Just for Kids

On the Rocks

What You Need to Know to Climb Mountains

Climbing gear illustration

Carabiners, or little hooks, attach your harness to the rope and the belay’s harness to the rope or webbing bolted to the floor.


Have you ever wondered how it would feel to climb to the very top of a mountain to check out the view?

Rock climbers all over the world have done just that, and with a little help from some professional rock climbing teachers, you can too.

“Hundreds of children have successfully rock climbed with us over the past 13 years,” says Dr. JenFu Cheng, founder of and medical advisor at Peak Potential, a Fairfield, N.J.–based volunteer organization that offers indoor and outdoor rock climbing programs for children and teenagers with physical disabilities. “With the proper adaptations and a little creativity, individuals who have mild mobility challenges as well as individuals who use power wheelchairs can participate alike.”

In fact, the only thing stopping you from climbing might be a little fear.

“Sometimes being on a climb high off the ground can be scary, especially if you are afraid of heights,” Cheng says. “But having good safety equipment and trusted instructors and partners really help. And if you get too scared, it is easy to come right back down to the ground.”

Get in Gear

What do you need to go climbing? Most places that offer accessible climbing offer equipment that can be rented for a small fee so you don’t have to buy anything right away.

You can learn to climb at a rock climbing gym, and the rock climbing gym has everything you need to practice indoors.

Stephen Wampler, a guy with severe cerebral palsy, recently climbed El Capitan, a mountain the size of two Empire State Buildings. Find out about his movie here.

The one thing you’ll need to rent is a climbing harness, which is what you wear to attach yourself to the rope system. The rope system is controlled by a process called belaying that gives you a safety net so that you can get up the rock climbing wall or mountain without falling.

“If you start climbing at a rock climbing gym, the ropes will all be set up already,” Cheng says.

A person, called the belay, will help feed your rope system. The belay attaches his or her harness to a rope or webbing connected to the floor and then to your ropes. The belay will tighten your rope as you make your way up so that if you fall, the rope system will lock in place to stop you from falling farther. The belay will also help you come down the wall slowly by giving you more slack on the rope when you need it. Think of the belay as your safety net on the ground.

Carabiners, or little hooks, attach your harness to the rope and the belay’s harness to the rope or webbing bolted to the floor. These hooks are really strong, just like the rope.

“Some people wear special climbing shoes with sticky rubber on the bottom,” Cheng says. “But you can certainly enjoy rock climbing with regular shoes or sneakers.”

But the real key to climbing is simply to find a place with people who know all about your mobility condition so they can make a plan for you.

“I would recommend finding an organization or program that is familiar with teaching individuals with mobility challenges,” Cheng says. “They may be able to provide any specialized equipment and instruction that you may need.”

Know Yourself

Boy rock climbing

Wondering if rock climbing will be different for you than it is for other people? Cheng says maybe. The adjustments for rock climbing really depend on your specific needs.

For example, Cheng says that sometimes all you need is a rock that fits your abilities. Do you want something easy? Or do you really want to challenge yourself?

“Rock climbing can be as challenging as you want it to be,” Cheng says. “The variety of rock climbs, indoors and outdoors, is limitless.”

Some climbers might need help moving forward, and guides at the gym can help you. Cheng also says that if you have limited movement in your legs, you can use special equipment that allows you to do pull-ups to climb up the mountain.

“If you have a limb deficiency and you use a prosthesis, there are many ways to adapt your prosthesis for rock climbing,” Cheng says.

Power of the Climb

Test your knowledge of rock climbing with The Mobility Project’s March crossword puzzle.

By now you’re probably excited to start climbing your way up a wall or mountain. You already think rock climbing can be fun, but do you know what else rock climbing can do for you?

Cheng says rock climbing can

  • Make your muscles strong
  • Improve your balance
  • Help your memory
  • Make you confident
  • Teach you how to be responsible
  • Help you make friends.

“To be success at rock climbing, you only need a positive, adventurous mindset,” Cheng says. “It is a sport that is exciting, but can also be a little scary at times. If you believe in yourself, you can scale the highest mountains!”

Watch Cheng’s video on rock climbing at his gym here.

Before starting your adventure, be sure to talk with your parents.

Go Climb!

Adventures Without Limits
Forest Grove, Ore.

Peak Potential
Fairfield, N.J.

Splore
Salt Lake City, Utah

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at consumer@hmemediagroup.com.