the future.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The Guide's Guide to Choosing the Proper Ice Axe

“I hate winter,” “I hate snow,” and “I hate ice” are commonly heard phrases throughout the Northeast during the winter months, but not from our guides at the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In fact, for many of them, this is prime climbing season, and whether they’re scaling the popular Lion Head route on Mount Washington or the famed steep ice of Frankenstein Cliff, they’re sure to be carrying an ice axe.

However, with so many different types on the market, knowing which one to pick can be difficult. To help make your decision easier, I spoke with EMS Climbing School manager Keith Moon to gain some insight into how to find the right ice axe, depending on what you hope to accomplish in the mountains.





Keith offered some simple advice for trying to make sense of the ice axes on the wall of your local EMS: “The lower the angle you’re climbing, the longer and straighter you’ll want your ice axe. The steeper the terrain, the shorter and more radically shaped you’ll want your tool.” As a reminder, he explained, “The challenge is to match the right tool and technique to the right terrain.”

Credit: David Stone
Credit: David Stone

Mountaineering Axes

Mountaineering axes are distinguished by their straight shaft, adze (the flat, wide end of the head used for chopping steps in hard snow and ice), and classically curved pick, and they are staples of our school’s winter Mount Washington climbs. For these journeys, the EMS Climbing School uses Petzl products and has seen the Petzl Glacier axe dutifully accompany many to Mount Washington’s summit over the last couple of years. Although the Climbing School loves this model, our EMS stores carry a wide assortment of general mountaineering axes, including the incredibly popular Black Diamond Raven.

An essential item in any mountaineer’s kit, this axe used in combination with crampons is how climbers protect themselves when attempting low-angle terrain. The axe, when plunged into hard snow and ice, can be used for increased stability, while the pick allows climbers to self-arrest, or stop themselves, in the event of a fall. Even though this tool sees most of its use on Mount Washington by the Climbing School, Keith has occasionally tested its limits on some steeper routes with clients preparing for major trips on bigger mountains.

Not sure what length you need? Keith recommends that, when sizing a mountaineering axe, customers hold the head of the tool and let it hang by their side. When it’s sized properly, the spike should hang around the ankle bone.

Hybrid/Alpine Ice Axes

Hybrid axes represent the most niche tool the EMS Climbing School uses, and Keith admits that his Petzl Sum’Tech sees the least amount of action out of all the axes in his quiver. However, he is quick to remind us that having the right tool for the job can be the key to success in the mountains.

As the name implies, hybrid axes split the difference between their mountaineering and ice counterparts. They feature a slightly bent shaft for clearing ice bulges on steeper terrain and a more aggressive pick for ascending steeper sections of ice.

The Petzl Sum’Tec axe is the choice of many EMS guides for tackling objectives that blend steep sections with more moderate terrain. With an adjustable hand rest, the Sum’Tech can transition from a traditional piolet to a capable climber quickly and easily. Keith says that climbs such as Willey’s Slide and Shoestring Gully are great examples of when a hybrid tool is ideal.

While the Sum’Tech is an excellent tool, the Black Diamond Venom is another great option that EMS carries in its stores and online.

Credit: Keith Moon
Credit: Keith Moon

Technical Ice Tools

With their radical shapes, shorter lengths, and more aggressive picks, ice-specific tools look significantly different from their mountaineering brethren. In fact, they can even appear distinctly different from other ice tools, depending on if they have a recessed handle or not.

You will find both tools with recessed handles, like the Petzl Nomic, and models with non-recessed handles, like the Petzl Quark, at the EMS Climbing School. So, what’s the difference? Those with a recessed handle pivot at the pointer finger, while non-recessed ones do so at the pinky. Keith says, “Neither one is better than the other. What matters is that the tool swings naturally to you.” Either recessed or non-recessed, these are designed for high performance on steep ice.

Try them out…

Keith’s biggest piece of advice about ice axes is, try before you buy. Ice tools are a big investment, and you’ll want something that feels good in your hand and swings the way you want it to. Whether you take a lesson with the EMS Climbing School and put our Petzl tools to the test, or attend a demo or ice fest, try swinging several before you commit to buying.

Keith also recommends bringing the gloves you’re planning on climbing in to the store with you. It’s amazing the difference a glove can add to the feel of an axe, he explains, and just because something seems good in your bare hand doesn’t mean it will be that way with your gloves on.

…And pick a winner!

The fact is that Eastern Mountain Sports carries a bunch of great ice axes, and we have only mentioned a few here. I for one am anxious to swing the CAMP X-Dream. If you’ve been dying to get a new model for your winter Mount Washington trip, or have been looking at a new set of tools with the hope of stepping up your steep ice game this season, stop into an EMS or check out our selection on EMS.com.

Of course, if you want to swing them before buying, give Keith and the guides at the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School a call, and see if you can check out their Petzl axes. While you’re there, maybe you can get them to run you up that dream line at the same time.

Guide's Pick: Best Adirondack Ice Climbing Destinations

Winter is finally in full swing here in the Northeast, with the mercury hanging well below that magical 32-degree line in many places. And, that can only mean one thing: ice! Whether you’re a seasoned ice climber or a beginner just looking to get that first taste of vertical water, Lake Placid and the Adirondacks are home to some of the United States’ best and most accessible ice climbing destinations. The area offers varied terrain—from shorter, low-angled waterfalls to longer, more difficult routes—making the Adirondacks inviting for all skill levels. What’s even better is, EMS offers a range of ice climbing and mountaineering courses out of Lake Placid, tailored to your skill level. We caught up with EMS Climbing School guide Will Roth to get you the low-down on climbing Adirondack ice.




Roth started climbing while attending Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and quickly fell in love with all of its aspects. Will’s passion is demonstrated through his impressive resume of ascents: He’s climbed all over the Northeast and American West, scaled the fabled big walls of Yosemite, completed high-altitude ascents in Peru and Bolivia, and winter-climbed in Scotland and Chamonix, just to name a few. “It’s impossible for me to get bored,” Roth said. “[Climbing] gives me a purpose. I’m always thinking about how I’m going to get things done, so I can climb more.”

With so much energy and passion for the sport, Will inevitably became a guide. Inspired by a great climbing mentor who was a guide himself, Will found his niche in the Adirondacks, running an ice climbing program for the Boy Scouts. He transitioned into his role as an EMS guide from there.

The Adirondacks offer the perfect backdrop for Will to teach his clients the fundamentals and beyond, and he’s quick to share the wisdom he’s accrued over the years: “Go with a guide service like the EMS climbing school that has high-quality gear for you to borrow. In ice climbing, quality gear can make a huge difference in your initial impression.”

If you do take an EMS course in the Adirondacks, rest assured that you will be outfitted with all of the proper technical gear to move on steep snow and ice, as well as expert instruction to give you a full understanding of what’s required to climb ice in the wintertime.

Before you depart, Will recommends bringing lots of easy-to-consume, high-calorie snacks. He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated by bringing along warm liquids: “Staying hydrated will make your day more enjoyable, and it’s easier to drink warm liquids. Cold fluids usually aren’t very appealing when it’s freezing out! Also, a warm belay jacket is important for comfort when not climbing.”

When you’re ready to go, use this list from Roth for some of the Adirondacks’ best routes:

Credit: Chris LaCour</a
Credit: Chris LaCour

Chouinard’s Gully (NEI 3 300′)

This is the route that Yvon Chouinard and his crew supposedly climbed during their historic 1969 visit. It’s three pitches of moderate ice, with the first being the steepest. Although you can rappel the entire route, walking off down a trail from the top keeps congestion on busy days to a minimum. This one is a classic and can get busy.

Pharaoh Mountain (NEI 3+)

If this route is in, get on it! It’s a long day, no matter how you do it. After a several-mile approach, three moderate pitches lead to the top. The first is the steepest, and after that, the higher you get, the easier the angle. Good map and compass skills and an overnight kit are a must on this excursion, especially if the weather is bad and visibility low. Most doing this climb for the first time significantly underestimate the time it takes to go from car to car, but it’s probably the Adirondacks’ best route of its grade.

Credit: molochmaster
Credit: molochmaster

Multiplication Gully (NEI 3+ 225′)

In the Adirondacks, we don’t have many climbs like this. It is a true gully, with steep walls on either side. Two pitches of moderate ice top out at a cliff that has vegetation so thick you better rap off. This climb truly is a gem, and being tucked back into a cliff with views out toward Whiteface Mountain really makes it stand out.

Credit: Bertrand Côté
Credit: Bertrand Côté

Positive Thinking (NEI 5- 400′)

This is the big, hard route. The initial long, just under vertical first pitch can be deceivingly thin, while the second pitch is short but steep! And, the last pitch is a fun romp to the trees. Topping this climb out is always satisfying!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Roaring Brook Falls (NEI 3+ 350′)

On a below-zero degree day in the sun, this three-pitch moderate climb is where you want to be. Because you’re climbing a “live” feature, there are always interesting ice formations. More than other ice climbs, this one forms differently every year.


Whether you’re tackling Positive Thinking or taking EMS’s Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you’re going to have a good time in the Adirondacks. The rhythmic swing of the ice axes and the deliberate, precise nature of the task at hand all make for an experience that’s hard not to enjoy. And, what’s better than spending a winter day in the outdoors? For Will Roth, that’s what it’s all about: “The biggest thing climbing does for me [is], it allows me to focus on just one thing; my mind isn’t going in all different directions when I’m climbing. There is something very satisfying about that singular commitment.”


Ryan Knapp's MWOBS Observer Wish List

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered what items professional athletes and outdoor adventurers put on their wish lists? Because these folks know their stuff, we asked a handful of experts in different fields to tell us what they want for the holidays.

Since 2005, Ryan Knapp has been a weather observer and meteorologist at the home of the world’s worst weather, Mount Washington. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington’s summit, the highest in the Northeast, sits at the convergence of several different storm tracks, giving it notoriously erratic, extreme, and even deadly conditions. The second-fastest wind speed on Earth—a staggering 231 mph—was recorded on the peak, and it has seen temperatures as low as 47 degrees below zero. And, it’s Ryan’s job to both keep track of it and try to predict what’s coming, which means he needs top-of-the-line gear.

Courtesy of Ryan Knapp
Courtesy of Ryan Knapp

1. Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampons

While the summit has an average snowfall of 281 inches, most of this is scoured off by our high winds, which then leave it as a giant dome of ice with hard-packed snow on the leeward sides. As a result, a solid pair of crampons, like Black Diamond’s Neve Straps, are an essential item for working on the summit, whether it is going to gather the precipitation can, repair an instrument, or go out for the occasional SAR effort. 

2. Kahtoola MICROspikes

In the heart of winter, crampons are essential, but in the shoulder seasons (specifically, spring and fall and even occasionally summer), they might be slightly overkill. However, it can still be slick, and in these situations, MICROspikes® are great for providing added traction between your bare boots and crampons. Once you strap these on, whether you’re on the summit or after work in Boston, you will wonder how you ever got around in icy conditions without them.

3. Princeton Tec Apex Pro Headlamp

The Mount Washington Observatory is a 24/7/365 operation. As a result, one of us works through the night. Since I have been working nights, good lighting is imperative. My go-to is the Princeton Tec Apex Pro. It has great battery life, is lightweight, and has either an energy-efficient mode or a super-bright mode for those times when dense fog and blowing snow limit visibility to just feet.

4. Seirus Combo Scarf and EMS Power Stretch Balaclava

During the winter, we see brutally cold temperatures and high winds. If we’re improperly covered, these factors can lead to frostbite on exposed skin. That is where having good head and face protection is important. When I go out, I usually use a dual-layering system for breathability and warmth. The first layer is a Seirus Combo Scarf followed by an EMS® Power Stretch Balaclava

5. EMS Men’s Feather Pack Jacket

For warmth, I wear the Feather Pack. It is very warm, and for those times I go out hiking, I can pack it within itself, making it easy to transport without taking up significant space in my bag.

6. EMS Helix Jacket

For great rain and wind protection, the EMS® Helix Jacket has deep pockets that allow me to carry some of my essentials. And, while it locks out the rain and wind, it also has the option to unzip the underarm vents, which let air in when the weather is mixed and changing every 10 minutes, like it does in New England.

7. EMS Freescape Insulated Pants

For my lower half, I go with the EMS® Freescape Insulated Pants. They are very warm and protect against the rain and winds, too. However, when I am indoors, they are breathable, so I am comfortable practically anywhere.

8. Darn Tough Socks and Vasque Snowblime Ultradry Boots

For my feet, I typically start with a pair of Darn Tough socks and then put on a pair of Vasque Snowblime Ultradry Boots. With this combo, my toes and feet are warm and toasty, even in spite of how far the mercury plunges.

9. EMS Altitude Mittens

For hands, I go with the EMS® Altitude Mittens. For keeping hands warm, it is scientifically proven that mittens are a better option than gloves. However, because these have an inner liner, you can also take your hands out for a limited time when you need the added dexterity that mittens can sometimes inhibit.

10. Julbo Universe Goggles

The last need is eye protection, and here, I would suggest the Julbo Universe Goggles. They are comfortable, they have a wide viewing area, and their lens adjusts on those days when clouds and fog are passing by, allowing for a bit of sunshine to mix in for uneven light. 

Courtesy of Ryan Knapp
Courtesy of Ryan Knapp

Paul Robinson's Climber Wish List

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered what items professional athletes and outdoor adventurers put on their wish lists? Because these folks know their stuff, we asked a handful of experts in different fields to tell us what they want for the holidays.

Born in New Jersey, Paul Robinson is a rock climber and boulderer who only uses the best gear out on his vertical journeys. 

Courtesy of Paul Robinson
Courtesy of Paul Robinson

1. Evolv Shaman

I climb five days a week, and having a pair of shoes for the long haul is what I need! The Evolv Shamans are my go-to shoes for the gym and outside. They’re great for all angles, from slab to super-steep roofs!

2. FrictionLabs Gorilla Grip Chalk

Most people just buy the cheapest chalk out there. I used to do the same, until I found out how much better performing FrictionLabs’ stuff is. The Gorilla Grip is a great combination of chunky chalk and a nice powder. It lasts so much longer than regular chalk and creates the best grip between you and the rock.

3. Black Diamond Mojo Zip Chalk Bag

You need to have a chalk bag, so why not have one with a zipper to hold some accessories and your keys? For these features, try the BD Mojo. Finding out you left your keys at the crag when you get back to the car at the end of the day is the worst!

4. Black Diamond Ozone Climbing Harness

Black Diamond’s Ozone Harness is super comfortable and durable. It’s lightweight and great for those send attempts, but also gives you enough to work a route with. 

5. prAna Men’s Barringer Hoodie

Winter is coming, and we need to stay warm out at the crag. The prAna Barringer Hoodie is lightweight but warm, so you can take it off easily before a climb or leave it on and climb in it!

6. prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Pants

Flexibility is key when climbing. PrAna makes the absolute best pants for that, including the Stretch Zion. They’re super durable and will last for years. These are the pair I wear almost daily and come on every trip with me.

7. prAna Men’s Keller Long-Sleeve Crew

The Keller Crew is a great top for climbing when it’s cold outside and a T-shirt is not enough.

8. prAna Men’s Mateo Crew

If it gets sunny and warm this holiday season while you’re out climbing, you still need to have a base layer, so why not pick a cool-looking one that photographs well? For all of these needs, check out the Mateo Crew. After all, everyone needs a good Instagram photo!

9. Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Super bright and lightweight, the BD Spot Headlamp is something I always have in my bag. As the days get shorter, you never know when you are going to be hiking out after dark, so it’s always good to make sure you have a light to get you out.

10. EMS Wheeled Camp Duffel, Large

The EMS Wheeled Camp Duffel is the perfect travel bag, as it’s lightweight and super durable. Pack this thing up, and go on a trip for a week or six months—the options are limitless.

11. Spot Global Phone

I travel to far off places frequently, so having a satellite phone like the Spot Global is essential for getting help if necessary. In the backcountry, it is always nice to have that extra sense of security.

Courtesy of Paul Robinson
Courtesy of Paul Robinson