You guys, we climbed a cliff today. For real.
We took a day trip to Bruce’s Caves Conservation area. It was over an hour-long drive, but once we got out of the car and onto the trail, the excitement began. There were boulders of all sizes, many covered in moss, dotting the forest floor. E ran into the woods yelling, “EVERYBODY CLIMB EVERYTHING!”
Even she didn’t know how right she was.
When we got to the caves we wandered around until K and R saw a ledge they wanted to sit on. Mr. December held a flashlight for them while they climbed up. One by one we joined them, until we were all on the ledge. Then R wanted to get down and keep going farther from where we’d come in.
At first we were just checking out what was behind the ledge. They we “had to” climb a particularly fun-looking boulder. Almost before I knew it, we were scrambling up the edge of the cliff, using tree roots and cracks in the rocks as handholds. Finally we made it to the top.
The Bruce Trail runs along the top of the cliff, so we hiked along it for a while. Then when we turned around, Mr. December encouraged the kids to find a way down from the cliff. R and K shared leadership duties, taking turns scouting out the best route. Mr. December and I hung back to watch their decision-making process; and when we all got back to the main trail at the bottom of the cliff, we told them that they would lead us back to the car, too.
R and K made a very sensible decision: we’d walk back to the mouth of the cave, since they knew for sure how to get back to the car from there. Back we trekked. The kids ran back into the cave and started climbing, and Mr. December and I sat outside the cave and waited for them.
I have to tell you that there were moments during that hike where my heart was in my mouth and I wanted to scream, “STOP!!!” Although I talk a lot about letting kids take risks and get hurt, I’m generally thinking of city life and the miniscule risks children can take in their own neighbourhoods, like climbing up a too-tall slide or walking to the store alone to buy some milk. It was a lot harder for me to sit on my hands and bite my tongue when the risks were much greater and there was a real danger of tumbling fifty feet into a crevasse.
And yet the experience was so much more powerful because the danger was real. The hike wasn’t restricted only to the beaten path; there were no signs telling you not to climb the rocks; and there were no ropes or railings along the cliff’s edge. The obstacles were natural, real, and we conquered them. The kids planned, scouted, chose their approach, and then led us through it.
It was a powerful exercise in trust and leadership, one that I hope made as much of an impact on the kids as it did on me. If I had to have one takeaway from today, though, it’s this:
We climbed an actual, honest-to-goodness cliff. This family is so badass.