Joy Clark, 6, made her way down the side of the rock face, rappelling slowly in spots and quicker in others. When she got closer to the ground, she slipped, spinning from her rope in the air and hitting the rock with her back, a brief look of terror on her face.
“It’s OK,” her mother, Kelly Clark, said. “She’s made of rubber.”
Sure enough, Joy landed safely on the ground, unhooked herself from the rope and only complained about her dirty hands.
She said she was kind of scared of rappelling at first, but she likes to try new things.
The Clarks were at John H. Shields Park, also known as Minnehaha Rocks, with Kelly Clark’s group, Exploring Families, a volunteer group that offers field trips for families, many with home-schooled children.
They had teamed up with Stan Busby of Climbers with Christ for this trip. Busby stayed at the top of the rock, assisting the young climbers down the side, offering encouragement and tips.
John H. Shields Park has been a popular spot for rock climbers for decades. Drivers along Upriver Drive can often catch a glimpse of them.
The park is co-owned by the city of Spokane Parks and Recreation and Spokane County Parks and Recreation, even though it’s technically in Spokane Valley.
Paul Knowles, park planner for Spokane County, said the park isn’t only for rock climbers.
“There’s some great hiking in there,” he said. The park boasts a series of basalt terraces between the two main climbing areas.
Knowles said the park was paved and fenced in 1995 and restrooms were added in 1998. The Spokane Mountaineers have acted as park stewards, picking up garbage from the top of the rocks, maintaining and replacing bolts and anchors and cleaning up graffiti.
Rich Bennett, chairman of the Spokane Mountaineers’ climbing committee, said they have found abandoned cars, meth labs and even the back seat of a car. They haul the garbage to the parking lot and the city takes it away.
During their climbing classes, everyone gets a garbage bag to fill and members often take the time to clean up while they are there.
“A lot of members do that when they are there alone,” Bennett said.
Bennett said there is an informal group of climbers that meets Tuesday evenings. The group also offers climbing classes starting in March every year. There are classes for beginners through advanced climbers.
Mike Aho, recreation supervisor for the city of Spokane, said climbers have always flocked to the park for its unique features.
“They’ve been climbing that for decades,” he said.
Neither the city, nor the county actively supervise the climbing. Rock climbers should always have the proper equipment and helmets.
Aho added there are many different terrains in the rocks, routes that work for both advanced climbers and beginners.
“It’s a great place to cut your teeth,” Aho said.
For Kelly Clark, teaching young kids how to climb while learning about safety is important. She said she appreciated Busby’s commitment to teaching the importance of climbing safety.
“Stan is extra cautious,” she said.
Emily McArdle, 21, was with Clark and the Exploring Families group and said she has been rock climbing at the park four times and loves the experience.
“I like being on the rock,” she said. “Nothing else exists besides you and God’s beauty.”