Climbing With Piper

Life lessons from a fearless 5-year-old.

Blonde pigtails peek out of her sticker-clad helmet, waving in the wind as she goes up. She dips a hand into the bag at her waist. It reemerges dusted in white chalk, ready to grab right … there! We’re getting higher now, well above the canyon floor below, scaling a wall of rock that would make most people’s stomach’s turn. Piper is methodical in her movements, taking her time to assess each hold. She is 5 years old, the daughter of two young, encouraging parents, and she’s showing us how it’s done.

What started as a kids’ apparel photoshoot in Big Cottonwood a few weeks ago quickly turned into a different conversation, one that revolved around what it means to get outside, make time for family, and how to combine the two. Here’s a little Q & A session with Piper and her mom, Sykarri, where we asked some questions about just that.

Hi, Sykarri and Piper! Tell us a little about your family? You guys are transplants to Utah?

We are! We relocated from Alabama, where we lived on a camp working for a nonprofit organization geared toward assisting Ukrainian orphans. Random happenstance brought us to Salt Lake City a little over a year ago, and we absolutely love it.

Talk about how Piper became introduced to climbing? Was it something that came naturally, or has it evolved with time?

Piper has been fumbling all over boulders since before she could walk (cue the heart attacks!). During our time in Alabama, backpacking was our family “thing.” From Moss Rock Preserve, to the Talladega National Forest, to the Sipsey Wilderness, she was always more interested in scrambling the boulders than she was scrambling the actual trail. Fast forward to Utah and being spoiled by the Cottonwoods: Getting her on ropes was a whole different game (you would think one would feel safer attached to a rope? Gotta love kid logic). She’s at the age where she is beginning to recognize fear. Being 30, 60, 80 feet off the ground was not something she was initially comfortable with. Experience paired with education has been key. Through educating her on how the system and each piece of equipment works, we have successfully begun to shed that fear!

Piper, tell us what your favorite part about climbing is? 

Um, you’ll get some exercise and you will get, um, good muscles. Good leg muscles and good arm muscles. I like seeing the little critters and the plants. That’s all.

What part don’t you like? 

When my legs get sore, and when the wind blows it makes me cold. Very cold.

Any tips you can give us to help with our climbing?

Look for good handholds, look for good footholds, and keep your eyes open for any good holds. Well, also you need to move your feet and not sit in the same spot. Your legs are your best friends.

What’s your favorite snack to have while climbing?

Um, gummies and Clif Bars.

Sykarri, we saw a photo you posted where Piper had a doll attached to her harness. What’s the story there?

Haha oh yeah … Katie. First off, one must understand that Piper is a very … interesting child. She collects deceased flies and receipts, loves orcas, and is drawn to all things “odd.” This doll is definitely odd, if not borderline creepy. Nonetheless, Katie is Piper’s adventure buddy. Katie has explored slot canyons, national parks and national monuments from east to west and north to south, joined countless climbing “expeditions,” and has even completed a few peaks. It’s fun to watch her imagination at work as she guides her doll through each and every adventure.

She collects deceased flies and receipts, loves orcas, and is drawn to all things “odd.”

Like many of us, you and your husband place an emphasis on getting outside as much as possible. What is your philosophy, or a few pointers, for integrating the outdoors into your family’s lifestyle?

Being in the wilderness is more than an adventure for us. It is a time for decompression and ultimate family growth. It’s a time to escape from the hustle and bustle of the mentally overwhelming city life and just simply BE. Healthy mind, healthy body, happy life!

Starting her young has definitely been the biggest advantage—we tackled our first cross-country road trip at 3 months old, and first major backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon at 2 years old— but starting late absolutely does not mean that you’re doomed! Don’t be afraid to take it slow—observe the little things. For us, including simple home comforts made life in the wilderness much less foreign to her. We never leave home without her reading books, a few of her favorite toys, and digging tools. Meltdowns are 100% inevitable, and in most cases easily solved with a snack and a quick roll in the dirt. Aside from being a general fun family trip, we really try to place importance on education. Whether it be in the form of a game of “I spy,” building dolls out of sticks, a scavenger hunt, or making note of the plants and animals we see and then researching them when we return home has been a fun and successful way of engaging her interest of the wild world.

What do you think outdoor companies are doing right, and wrong, in getting kids involved in going outside?

I am endlessly excited to see so many groups and companies tackling the initiative to get more families outdoors while placing emphasis on the positive health benefits. Back East we didn’t have community outdoor groups, so finding like-minded families was near impossible. Many outlets have been provided as a means of connecting families/parents in getting outside. We’re creating the rad kids, but now the rad kids need gear! Kids are tough, probably tougher than most adults, truth be told, but they still need adequate gear. Gearing Piper up for skiing this year has opened our eyes to just how difficult it is to gear a young child up for many outdoor activities.

Last one, but we need Piper to answer… Who is your hero, and why? 

Mom and Dad, because when I am hurt they help me. They help me when I feel sick. They play with me.