Summer of Awesome – Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

The Altitude Gym is a rock climbing gym over in Hull for serious rock climbers. Athletes in training can get out the chalk and the fancy sock-shoes and climb a variety of walls that are intensely challenging.

Not too kid friendly.

But! They have a totally awesome, one-of-a-kind, kick-ass back room: the Clip and Climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

A mecca for little climbers everywhere. WHOO WHEE!

It’s several funky, offbeat, fun climbing walls and structures meant for amateurs and kids. You climb just in comfy clothes and regular running shoes.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

You climb, and you climb, and you climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

There’s easier walls and more challenging walls. Walls with lights, walls with doorknobs, walls that are made of velcro that you climb with velcro gloves.

There’s glow-in-the-dark walls, lego-themed walls, and timed walls for racing purposes. There’s also a series of pillars you can climb and those ones near the top are HIGH, OMG. Also wobbly. O. M. G.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb towers of terror

The Clip and Climb is meant for families and it’s especially great for a single parent with several kids in tow. That’s because the kids are able to clip themselves in, and once they are checked by a staff member, they’re free to climb. They don’t need anyone to hold the rope (“belay” is what the cool kids call it) at the bottom.

Why is that? Each wall in the Clip and Climb room has a giant retractable pulley thing at the top that holds the rope you are clipped to. As you climb, the rope coils up and stays taut, giving you a bit of support.

When you hit the top, you just let go, and the pulley thing provides counter weight, lowering you slowly to the ground. You tether the climbing rope to the ground, unclip your harness, and you’re free to run off to the next wall and climb away.

Now, some caveats: my kids were quite tentative at first, and even though they were allowed to climb on their own, they felt much more comfortable with a parent at hand. The Clip and Climb is not cheap, and Sir Monkeypants and I did not do a whole lot of climbing on our own, so if you are coming in with a lot of kids, it’s probably worth it not to climb yourself, and just act in a supervisory/supportive role. On the other hand, it did encourage our kids a lot to see us climbing ourselves, so that was worth it for inspiration purposes.

Another warning: the pulley system will definitely catch you when you let go…but, there’s a couple of feet of free fall before it kicks in. You really have to find the heart to trust the system and it can be a little scary the first time. The free fall thing actually did not seem to bother my kids at all, they were soon climbing then swinging away from the wall in a carefree manner. I personally, however, found it a bit alarming and every time I hit the top of a wall, I had to spend a minute or two talking myself into letting go. I am a HUGE WUSS. It was good for me, though.

Last tip: there are two structures in the Clip and Climb that cost extra. One is a giant slide – they pull you up on a hand hold to the top, then you let go and literally fall straight down before sliding out the curved end. It’s SUPER FUN – all three of our kids LOVED it – but a tad expensive at an extra $4 per slide. Then there’s the Leap of Faith – a tower with a crane where you can climb up to a platform, then leap out into space and try to catch the swing on the end of the crane. Again, it costs an extra $4 to try this stunt and it’s a real test of your mettle – we saw a few smaller kids back out.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb Giant Slide
This is the giant slide – I was too gutless to try it, but the kids loved it.

Now, let’s talk details. First, you need to reserve a spot for the Clip and Climb; your reservation covers 15 minutes of safety instruction and then an hour of climbing. You can usually call one or two days in advance and have your choice of time slots; I should mention that the Clip and Climb is only open on weekday evenings from 5 to 9, and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Your one hour of climbing isn’t cheap; the cost is $13.95 per person (regardless of age), and don’t forget the giant slide and Leap of Faith are extra. All in all, we spent close to $100 for our family-of-five Clip and Climb experience, so it’s not the kind of thing we’ll do every week; still, it was a unique experience, we loved the fact that our kids got to do something new and something physical. Since it’s indoors, it’s a great place to take antsy kids on a rainy or snowy day to blow off some steam, and it’s great if you’ve got a wide range of ages, since older kids and teens can have the run of the place on their own while you’re helping any youngsters.

Children under 5 require a one-to-one parent supervisor; however, I’m not sure I’d go much younger than five for this activity. Precocious four-year-olds who really love to climb and have a lot of energy would have a good time; younger than that will likely find the walls too tough and maybe too scary.

Our own five-year-old is a tentative little girl, and she required quite a bit of coaxing just to go three or four feet up in the air on a handful of walls. She’s still quite anxious to go back, though. OF COURSE.

Overall, we all give the Clip and Climb a Summer of Awesome Must Do.

Hey look, that's me!
Hey, that’s me!

Summer of Awesome – Pinto Valley Ranch

So my girls are still heavily into horses, and the Olympics did not help matters any. So to (hopefully) further dissuade them against the whole idea, I took them out to Pinto Valley Ranch.

The ranch is located in Fitzroy Harbour, which makes it a bit of a hike – it’s about 1/2 hour north of Kanata. What makes it worth it, though, is that it’s one of the few places around where amateurs can have a go at horseback riding.

Pony Riding at Pinto Valley Ranch

They have several ponies on hand for younger kids. You can pick out a pony, then take a 10 minute or 20 minute ride around the paddock – your pony will be guided on the ground by an experienced rider, and your child will just be able to get the feel of a gentle walk and enjoy visiting with the horses.

Once you hit 11 years old, you’re old enough to qualify for their trail rides. The trail rides are for all levels of riders – their horses are seriously so gentle and easy that even total beginners will be safe and sound. The horses and riders travel as a group along a pretty trail for about an hour, so you and your child can get a good feel for what it means to be on horseback.

Ponyboy at Pinto Valley Ranch
Dotcom at Pinto Valley Ranch
Horses at Pinto Valley Ranch

The ranch is a quiet, laid back kind of place. It’s not like other in-town attractions, where you’re running from one high-octane activity to the next. Besides the horse riding, there’s nothing “to do,” per se.

But just being out on the farm was a surprisingly fun experience for the kids. There are plenty of animals about – llamas and goats, funny loud roosters in a pen, pigs that are allowed to roam free (my kids LOVED them), kittens in the barn. If you’re lucky, you might bump into a free-running peacock or two. You’re free to walk up and down the stalls in the barn, too, visiting quietly with the horses, stroking then on the nose, imagining you own one and it sleeps in your bedroom and you ride it to school every day and Mommy, can I please please please have a horse???

Sigh.

Cats in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch
Pigs in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch
Roosters in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch

There’s a small tuck shop where you can sit inside and have a snack, and buy treats or drinks. There’s plenty of outdoor toys for little ones to explore. It’s quite pleasant to just sit and enjoy the barn smells and sounds. A slow-going afternoon in the country, if you will.

We were there for about 2 1/2 hours total – enough time for a pony ride, a snack, a visit with the other animals…and then another pony ride. I am a sucker.

If you are at all interested in the ranch, now is the time to go, and I mean like now, today. The ranch is facing some hard times right now – first of all, the drought this summer has caused a massive hay shortage in the area, and the ranch is looking at selling up to half its horses to make ends meet. Secondly, the owners’ kids are all in full day school now, so they’re starting to wonder when (or if) it’s time to hang up the saddles. It’s too bad, as it’s the perfect place to introduce a possible horse-loving child to these kind, gentle animals.

Also I should mention, they have day camps all summer long where your child can spend a week learning basic horse handling skills in the summer; and in the winter, you can head on out for a sleigh ride (advanced booking required).

So go, now, today, while you still have a chance to support this great local business.

Some important details: The day camps run in the mornings, so the rides are only open to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoons. You can show up any time for a pony ride; trail rides run in the summer on this schedule. IMPORTANT NOTE: if the temperature is above 30 degrees, rides for that day are cancelled due to the weather being too dangerous for the animals. They’re open every day in the summer, then Thursdays through Sundays for September and October.

The pony rides are $10 for 10 minutes, $20 for 20 minutes; trail rides are $40 per rider (no double riders allowed). A wee bit expensive, but it’s the only expense you’ll have there, and it was SO worth it to my girls.

Shout out to Ponyboy and DotCom – best horses ever. You’ll live forever in my daughters’ dreams.

Love you, Ponyboy!

Summer of Awesome – RCMP Stables

Recently my two daughters have become obsessed with horses. They both claim that they want to learn to ride – no doubt they have images in their heads of their hair flowing in the wind as they race towards the sunset, bow and arrow in hand just like Merida in the film Brave.

I have to admit, I am pretty skeptical that their reaction to riding a real-life horse will be quite so dreamy.

So I thought I’d ease them into it by visiting the RCMP Stables. It’s where they train the horses for the Musical Ride, and I was hoping an up-close-and-personal encounter with an enormous, black horse would knock the request for riding lessons right out of ’em.

The stables are in Rockcliffe and are open every day in the summer from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is where they train and house the horses for the famous Musical Ride. During the summer, the 36 horses that are part of the Musical Ride are on tour, but there are still about 60 other horses in the stables – these are horses that have been retired from the ride, or young new horses who are just starting their training.

So the first thing you need to do when you get there is find the entrance, which (memo to the RCMP) is not very clearly marked. Here’s the building:

RCMP Stables Building

The entrance is the one on the far left hand end, behind the giant tree, that has a sign that says, “Lost and Found.” OF COURSE.

The door leads you straight into the gift shop (OF COURSE), and you have to go through the gift shop to get to the museum part. The museum is a few small rooms that talk about the history and function of the RCMP, and the details of the Musical Ride.

We learned about the RMCP’s bomb disposal unit:

Bomb Disposal Unit helmet

The kind of horses that are picked for the ride (must be almost all-black, 16 hands high):

Museum Display

And we saw the carriage that is used for visiting heads of state, including Will and Kate last year on Canada Day:

Will and Kate sat here!

There’s also a video playing with footage of the actual Musical Ride, if you’ve never had a chance to see it.

A tour leaves about once every half hour from the museum section and lasts about 20 minutes. You’ll get a chance to see the Musical Ride practice area:

Musical Ride rehearsal area

(This area is also open to the general public, you can come and watch them practicing which takes place most weekday mornings in the winter – call them for the schedule.)

You’ll see the tack room and the ferrier’s workshop:

Ferrier's Workshop

You’ll see horses (yay!):

Horse
RCMP Stables

You’ll learn about how they name the horses (did you know there’s a naming contest every year, in the spring?), how they choose the horses, and how the selected officers learn to ride.

Name Tags from Retired Horses

After the tour, you’re welcome to walk behind the stables where they have a training area. When we were there, two riders were working with a new young horse and we were allowed to watch if we were VERY quiet.

Training Area

Out front, two RCMP officers in full uniform allowed us to get up close and personal with the horses:

RCMP Officers

That was probably the best part. We were able to pet the horses, chat with the officers (SO NICE), and we learned a few extra details, like how they brush-in a maple leaf pattern on the the horses’ backsides before taking them out on rides. Cool.

I liked this visit because it felt like we were really learning something about Canada. We have, unfortunately, never actually seen the Musical Ride itself, so this was a great introduction. However, it was a pretty small place – we were able to cover the whole museum, the tour, and the visit with the officers in about an hour and a half. So it fits nicely in between naptimes, but if your kids are older, you can probably combine this visit with another event.

Also, word of warning: your secret plan to avoid riding lessons may backfire, and the budding love of horses may turn into full blown adoration. DAMMIT.

Year of Epic – August 4/5/6

Can you believe we are up to the August long weekend already? Our summer is going really well, although we were all felled by a nasty cold this week which put a damper on the Awesome. Still, we’ve been to some great places with more to come. We’ll be in town for the long weekend and looking to check out some of the epic events that are happening. (As usual, these events are for two weeks out; for this weekend’s slice of epic, see here.)

The biggest party in town is the Rideau Canal Festival, which runs from the 3rd through the 6th. It’s an unusual event in that it offers a lot of different experiences for families. For example, you can register your child here for a class to learn to make stop motion animation using digital software; classes run all day Saturday and Sunday. There will also be Robotics Workshops, Hula Hoop Workshops, tons of arts and crafts, face painting, clowns, penny farthing bike rides, and Pirate Adventure tours – all taking place (or leaving from) Dow’s Lake on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday at Dow’s Lake, there’s bands all day, then fire dancers, a flotilla of lights, and fireworks in the evening. And that doesn’t even mention the events up at the canal near the Bytown Museum, which include musket demonstrations, plenty of bands and dance demonstrations, food trucks, canal tours (of course), rock carving, face painting, and on Monday, an auction of all the stone and wood carvings that were made over the weekend, and a celebration of Colonel By Day all day long at the Bytown Museum. Some things are free, some things cost money, so bring some cash with you – and also consider picking up a festival passport, which gives you access to a lot of festival events and places around downtown for just $20 per family.

Also happening all long weekend: The Busker Festival along Sparks Street. This is one of our favourite events of the year; we like to combine it with a trip to Parliament Hill. Bring lots of loonies and toonies and then just wander along Sparks Street anytime after 11 a.m. on August 2 through 6th. You’ll be dazzled by the wide range of entertainment and there’s always something new just up the block; in the past we’ve seen magicians, jugglers, a strong woman who ripped the telephone book in half, sword swallowers, clowns, and beatboxers.

If downtown sounds like too crazy a scene for you, consider Merrickville’s own Canal Festival, also running all weekend. It’s about an hour’s drive south of Ottawa, and will be a quieter event with bands, a craft show, The Bug Lady, face painting, and a petting zoo.

The Lumiere Festival kicks off its lantern making workshops on the August long weekend. There’s three weeks of lantern making leading up to the big parade of lights on August 18. The workshops are in various places at various times; see here for the schedule. Also, this isn’t really for kids but I include it here because these days, almost every parent is an amateur photographer. The Lumiere Festival is hosting a 24 Hour Photo Marathon, starting Saturday, August 4 at noon. You have to pick up a card, then try to get interesting and original photos of everything on the card within the next 24 hours. Cool!

And that’s it for the long weekend – wishing you great weather and a great civic holiday!