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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #39
January 23, 2008

Top of the World

Everest: Special Edition: IMAX + A Climbing Gym

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, his Nepalese sherpa, were the first to summit Mount Everest in 1953. Hillary's recent death, at the exalted age of 88, reminded us that although climbing equipment has advanced with technology, the whims of nature and human error mean that summiting is as perilous as ever. As adults, we love Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a popular book that chronicled how eight climbers lost their lives on Everest in 1996. Kids will love to screen Everest: Special Edition, a documentary by filmmaker and climber David Breashears, that follows celebrated climber Ed Viesturs and Tenzing Norgay's son up Everest in 1996. The short film offers a kid-friendly introduction to the Buddhist traditions of the area, the scientific goals of this particular mission (they left GPS tracking devices at the top for earthquake research) and then detours tragically because, coincidentally, the IMAX team was on the mountain when 8 climbers lost their lives in a freak storm. Through the gorgeous large format photography, the kids learned of the rigors of acclimatization -- it takes nine months for the climbers' bodies to adjust to the thin air -- and got an intimate portrait of the sheer determination necessary to drive oneself to the top of the world.

While the climbing quests of Hillary were heroic, your kids will grant you hero status for taking them to scramble up an indoor rock wall for a few hours. A warning, however, is in order -- kids are natural climbers and you should be prepared to be shown up by the littlest of them (but don't let that stop you from joining in the fun!). Our kids love to strap into a harness, begin their nimble ascent and look down upon us grown-ups with glee once they conquer a two-story wall. What goes up, must come down and it's nerve-wracking to see your kids whiz by, even though they're safely belayed by a trainer. We have climbed the walls with our kids at our local climbing gym -- during scheduled kids' hours, in a private family session, and at day camps -- and each experience has given us a small glimpse into the challenge that drives climbers up the really big walls of the world. While just doing the math on the Everest altitude makes us giddy (multiply by 29,023 feet), it also gives us a new appreciation for why Sir Edmond Hillary's historic climb was such a stupendous accomplishment.

Film Title: Everest: Special Edition: IMAX
Directed By: David Breashears and Stephen Judson
1998, Rated U, 44 min

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why It's Worth It: With a running time of just three-quarters of an hour, you can't get a quicker, or more beautiful, primer on the legends of Everest, the lure of summiting and the rigors of an expedition. You don't have to be in an IMAX theatre to enjoy the wonders of the large-format photography; even on a home screen, the vistas are incredibly beautiful. Film is fine for kids over six.
  • Red Flags: Although not gruesome, the film does show a few frozen body parts on the ice-flow near base camp, and indicates more than once where bodies have been left at altitude, which is what happens to climbers who die while summiting (it is too exhausting for anyone to carry their body down).
  • Further Viewing: Nova's Everest: The Death Zone is narrated by Jodie Foster and offers a scientific investigation of the affects of altitude sickness on decision making (in the wake of the ill-fated 1996 expedition) by following three climbers, David Breashears, Ed Viesturs and David Carter. It's a clinical film, but one that allows you to get to know these climbing greats in a more intimate fashion and our kids liked watching the climbers take tests throughout their climb - its clear to see how their brains struggle to answer simple questions at a high altitude. It is Breashears and Viesturs first trip back up Everest since that tragic climb. Adults and teens will be drawn to the extreme sport of climbing portrayed in Touching the Void, a pseudo-documentary about the harrowing near-death experiences of two British climbers in Peru. Finally, Everest: Beyond the Limit is a really fun Discovery Channel miniseries that follows 11 climbers on their ascent.

Our Tips for Talking with your kids about this film:

  • Literary Savvy: One of our favorite books of all time is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. It's a great read for teenagers, and adults. There was a film based on the book, but most agree that the film doesn't do the story justice and... it's so worth the read! A reader also suggested Three Cups of Tea, about a climber who fails an ascent up K2 and winds up building schools in Pakistan.
  • Cinema Savvy: Remind kids that in order to see these climbers ascend the mountain, a camera crew had to be there first! For the IMAX film, a crew of sherpas, and Breashears as director, followed the climbers up the mountain with the heavy, large-format cameras.
  • History Savvy: Click here for the New York Times' obituary of Sir Edmund Hillary. Some fun details include the fact that the news of their summit reached Queen Elizabeth, immediately after her coronation. Since their historic climb, as the article details, 3000 others have reached the top and 200 have died trying. He always listed his occupation as "beekeeper" (his father's profession, and led a search for the Abominable Snowman in 1960. Maybe all that thin air went to his head, after all!


Scale the Walls at an Indoor Climbing Gym

Age Recommendation: Over 7
Time Allotment: Two hours

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: It's fun to drop in for a kids session where the kids can climb the walls with an experienced leader. Check your gym's website calendar for dates and times. If your kids like the experience, check for classes or camps -- many gyms schedule them over holiday breaks and during the summer.
  • Expert Advice from Blaine Eastcott, General Manager at Rockreation in Los Angeles: Climbing is skyrocketing in popularity, but how do you know if the gym is right for your family? Eastcott says it's all about safety. Here are his tips for determining whether a gym is safety conscious: (1) Facility Well Cared For: is the gym clean, are the climbing ropes in good condition? Gyms that look good, care about taking care of their climbers and are likely to be concerned with kids safety. There are different types of climbing facilities-- some are really for members and others try to serve the community (2) Before you climb, there is always a safety lesson -- is it 5 minutes or 2 hours? That should clue you in (3) Are there schedules for classes? are there teams and kid-only camps? Gyms that have these features are likely to care about kids.
  • Advice from a Climbing-Mom: One of our Kids Off The Couch subscribers has a 10 year old daughter who is a nationally ranked climber. She says that parents should be sensitive to whether their kids have a fear of heights -- even the most athletic and nimble of children may not be interested in scaling the walls, something most kids aren't even aware of until they strap in for their first climb. This is why it's a good idea to make sure your kids are comfortable with indoor climbs before venturing outdoors.
  • Great Birthday party idea: We've thrown several memorable parties at climbing gyms. With plenty of staff on hand, it's a wonderful way for kids to face (and conquer) their fears in a fun, safe environment. You can defray the cost by throwing the party with another family whose child has a close birthday.
  • Before You Go: (1) Sign a waiver -- usually required for all climbers, releasing the gym of any liabilities in case of falling. It's pretty safe to say that most gyms will not allow a child to climb without the release form signed by a parent, so if your child has a friend along or you are dropping kids off, be sure that you first sign the waiver or your kid's first experience will be extreme disappointment, rather than extreme fun. Check your gym's website to see if you can download the waiver online. (2) Make sure to find out if you need a reservation for any type of kids climb. These sessions are usually popular, and some gyms keep limits on climbers to ensure safety.
  • Do You Have Mountain Goats? Kids who take to climbing can join a climbing team, for a fee that includes gym membership, and train to compete in this sport. Junior teams usually have age restrictions, so check the website.
  • Tips for Kids' Equipment: Our Kids Off The Couch mom expert suggests that parents rent the gear unless their kids really start climbing on a team. Climbing shoes are expensive, so this mom waits for sales at stores like A16 or REI. She says expensive, high quality shoes aren't necessary for newcomers.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + climbing gym or go directly to which has a huge directory of gyms in the U.S. as well as around the world.  They also offer lots of great climbing info.
  • Boston: The Boston Rock Gym on Olympia Ave. in Woburn provides over 40 ropes, varied climbing terrain, dedicated bouldering areas, private and group instruction, clinics, youth programs and birthday parties. It’s the hub of rock climbing in New England. Open 7 days a week. Daily passes, gear rentals, and membership available.
  • Chicago: Kids aged 5-16 can get their climb on at Lakeshore Academy of Artistic Gymnastic's Hidden Peak. Located on Chestnut Street in West Town, the gym is extremely kid, friendly, with various different walls extending 22 to 30 feet for kids with a variety of abilities. There are rock climbing classes almost every day for kids. (The new term starts January 28th and runs through April 6.)
  • Houston: Climb to your heart’s delight at the Texas Rock Gym, with over 14,000 square feet of climbing walls, including 50 top-rope stations, 12 lead climbing anchors, and a huge bouldering cave, this facility provides challenges for all climbers and skills levels from newest to oldest.  Open seven days a week, all-day access passes start at just $12.95 with on-site instructors. Since the gym is indoors, it makes the perfect r
  • New York: Manhattan Plaza Health Club Climbing Wall has 5000 sq ft of indoor climbing surface, over 60 routes,redesigned monthly, bouldering room, campus and hang board. Children/Teen hours 12-6 daily. 482 West 43rd St. (btw 9th & 10th ave, 212/563-7001) Chelsea Piers Field House has a 30-foot high artificial rock surface, designed specifically for children and teens (but also great for adults!), and offers a variety of routes that challenge climbers of all skill levels. The Rock Climbing School offers three levels of rock climbing classes: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. All classes are taught by expert climbing instructors with many years of experience as both climbers and instructors. All equipment is provided by the Field House.
  • San Francisco: People in the Bay Area take their love for rock climbing so seriously, you can conveniently find the outdoors indoors, with six local Touchstone Climbing locations in San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, and surrounding cities. Kids will love the indoor cliffs, because the chain offers party rentals, after school programs, summer camps, teen programs, private lessons, and overnight parties for groups. For more information, check out the website, and find the location that best suits your needs.
  • Washington, D.C.: Check out the Friday Nite Rox program for kids ages 6-14 at Earth Treks.  They have three locations in Maryland-- Columbia, Timonium, and Rockville.  If the whole family wants to learn try the Family Intro class.   Also available are classes, open climbs for beginners, and of course, birthday parties.  Once you're hooked there are Junior teams and clubs to join.  In Virginia, head to Kids Nite at Sport Rock.  They also have a Junior Team, summer camps, and birthday parties.  Both gyms offer memberships with reduced climbing fees. Check the websites for all the details.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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