Rock climbers build confidence

Hunter Sundberg held on to a sloped rock wall trying to figure out his next move. With gravity working against him and his arms tiring from holding himself up, he moved to the next hold. Before he could reach for a grip he lost his balance and jumped down.


“(The sloped corner) is the tricky part,” said the 11 year old from Soldotna. “It wears me out fast, but I will figure it out.”

For two days a week the past two months, Hunter has taken rock-climbing lessons from Natalie and Nic Larson, who built a boulder wall in their garage over the winter. The climbing wall is 8 feet tall, 25 feet long with geometric shapes and different sized holds made out of real rocks.

Since moving to Soldotna from Fairbanks one year ago, the two avid rock climbers built the rock wall not only for their three daughters, Lexi, Mia and Madison, but also to share the sport with other kids in the neighborhood.

The Larson’s have started Redoubt Rock Climbing, a class for children between the ages of 6-12 to teach students the basics of the sport. Summer sessions begin June 9 with flexible time slots for one-hour lessons on the indoor rock wall Monday through Thursday. The cost is $25 a student per session.

Natalie Larson, originally from California, started rock climbing at the age of six. She said it is a great individual sport that improves balance, motor skills, problem solving, disciple and patience.

“I think it’s important for kids to be more active in doing something that is not only fun but tests themselves,” she said. “It is nice to have a sport where you are competing with yourself. It’s awesome to see kids get excited about it.”

Tammy Sundberg said she had been looking for an activity for her son, Hunter, who is diabetic and not interested in competitive sports. While cutting Natalie Larson’s hair one day, they talked about hobbies. Natalie Larson mentioned her interest in rock climbing, which Sudberg thought would be perfect for her son.

“This is totally for him,” she said. “How far he can go, how fast at his own pace. It has got him out moving and he loves it.”

Natalie Larson said Hunter has improved drastically during the past two months. At first he wouldn’t go higher than 4 feet and now he moves along the wall with more confidence. She said they are constantly changing the holds on the wall so it is not always the same, which can become stagnant.

Natalie Larson’s oldest daughter, Lexi, 11, is about the same size as Hunter. She said they use her to test out the wall before his next lesson to give him more challenging routes.

“I never know what to expect when I come in,” Hunter said.

Natalie Larson said rock climbing is great individual sport because it teaches people more about what their minds and bodies can do.

“It’s about overcoming adversity,” she said. “Even the pros are not climbing the same stuff. They have their own problems and set personal goals. Other sports are so competitive with each other. It’s nice to have an activity where you still can compete, but not compare yourself to others.”

On Fridays, the class will move outside to Captain Cook State Park, north of Nikiski 36 miles on the Kenai Spur Highway, for boulder climbing, depending on the weather and tide. Nic Larson said there is one rock on the beach that is close to the parking area that is great for beginners.

“When the tide is out, there is a lava rock with lots of pockets and is a great starter rock,” he said.

Nic Larson said they will start with safe and easy climbs with their students and will work their way up to more challenging rocks as time allows. Friday beach sessions cost $40 a child per session.

The Larson’s have been frequent visitors to Captain Cook and have found 21 routes on four boulders at the park. Natalie Larson’s favorite is Crescent Moon, a rock the size of a small house. Bouldering focuses on the technical skill rather than gaining elevation, she said.

“It’s just phenomenal out there,” Natalie Larson said. “Each (boulder) has its own characteristics with different problem areas. It never gets boring.”

For new students, Natalie Larson has an evaluation form to track their progress and a liability form to fill out. She said the rocks are not very high, but requires students wear helmets and learn safety roles.

Nic Larson said bouldering is great for anyone seeking a full-body outdoor workout. He said when he lived in Tok, he wasn’t as active as he is now, until he met his wife, who introduced him to rock climbing.

“It’s a healthy sport to get your body in shape,” he said. “You see the change and get stronger mentally, physically and it feels good.”

For more information about Redoubt Rock Climbing, contact Natalie Larson at 388-9108 or

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