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How to Take Your Kids Into the Wild and Live to Tell About It

1. Make the leap

There’s a great way to teach courage and bond with your offspring, what I call a Grand Adventure. It’s a physically challenging coming-of-age experience that I believe casts a foundation in a child’s character that lasts a lifetime. Encourage your kids to attempt something they aren’t sure they could actually do, but let it be their idea. I’ve done adventures and expeditions from the Arctic Circle to South America. At 7, 9 and 11 years old, my kids wanted to join me. So I encouraged them. However, they picked the Grand Adventure, not me. They wanted to climb one of the highest peaks in the world, Mount Blanc in the French Alps.

2. Know the odds

If you’re going to try a Grand Adventure, there will be some danger involved—but not as much as most people might think. Try to get historical data on injuries or fatalities for your prospective adventure. For instance we found out the route considered the most dangerous on Mount Blanc—the so-called “Corridor of Death” —actually had a fatality rate of .007 percent, statistically safer than putting your kid in a car.

3. Set up a training program

Set a timeline to train. Be sure you and the kids can dedicate between 5 and 10 hours a week to training. This teaches discipline and commitment. It also imparts respect for the adventure and being prepared. A week or two before the big day plan an assessment—a slightly smaller challenge that tests their training and skills. This builds confidence in you and them.

4. The joy is in the journey

Getting to the summit is always optional, coming home is mandatory. We stopped our Mount Blanc attempt about three-quarters of the way from the top after a small avalanche. Because of our training and technique it was a non-event and we got back up and continued climbing. But we decided the day wasn’t right to summit. After I told my daughter we were turning around she said, “I don’t feel like we failed. I feel like if we hadn’t tried we would have failed.”

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Patrick Sweeney (Darden ’98) is an adventurer, TV personality and dad who believes adventure is the best education. He recently launched a YouTube channel, Risk Big Live Big with Patrick Sweeney.