Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

How to Keep Warm on Winter Climbing Days

Contrary to popular “non-climber” belief, the best weather conditions for climbing often occur during cold weather.  The crux moves on your project on a hot (or worse yet, hot AND humid) summer day can easily feel several letter grades harder than it would on a cool, crisp winter day.  With that in mind, sending odds can sometimes be dramatically increased for those that are willing to brave the cold.  And while how cold is “too cold” to climb varies from person to person, here are some ideas for turning miserable, finger-numbing weather into perfect sending conditions.  (Unless of course you’re a mountaineer…in which case you are another breed that thrives on the worst conditions possible.)



“Sun’s out, gun’s out!” is a popular phrase amongst climbers this time of year.  This mantra basically means that if the sun’s out, it’s a great day to climb, regardless of temperatures.  The best winter climbing areas are those that receive either morning or all day sun (east or south facing cliffs).  The sun will bake the rock so that your fingers (and the rest of you!) remain warm despite frigid morning temps.  If you are in North Carolina, the best sun worshiping spots are Rumbling Bald, Looking Glass (south face), Stone Mountain, Rocky Face, Sauratown Mountain (click here for special access information), Cook’s Wall, The Dump, Rocky Face, and Asheboro Boulders (click here for special access information.)


This one is simple in theory, but depending on the crag, can be hard to put into practice.  Even the sunniest of cold days can take a miserable turn when the wind starts blowing.  Choose areas that are sheltered from breezes rather than exposed outcroppings.


Layers are essential for any outdoor winter activity, but especially climbing, as your body will heat up and cool down a lot throughout the day.  For really cold days, I like to layer a pair of tights under my climbing pants…often the outer layer is shed by the end of the day, but not always.  A warm, down jacket is a must for belaying and hanging out at the base, but I generally leave it on the ground once I tie in.  While climbing I’ll wear a lightweight soft shell (wool or fleece) if necessary, a long sleeve shirt, and generally a tank as a baselayer in case things start broiling by midafternoon.  Oh, and if you do end up stripping down to climb, don’t forget to add a layer or two back on once you’re on the ground.  Even if you feel warm when you get down, trust me you’ll cool off pretty quick.  Nothing’s worse than freezing your butt off while belaying your partner because your down jacket is 15 feet to the right.

A bunch of sun-worshippers in between project burns at the Asheboro Boulderfield

A bunch of sun-worshippers in between project burns at the Asheboro Boulderfield


Winter is not the time to hop right on your roadside project sans warm-up.  A brisk approach hike is great to get the blood pumping in your major muscle groups, or some jumping jacks/push-ups/burpees for a parking lot crag.  Fingers can be prepped to pull hard by a doing a few warm-up routes, traversing at the base, or even just opening/closing hands repeatedly for a few minutes.  (A product like Powerfingers is great for this…see review here.)

The rejuvenating powers of a warm drink...

The rejuvenating powers of a warm drink…


Keeping your hands (and specifically fingers) warm is probably the factor that influences your winter climbing experience the most.  Gloves (or mittens) are a must for down-time, whereas tossing a handwarmer in your chalkbag can make a HUGE difference on the rock.  Another one of my personal favorite tricks is putting cold hands on the back of my neck while I’m shaking out.


Don’t skimp on food – eating will increase your metabolism and keep you fueled for sending.  And stay hydrated – a thermos full of hot coffee/tea/cocoa can warm you from the inside out (as well as give you popularity points at the crag…if you bring enough to share!)

And for those of you who hit the crag with the whole family in tow, here are some ways to keep your little ones warm and cozy all day as well – because warm kids are happy kids, and sending around happy kids is much easier than sending around whiny, impatient, cranky, (insert your pet peeve word here.)  So what are everyone else’s tips for staying warm when the mercury dips?  And how cold is “too cold” for YOU?


5 Tips for Family Geocaching

Big C's first cache - hidden under a streetlight at the back of a grocery store parking lot!

Big C’s first cache – hidden under a streetlight at the back of a grocery store parking lot!

Recently our family has adopted a new outdoor hobby (because you can NEVER have to many, right?)  While I wish I could say it involved snow, it’s something that can be enjoyed with nothing but a smart phone and some enthusiastic explorers – geocaching!  For those of you that may not be familiar with the term, geocaching is basically a real-life treasure hunting game, played outdoors with the use of GPS.  Lately my oldest explorer has really been into searching (and finding!) type games – everything from traditional hide and seek to random, “easter egg hunt” type activities.  One day it dawned on me that geocaching would be perfect for him. And after a quick browse through the app store, I found myself looking at a map of hundreds of caches throughout our city!  (For those of you who have more questions about what exactly geocaching is or how to get started, check the Geocaching 101 page from the official geocaching website.)

In addition to simply enjoying the outdoors together as a family, geocaching is a wonderful way to encourage curiosity and imaginative play in your children.  (We usually pretend we are on treasure hunts while searching for caches.)  And while we ordinarily try to keep technology OUT of our outdoor escapades, geocaching offers great teachable moments about directional skills, map reading, and how to use GPS/compasses.  (Big C LOVES watching our “blue dot” get closer and closer to the treasure box on the screen, and he has learned how to use the compass feature on the app well enough that he can do most of the navigating himself.)

Sound fun?  It sure is!  But before you get started, consider these tips to get the most out of your experience.


Not all caches are created equal.  Start with a “traditional” cache, meaning a container located at specific GPS coordinates (In fact, that’s the only kind we ever do…for other types of caches, see here.)  Each cache has 2 ratings, difficulty and terrain, both measured on a scale of 1-5 (1 being easiest).  The difficulty rating shows how hard the cache is to find once you are at the coordinates, and the terrain rating shows how difficult it is to get to the coordinates.  Factor both of those ratings in as you decide what cache is best for your family.  So far our hardest difficulty has been 1.5, and our hardest terrain has been 2 (which basically meant a quarter mile walk in the woods along a well-maintained path.)



The logbook will show how much recent “action” a particular cache has received.  This is helpful because sometimes caches go missing, either from natural causes or “muggles” (geocaching lingo for non-geocachers that may inadvertently stumble upon a cache.)  If the log shows that someone has recently found the cache, odds are high that it’s still there.  However, if the last time it was found was a year ago, and/or there are a lot of “DNF’s” (did not find) recorded, it’s probably better to choose a different cache, especially if you’ve got small kiddos that would be very disappointed to walk away empty-handed (ask me how I know…sigh.)


Once you reach the coordinates, (known as “ground zero,” or “GZ” in caching lingo), it’s time to start searching for your cache.  It could be hiding just about anywhere – high, low, in something, under something, they are all different!   And since there will always be a variant in the accuracy of your GPS device (and also the hider’s!), you will sometimes end up with a fairly large area in which to search.  This is the most rewarding part of the activity, so let them search til their heart’s content.  Meanwhile you should probably try to find it as well – that way if you start running out of time, or your kids start getting discouraged, you can steer them in the right direction and/or offer hints.  Confession time.  On one of our first caching adventures, I was so excited to spot that little plastic box hiding in a hole at the base of a tree that I shouted out, “There it is!” within seconds of reaching the coordinates.  Big C didn’t seem to care, but when he found the next one all by himself, he was SO proud of himself, and I felt bad for accidentally snatching that opportunity from him with my over-enthusiasm!

Our searches often end up involving some sort of climbing...

Our searches often end up involving some sort of climbing…


You never know what you’re going to find when you open up a cache, as the contents are solely dependent on the cache owner AND previous visitors to the cache.  But unless the cache you are looking for is listed as “extra small” (or micro-cache), it will probably contain a few goodies, which our family refers to as treasures.  These “treasures” are generally not worth much, and often times grown-up geocachers pay no attention to them and head straight for the logbook, which every cache should have (and every visitor should sign, so have a pen handy in case there’s not one in there!)  But young geo-cachers usually like to leave no part of the cache unexplored – I know my son will analyze every little thing in there!  The fun part is that you can take what you like, although common courtesy states that if you take something you should also leave something of equal or greater value, so make sure you bring along a few small trinkets to make a trade (we like stickers, lollipops, and little plastic toys.)


How much time you have allotted for geocaching adventures may dictate what types of caches you search for.  For example, if we’ve got an hour or so, we might go to a park that contains multiple caches within walking distance.  If we are just out and about running errands, we might settle for a quick “park and grab” (“PNG” in geocache jargon), near one of our stops (shopping centers are common places for urban caches to be lurking!)  Geocaching is a great way to sprinkle in some outdoor time into a busy day!

With only 13 caches under our belts, we are by no means experts at this.  But we’ve got the basics down, and Big C has tasted victory enough to know that he’s hooked (and that it was worth it for us to shell out the $9.99 for the premium version of the Geocaching app!)

If you’re intrigued and want to give it a try, check out the getting started section of the Geocaching website.  And if you’re a seasoned veteran, please feel free to leave your own tips and tricks of the trade!


Nature Play For Babies: Safe Exploration For Your Littlest Adventurers (and GIVEAWAY!)

Rachel with her adorable CanDo Kiddo...where else? Outside!

Rachel with her adorable CanDo Kiddo…where else? Outside!

I’m assuming that most people reading this blog already know the importance of getting your children outside.  For older children, it’s pretty simple – just open the door!  But infants can be tricky, especially during those early weeks when baby doesn’t really “do” much.  Babywearing on hikes and a blanket spread out on the back lawn are great, but did you know there are ways you can take your little adventurer’s nature experiernces even further?

Today on the blog I have a special treat for everyone – guest writer Rachel Coley, MS, OTR/L, is sharing some tips for making sure even the itty-bittiest of babies can log some green hour time on the daily!  My connection with Rachel is through, you guessed it – climbing!  Though Rachel herself prefers to stay grounded, we’ve roped up with her hubby a handful of times.  Rachel and her husband recently became first-time parents, and they both share our family’s passion for getting our kiddos outside and enjoying nature as much as possible.

But here’s what makes her an expert on the subject of nature play and babies – Rachel has been a pediatric Occupational Therapist for 8 years and has advanced training in the areas of infant neurodevelopment, sensory processing, Plagiocephaly and Torticollis (head and neck issues of infancy).  As a new mom, Rachel lets her personal passion for parenting and her professional expertise about babies collide in CanDo Kiddo, a family business with a mission to support and inspire new parents to play with their newborns for healthy development.

Here are Rachel’s thoughts for incorporating nature play into your family’s daily grind during those early weeks and months.

Tummy Time Nature Play for Babies

Outdoor Tummy Time

Tummy Time is important for healthy development, especially if your little one spends lots of time in her carseat on the way to her outdoor adventures. Lots of infants don’t love belly-down playtime, but I’ve found that many tolerate it much better in novel surroundings. A small patch of level ground (not rock) and a camping pad, thick blanket or coat is all you’ll need to give your little one a cozy spot for belly down play on the go. And if you have a Peapod Plus (reviewed here on Cragmama,) your baby can enjoy Tummy Time in the lap of luxury! Use a camping pad, jacket or anything else in your pack that can be rolled into a small log-shape to place under baby’s chest if your baby doesn’t yet lift her head for more than a few seconds. This will give her a better view of her surroundings and increase her ability to stay in the position for a little longer. Place items from the environment out of baby’s reach to look at, or place larger objects (nothing sharp or smaller than your fist) in front of baby to touch.

Nature Play for Babies safe exploration for your littlest adventurers

Guided Sensory Play

Have you noticed how many baby toys are now touting the label of being “sensory” toys? Usually this means that the manufacturer has added something that makes a sound, smell or has an interesting texture. But almost every object you come into contact with in nature makes a sound, smell or has an interesting texture. And as long as you are super-attentive, directly supervise to prevent mouthing and confident that it’s not poisonous or dangerous, your baby can explore pinecones, leaves, rocks, sand and so many other of nature’s best sensory toys.

Don’t forget about sensory play for baby’s feet. If the weather allows, take your little one’s socks off for a few minutes and let her experience dirt, stones, sand, grass, the water in a cool mountain stream.

Safe Play With Natural Materials

Whether at home or on the trail, infants need supervision. But sometimes you have to multi-task or take your eyes off of junior for a few seconds. Clear water bottles and tupperware are a great way to display natural materials while keeping baby safe. Just drop acorns, sticks, shells or pebbles in and let baby safely look, shake, and drool to her heart’s content.

Sensory Play for Babies Water Play Cragmama

Make Nature Part of Your Routine At Home

Life as new parents usually involves plenty of time at base camp – your home. If you’re trying to raise a nature-lover from the start, incorporate natural materials into your baby’s everyday playscape. We keep a wooden bowl by the front door to place interesting things found outside on our walk or on weekend adventures. Throughout the week, I’ll help my little guy look at and safely touch the materials as I talk about them. When we read a book that talks about leaves or rocks or rain, I point those items out on our walks and we bring them home to play. It’s also fun to incorporate seasonal items such as pumpkins in the fall, bulbs in the spring, and icicles in the winter into your baby’s play at home.

creative play baby activity book

In addition to these tips, Rachel has also generously offered to giveaway a copy of her new book, Begin with a Blanket: Creative Play Ideas for Baby’s First 4 Months, to one lucky Cragmama reader!  This full-color, 60 page paperback book walks you through 45 creative play activities for newborns. It also offers insight to common questions that parents might have, such as what to do if your baby HATES tummy time, how to keep your baby from developing a flat head. To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below – as usual, you can gain entries by commenting on the post, but this time you can also get additional entries by subscribing to email notifications for both Cragmama and CanDo Kiddo posts!  A winner will be randomly chosen at midnight on December 16th, so best of luck!

Thanks so much to Rachel for sharing her expertise!  For those of you who have (or had…time flies!) babies in this stage of development, what ways do/did you encourage him or her to explore her outdoor surroundings?  Oh yeah, and for specific beta about getting itty bitty babies out at the crag as soon as your family is ready, check out these posts.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Dare to “What If…” Like a Kid!

As most of us are probably all too painfully aware, little boys (and little girls!) grow WAY too fast…and growing feet need new climbing shoes on the regular, often before the current pair is worn out.  So far we’ve been pretty lucky in the hand-me-down department (we’ve got several pairs in the garage just waiting to be grown into!)  Just recently I noticed that Big C’s shoes had gone from comfortable to what grown-up climbers would refer to as “performance fit”…great for sending that project, but not so great for little feet that are still developing.  So we went into our stash of hand-me-downs and grabbed the next size up (which happens to be a pair of Mad Rock Monkeys).

When we got to the gym, I unveiled the new-to-him shoes, and he was VERY impressed by the monkey on the Velcro flap.  But what impressed me more was the conversation that happened next.

ME: “Look, you get to wear your new climbing shoes today.  I bet they’ll help you climb higher!”
BIG C excitedly, without any sort of hesitation: “Yeah and what if they make me fly!!!”

My mother-in-law recently told me about a similar conversation she’d heard my nephew (who is also 4 years old) have at his first T-ball practice.  When he stepped up to the plate for the very first time, he looked up at his daddy and asked, “Which fence do I hit it over?”


There’s something in the hearts of our kids that is not afraid to dream big.  Feats that may seem rather implausible to a grown-up (like flying or home runs) are part of everyday conversation for a 4 year old.  Big C simply assumed that he was going to climb high that day.  But his imagination took him past the confines of the climbing gym walls.  My nephew simply assumed that his first at bat would be a home run, it was just a matter of figuring out the minor details of where to aim his game winning swing.

I think we grown-ups can learn a lot from conversations such as these.  Often times we sell ourselves short, settling for mediocrity without ever even trying (or even considering!) anything greater.  Now granted, it’s pretty obvious that Big C’s new climbing shoes did not in fact allow him to take flight.  And it probably goes without saying that my nephew did not in fact knock the ball out of the park…yet.

But what these kiddos WERE able to do was imagine themselves achieving greatness.  And my prayer for both of them is that they will never lose that desire to reach their full potential, in whatever path life takes them.  For us, our dreams probably don’t involve flying or home runs.  But we all have things that we would love to do/be/see in our lives.  Conversations like the ones with my son and nephew can easily be laughed off as cute, silly, and childish fantasy – because they ARE all those things.  But if we look deeper, we can allow those little ones to teach us to dream MORE, and doubt ourselves LESS.

And just one day, they (and perhaps us too!) may surprise everyone when dreams take flight.



Creative Ideas for that Leftover Halloween Candy Stash…

Buzz Lightyear and Jimi Hendrix analyzing their spoils.

Buzz Lightyear and Jimi Hendrix analyzing their candy spoils.

Raise your hand if your house still has Halloween candy left.  Don’t lie about it, we can’t be the only ones.  And yes, that secret stash in the top of your pantry that your kids don’t know about DOES count.  If you’re like our family, your kids probably got way too much candy and you’re not quite sure how to, ahem, dispose of it in a manner that is satisfactory to everyone in the household.  I mean, you could always just throw it away I guess, but I don’t like that idea because it goes against everything we’ve taught our son about not being wasteful.  But having a bunch of candy lingering around in the house also goes against everything we’ve taught our son about making healthy lifestyle choices!

It took some brainstorming (and pinterest-ing, because not all of these ideas are mine, most notably the recipes!), but here are some ways our family is handling our leftover candy stash this year…

DONATE – The fastest way to make that candy disappear, and a much better option than throwing it away!  Most dentist offices will take Halloween candy (and in turn send it somewhere else, such as to soldiers overseas).  Some will even pay you by the pound, which could turn your candy into an economics lesson for your older kiddos!

ADVENTURES ONLY – If you can’t splurge while you’re climbing/hiking/skiing etc, then when can you?  If you’ve got the willpower, reserve some of your treats for special adventures.  Many times a little bit of sugary motivation can go a long way for keeping those little legs moving (see this post on Hiking Bears for more about this idea!)

A quick sugar-shot on the trail!

A quick sugar-shot on the trail!

FRO YO TOPPINGS – Next time your family heads to one of those frozen yogurt bars where you add toppings yourself and pay by the ounce, think ahead and bring your own toppings out of your candy stash!  You can emphasize how much money you are saving (although you may have to eat outside/in the car, since the store manager may not appreciate your re-purposing brilliance as much as your family does!)  Better yet, create your own fro yo bar at home as part of a special family night!

GINGERBREAD DECOR – If making gingerbread houses/people is one of the holiday traditions your family enjoys, then save the “prettiest” candy to use for decorations!

BAKING – When I started looking up recipes that use chocolate candy as key ingredients, I was SHOCKED at how many options there were.  All of them looked so yummy, it was a no brainer to save our chocolate candy for baking projects!  So far we’ve made an outrageously amazing Butterfinger Pie for our small group at church, as well as some candy-laden cookies for Big C’s Thanksgiving feast at school (ok, ok, and we made extra to take to the crag last weekend…) For Thanksgiving, we’re making Snickers Blondies and Milky Way Fudge , and I have a whole list of ideas for Christmas goodies to give away to teachers, neighbors, friends, etc.  (Check out my Pinterest board for the recipes!)  None of the recipes are “good for you,” but if you share with others you get to enjoy a little in moderation while spreading some cheer to those around you!

IMG_8151 IMG_8481

Since we all know that our kids pick up on everything we do (whether we want them to or not!), I think how we handle seemingly simple things like leftover candy is a great chance to find some teachable moments with our kiddos.  My hope is that these ideas will show my son how our family views health, balance, money, and good stewardship, and allow him to be an active participant!

What does your family do with your leftover candy stash…I know you’ve got one…;)