Taking young people rock climbing for the first time at Malibu Creek State Park

Our early morning teaching rock climbing at Malibu Creek State Park had nearly wrapped when a student named Clarissa decided she wanted to have another go at one of the climbs.

Before starting, I asked if she recalled the different parts of the CRASH test (Carabiner, Rope, Attitude, Shoes, Hair/Harness/Helmet), one of the steps in guaranteeing the safety of all climbing participants. She cruised through almost perfectly.

“I’m feeling good,” she said with a smile when we reached Attitude.

“You must be, to have another go at this,” I responded. This time, she tried a harder variation of the climb’s start.

Clarissa’s enthusiasm was true for every Animo South LA High School student who joined us that Saturday. It was the first weekend of many to come as part of Nature Now, a recurring program that teaches essential climbing skills to high school students. On the last weekend of the program, students invite friends and family to join for a day of climbing and snacking in a culminating finale.

If that day was any indication, friends, family, and guides have a lot to look forward to in March, when the event takes place. The students of Animo consistently impressed us guides with how eager and engaged they were for the day’s activities.

After arriving at the park, we hiked over a mile to get to the Planet of the Apes Wall. The trail was muddy from all the recent rain in the area, and though we were careful to watch where we stepped, it didn’t stop us from admiring the view and snapping photos.

When we arrived at the wall, we met adventure guides Christian Boewe and Jacob Johnson; while they finished setting up, Cameron “Kiwi” Wu led the students through some warm-ups and get-to-know-you games.

Then it was time to climb.

First Time Rock Climbing

Many students expressed that they felt nervous, but I would never have guessed it from watching them. Most scaled the wall with apparent ease, stopping only when they felt tired or unsure of how to proceed. All the while their companions on the ground cheered them on, offered advice about the climb, and took victory pics of the climber before they came down.

Too quickly, our time was up at Malibu Creek.

We regrouped and Cameron asked the students for brief hashtags they’d use to describe their day and why.

“#we did that,” one student said.

“#proud,” said another. Most had some variation on these; they agreed that they were happy they’d pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, and everyone found something to take away from the experience.

Before hiking out, Cameron offered the students an apt metaphor to ponder.

“Carabiners are weaker when they’re open,” he said, describing a key piece of climbing equipment that (among other things) clips gear together. “Like people. We’re weaker when we’re open. But we have to be open to connect to others, just like a carabiner needs to open to connect to a harness when we belay a climber.”

The students looked impressed. I felt like my mind was a little blown. When we got back to the van, it seemed we’d be taking more home with us than soreness in our fingers and mud on our shoes.

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