Rock Climbing Improves Mental Health for Students at Trails Carolina

As the seasons turn, so do our adventure programming opportunities in Western North Carolina. The cool weather creeping in makes for ideal climbing conditions, and Trails’ students will be headed out for rock climbing. Climbing provides an engaging opportunity for our students to work on their confidence, communication, and cooperation.

How Rock Climbing Works

Rock climbing is a thoughtful, engaging activity. It takes careful planning and instructions to make sure that the climber is safe and prepared for any challenges that may arise. Before and during climbs, there are several topics that need to be covered for climber safety and understanding: 

  • Planning the climb – Students are encouraged to work together to find the right paths and go over the objectives of the climb. They are reminded that this is a group sport for everyone’s safety and accomplishments. 
  • Risk operation – This section highlights the downfalls or risks that can occur when rock climbing. It is imperative for students to understand the plan of action if something should occur to avoid falling or injuring themselves. These rules are often repeated before each climb to assure each student comprehends the factors. 
  • Specialized instructions – With each new climb comes an added number of directives that each student must follow for a positive experience. Factors include the length of the climb, the period to complete the climb, and the protocols for descending the wall. While adolescents start on a smaller “rock,” with each successful climb, the student advances to higher and more complicated climbs.
  • Mastering the rope – These techniques are taught and practiced multiple times to assure safety. Some climbs require more rope tactics, while other walls need rappelling equipment to scale the wall. When students can demonstrate their ability to properly tie knots and store and use other equipment, they are given the opportunity to start rock climbing.
  • Set up and take down – Assembling and tear down are all part of the learning process of rock climbing. These steps are just as important as the climb itself. Specific equipment must be packed and accounted for before each climb. At the end of the activity, students are required to put away each item before leaving. This teaches respect for each other and the sport itself.

Climbing Expeditions Help Trails Carolina Students Gain New Skills

Students use rock climbing at Trails Carolina to practice the skills they learn in therapy in real-world settings. Experiential Education Director Kyle Shepard, MS, LRT, CTRS, believes the expansion of the climbing program at Trails gives students additional opportunities to gain new skills. 

“Rock climbing creates an exciting and engaging opportunity for our students to solve problems, communicate with peers, and achieve tasks that once seemed impossible,” said Kyle Shepard, Experiential Education Director at Trails Carolina.As a program, we too have grown to be able to incorporate more climbing sites and better inclusion of our clinical team on climbing days.” 

Trails Carolina’s rock climbing progression goes through learning the basics and evolves into off-site climbing experiences for students. Students will learn something new each day of rock climbing week: 

  • Day 1: Bouldering, spotting, & communication
  • Day 2: Ground school – knots, harnesses, helmets, belaying and rappelling
  • Day 3: Students do not climb but utilize team building activities, nature scavenger hunts, gear repair, and peer building.
  • Day 4: Students enjoy tackling local climbing sites such as Gilbert’s Rock. Students travel to alternate locations in the area to mix it up, practice different levels of challenge, and may even get to practice on a rappelling segment in the future.

Rock Climbing and Mental Health: The Benefits

While rock climbing has physical benefits, the mental benefits of climbing continue to be explored as well. Climbing teaches the participant to use their finer extremities such as finger and neck strength, but inner courage is just as important. Though this sport is a team effort, each student is given the opportunity to address their boundaries and conquer them in their own time. Staff encourages students to set personal goals when climbing to the top. For those that struggle with their mental health, rock climbing is especially beneficial. Some examples of benefits include:

  • Better focus and concentration — Rock climbing requires undivided attention when scaling the wall. This is especially important for each climber’s safety. Adolescents that are mentally weighed down by depression and anxiety, can find the task of climbing a rock wall keeps them grounded. Through therapeutic practices, students can begin letting go of their fears and concentrate on their goals. With each climb, adolescents gain confidence and overcome their fears.
  • Problem solving — Each climb and path is different. Some may require less interpretation while other walls need to be mapped out ahead of time. Students and staff work together to plan for these challenges. Each teen is encouraged to share their ideas and concerns with the group before the climb. This allows for an open discussion and honesty about concerns. Students will use their newfound coping skills to prepare for the climb while managing any anxiety that arises.
  • Increased physical and emotional well-being — Multiple reports claim that rock climbing is a beneficial way to address mental health concerns. It also benefits motor function, coordination skills, consolidated thinking, and other psychological aspects.
  • Reduces symptoms of depression — Rock climbing has been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression by promoting the release of endorphins, which are known to improve mood and reduce feelings of pain and stress. Additionally, the sense of accomplishment and self-esteem gained from successfully completing a climb can provide a positive boost to one’s mental health.

How Trails Carolina Can Help Your Child Today

Our goal is to help your child learn new skills to manage mental health challenges and lead a more positive life. Students learn self-advocacy, gain confidence, and build healthier relationships.

Adventure activities give students the chance to practice their relationship and team building skills. Some students will gravitate toward leadership roles and learn the qualities of being an effective leader. Other students may need help getting out of their shells, and adventure activities provide them the opportunity to build friendships among their peers. For all our students, learning how to effectively and appropriately communicate their needs in this setting helps them develop self-advocacy skills.

As students work through their challenges, both mental and physical, they gain the ability to problem-solve. Whether dealing with a literal mountain in front of them, or the thoughts of anxiety in day-to-day life, students learn how to move forward. The goal of adventure programming is to challenge comfort zones to build self-confidence while also improving overall mental and physical health. 

For more information about our program, contact us today at 800-975-7303. 

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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