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Braehead Autobelays: Check You Are Clipped Before You Climb! Check it; Check it, Every Time!

Updated: May 8, 2019

Everytime I open up the Babble Rock website to write one of these blog posts, the template exhorts me, with twinkling form, to "Draft a catchy blog title!" Beset as I am by crippling self-doubt, I reckon I usually come up with a whole load of random, ranging from utterly corny to wholly unimaginative. But just this once, the venue has done it for me: the title of this blog is what is written on the mats below each climbing route, reminding you to make sure you are clipped in to the safety equipment before you begin your climb.

So many people have said to me that they'd like to start rock climbing with their kids, and I say the same to all of them: Climbzone Braehead is a great place to start! With its "safety-(pretty much) guaranteed" auto-belay system, it leads you into the sport of rock climbing gently, assuaging your fears and making the best of your climbing potential because it's clip-in system means that you don't need to worry about whether you are tied in safely with your own rope-work. Located at the activity-end of Braehead shopping arena, near the indoor golf and a pretty cool snowboarding and skiing slope, it has a double fibreglass crag, split into four sections. The grades range from 4 to 7a, providing a decent climb for the advanced folk of Scottish Hillwalkers Activities Group (Climbers) who meet there every Monday, but also for the beginner kiddies of Babble Rock, many of whom I've taken along over the past year. And it was with the latter group's skill set in mind that I took my lovely daughter, Miho, age-9, and her toddler brother, Xani, age-2, for a climb last week.

Auto-belays are a great starter for beginner climbers, as you pop on a harness, clip it onto a belay device hanging from the top of the "crag" and then start to climb up the fibreglass jugged moulds jutting out from the wall. At any point, if you fall off or get tired and jump, you can drop off the wall and the automatic device will gently lower you down. Moreover, you don't even need to do the grade 4 (lowest technical grade at Climbzone) but can make up a route of your own by simply "rainbowing" up, ie choosing any holds of any colour to make up a pleasant climb of your own level.

Climbing by itself is pretty cheap as climbing centres go, with a range of prices for junior/adult/off-and on peak and all including harness and shoe hire. The prices increase a fair bit if you want a go on the Skypark which is a 60m long aerial adventure course high above the shopping centre, which includes a zip slide, traverse wall, hanging logs, jigsaw, swinging platforms, cargo net, Burma bridge and more. There is also The Drop, which is exactly what is sounds like: 15m of free-fall with a gentle landing on the ground. All of these activities can be booked as a range of packages. For members of our Babble Rock Facebook group you can also get in touch with me and come as a guest climber for the first time, and thereafter, once you know how to use the harness clip-in system, become a member yourself.

So I took the my daughter, Miho, and toddler son, Xani and we used the harnesses and shoes at the centre for them. It was actually surprisingly easy to find a harness to fit the 2 year old, as when you get one of their medium size harnesses (NOT the smallest size) it cinches right down to fit any size...you could literally pull it all the way through to fit a Barbie doll, and secure the end in a roll. It is also important to use a chest harness for a toddler, as they will flip over when wearing just a waist harness. I also used a medium size harness for the 9 year old, again just cinching it through until it fit. However IF you are a complete beginner and you do not have an experienced climber to sign you in and fit your harnesses for you, then you will need to sign up for one of Climbzone's more expensive packages and have the staff teach you how to do it. It is really important to realise that: either go with an experienced climber as a signed-in guest OR sign up for a package where the staff can help you. Do NOT take the risk of going in and trying to do it yourself if you are unsure. Luckily that would never happen anyway, as the staff will NOT let you sign up to be a member unless they have tested you to see that you can fit your own harness well and use the equipment properly. They are extremely safety conscious there, and even with the signing in of guests, they will not let a member take in more than 2 guests at a time, as you need to be supervising your guests ALL the time.

The rule of thumb for climbing shoes for beginners is to choose a number that is two sizes bigger than your shoe size...if you are a size 2, like my 9 year old, chances are a size 4 shoe will fit you comfortably. I also found a pair of climbing shoes that *almost* fit the tot, but halfway through the session we realised he was more comfortable in his plimsolls, as the shoes were a little bit big. It's fine to wear soft-soled plimsolls if your kiddie is too small for the shoes, although as their shoes go from a size 12, which would fit a kid of size 10, chances are your child will be able to wear a pair.

Out on the wall, Miho was cautious at first (it was her 3rd session), just climbing a few feet and then jumping off to test the let-down speed of the rope. But as the session progressed, she got more confident and was scooting up happily and then jumping off with a big grin. The highest she has climbed over 3 sessions is 2/3s of the way up, and we have Christmas time down as a goal for reaching the top.

As for Xani, it was really a case of his dad lifting him up and letting him practise putting his feet and hand in the right places. It was too much to expect to put him at the bottom and have him just climb up. One of the staff members told me they are actually planning on making a specific kids' area later, where the holds will be easier for little hands to grab, so watch this space.

But once he was up on the wall, he actually held on quite well, and we were able to take a step back and watch him cling on happily....

The best bit was seeing these two working as a team and watching the World's Best Big Sister helping her brother! See how well the tot is clinging on in the pic below...

After climbing, we did let the bigger kid do the Skypark & Drop package with Graeme..what can I say; it is soooo much fun that it's hard not to do it once you are there! They also have a slide, apparently the biggest indoor slide in the UK, which at £1 a ride is quite good value in my opinion. All in all, Climbzone is a great place to start your rock climbing journey with kids. Contact me on the Babble Rock Facebook page if you'd like me to take you in as a guest and show you the ropes, bearing in mind that I can only sign in 2 people at one time, or 4 if Graeme comes too. Or contact the Climbzone Centre to arrange a package where you will be taught the ropes by their highly experienced and very lovely staff. I've watched the staff doing their group climbing sessions and the kids seem to be having such a great time: the staff are knowledgeable, safety-oriented and know how to get the best out of your kids.

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