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

Wee Woollies for Wee Explorers!

So excited about Wee Woollies!

So excited about Wee Woollies!

What do you get when you combine a love of the outdoors, family, and sustainability?  Probably a lot of great things, but the one worth mentioning today is Wee Woollies!  Wee Woollies is a small Canadian company with a vision for providing comfortable, adventure-worthy clothing to all the wee people in your life!  All of their products are made using the highest-quality New Zealand merino wool.  Here’s a little bit about their merino, as well as what we think of their products!

THE WONDERS OF WOOL.

If you think merino wool is just a more expensive version of cotton, think again.  Yes, it’s a lot more expensive, but there are A LOT of good reasons why you get what you pay for!  Pure merino is: hypoallergenic, temperature regulating, moisture wicking, breathable, high UV protection, machine washable, and stink resistant, just to name a few. Definitely worth the cost in my book!

ADORABLE VERSATILITY.

The only thing cuter than one snuggly little kiddo covered in Wee Woollies merino is TWO snuggly kiddos in Wee Woollies merino!  Such beautiful combinations of soft, happy colors!  Big C and Baby Zu’s outfits were perfect camping jammies (or just plain ole around-the-house jammies), but they can definitely be worn as regular daytime clothes, or as baselayers under warm clothes.

A couple of cute camp helpers.

A couple of cute camp helpers.

STYLISH COMFORT.

These clothes are unbelievably soft, and make for THE BEST cuddles…day or night!  I totally wish they came in my size.  You know they’re comfy when a 5 year old boy chooses them over his favorite super hero pajamas.  And Baby Zu was so sweet in hers I didn’t want to put her down!

Sibling sweetness in the tent.

Sibling sweetness in the tent.

 

FUNCTIONAL AND DURABLE.

Last weekend my kiddos rocked their baselayers for 2 days straight.  By day they splashed in the creek (taking advantage of the quick-dry and stay-warm-when-wet properties of merino!).  By night they cozied up in them in the tent.  After a wash and short line-dry, they were good as new and soft as ever, with no pilling.

SUSTAINABLE.

Not all wool is created equal, and the merino wool from Wee Woollies is top notch.  Taken from their website: “As an environmentally friendly Bluesign® approved fabric, our merino is processed without exposure to chlorine or harsh chemicals and is made with non-toxic dyes ensuring a completely natural product through and through.”  This wool also passed Canada’s stringent flammability testing (required for all children’s clothing), WITHOUT the use of any added chemical flame retardants.

Wet wool is still warm wool, even in chilly water!

Wet wool is still warm wool, even in chilly water!

Wee Woollies graciously provided the kiddos with these baselayer sets for purposes of this review (although all opinions expressed here are our OWN!).  However, there’s plenty more merino to be found on the Wee Woollies website – from beanies, to onesies, to sleep sacks, oh my!  AND – not only did they just release some bright new colors for fall, the folks at Wee Woollies are offering a special 10% off discount code especially for all of you!  So if you are looking to outfit your young explorers with the best that nature has to offer, check them out here, and use promo code CRAGMAMA when prompted (valid through Sunday, August 2.)

Any other merino fans out there?  Have you tried Wee Woollies yet?  Feel free to comment below to get the discussion going…

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Big C’s First Project: Big Emotions, Little Body

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“BUT I WANTED TO SEND IT!!!!!!!!!”  A distraught Big C let out while fighting back big crocodile tears.  He was trying to put up a brave front on the way out of the climbing gym, but the waterworks let loose once we got to the car.

It was the end of Day 2 of Big C’s very first “legit” bouldering project (ie, only using holds that are “on.”)  For a while now he’s been able to climb the easier routes in the gym using the intended holds, but bouldering had always been a free for all “rainbow” session, using any holds necessary to top out…until last Tuesday.

He started trying one particular problem, and for whatever reason, decided that he wanted to try it using only the intended holds.  It was a short little V0, one that actually ended before topping out, although from the looks of it there would be a few committing moves for someone of his stature up at the top.  I helped him work out the beta for the initial moves.  There was a bit of footwork required to make a reach that was kind of intricate for a 5 year old to remember, but eventually he got it on lockdown.  Another big move and some high feet…he was almost there!  Then he reached that point in his session that most of us are probably all too familiar with – by the time you figure out the moves, you don’t have enough left in the tank to execute!

We walked away, and I promised Big C that we would go again on Thursday, just me and him, while Baby Zu stayed home with Daddy.  We talked it up, and he was PSYCHED!  Thursday rolled around, and he ate an extra portion of breakfast, telling me that extra granola would give him extra power in order to send.  He marched confidently into the gym, and it was all I could do to get him to warm up on the auto-belays a little bit before getting on the proj.

His first attempt he made it all the way to his previous high point…just ONE hold away from the top!  “Match your hands!” I called up.  “Then you can get your other foot up and reach the finish hold.”

And then came another scenario that a lot of us are probably familiar with…the hemming and hawing.  “I can’t do it!” he whined, and dropped off.  This happened at least 10 times, with varying amounts of whining, down-climbing, and half-hearted reaching to the next hold.

Then the excuses started.  “I can’t match my hands because if I do that, I’ll fall!”  I tried to talk a little mental strategy with him in between burns (which, for a 5 year old in constant motion, is like 30 seconds max.)  We talked about what it means to fully commit to a move, and how we often have to TRY ANYWAY even if we think it won’t work.

After about an hour or so, I could tell he was getting tired (and therefore more frustrated).  Not to mention that the Crag-Daddy was working at home while Baby Zu was napping, and we needed to make it back before she woke up.  So I told him he had 3 tries left, all of which were unsuccessful, which brings us to the emotional breakdown in the van that I’d written about earlier.

We had a long talk that afternoon about success and failure.  As a mother, it definitely tugged at my heart strings.  (“I tried my very, very best, and I still couldn’t do it!” :( ).  But as a climber, it was fascinating.  The more I listened to him, the more I realized that I was watching all of the emotions that I have at the crag on a regular basis played out in a 5 year old psyche!  I knew that any climber could relate to what he was saying, because we’ve all been through that journey – getting inspired by a line, investing the time to figure out the moves, having moments of self-doubt and issues committing to the crux.  Then finally trying HARD…and still walking away empty-handed.  It stinks!

Steve and I both try really hard not to push Big C when it comes to climbing.  The last thing we want to do is to pressure him into an activity that he’s not passionate about.  So at every opportunity I tried to make it clear that “not sending” is perfectly fine.  Try it again, or don’t.  Try a different problem.  Or just forget about climbing for a while.  But it quickly became apparent that all of those sentiments were falling on deaf ears.  NOT sending was NOT an option for Big C.

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And we all know that feeling too, right?  When a route/problem gets in your head and you can’t rest until it’s ticked off?  That’s why it was no surprise to me when Saturday morning rolled around, and Big C announced at breakfast, “I’m going to send the purple problem today.”  (We had not even discussed plans to go to the gym at this point…)

And sure, enough, he did!  It took some coaxing to match those hands, but as soon as he did, he got a foot up and latched the finish hold in victory.  For the next 15 minutes he couldn’t stop talking about the play by play and how awesome it was.  Then he announced proudly that next time, he’s going to warm-up on the purple problem, because he “knows all the beta now.”  Raise your hand if you’ve been there…

One of my favorite parts about climbing has always been how easy it is to relate to other climbers, even if there’s a big difference in skill level.  Whether you project 5.9 or 5.14, the mental battles of keeping fear in check, risk assessment, and even staying motivated, are pretty much the same.  And apparently, it’s also the same whether you are 5 years old or 95 years old!  This single experience for Big C has already opened up so many lines of conversation about important “life lesson topics” – perseverance, determination, trying our best, patience, success and failure.

So I guess now I can add “parenting tool” to the already overflowing list of why I think this sport is awesome!  I’d wager that I’m not the only parent to use a sports analogy to teach their kids about life. Please feel free to share an example of a life lesson taught (or learned) through a favorite family pasttime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Weekend of Waterfalls (and Climbing) in the High Country

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We may have had a cool and pleasant spring this year, but summer in the Southeast is shaping up to be H-O-T!  Here lately the thermometer has hit 90 before lunchtime and the humidity has felt downright smothering.  That meant that the only logical place for weekend adventures was the higher elevation areas in the western part of the state, where daytime highs were literally 20 degrees cooler than back home.

Our agenda was pretty open-ended.  We really just wanted to escape the heat and get some good family time together.  The past few weeks have been very hectic, and a camping trip in the mountains seemed like just the ticket for unplugging from society and plugging in to each other.

We arrived at the Grandfather Campground with enough time to relax a little at our campsite before bedtime.  The kiddos got to try out their new adventure jammies from Wee Woollies (review coming soon!), and we were delighted to still need long sleeves for most of the morning at camp.

Stream stomping in Little Wilson Creek

Stream stomping in Little Wilson Creek

Saturday was spent climbing at Little Wilson, a small short crag below Highway 221.  And I use the term “climbing” rather loosely, because we spent just as much time chasing happy kiddos through the stream as we did on the rock!  I did get 3 and a half pitches in on the day though – Climb With a View (5.10b), Code 3 (5.11a), Duty, Honor, Country (5.11a/b), and 2 moves farther on Aqualung (5.12b) than I got a couple of years ago.

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The next day dawned just as gorgeous, and we set off to cross of one of Big C’s bucket list items for this summer – seeing a waterfall. We opted for one of the more off the beaten path options – Elk River Falls.  None of us had ever been there, but we’d heard rumors that it was a great swimming hole for both kiddos and grown-ups alike.  This hidden gem ended up being outrageously cool – well worth a visit if you are in the area.  The 50 foot drop into a calm, giant pool was spectacular!

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Apparently the pool is deep enough to jump from the falls…but we didn’t do it, that’s only hearsay, so don’t blame me if you shatter your ankles trying it!  The big pool cascaded into several smaller areas that were great for both kiddos to play in, along with small boulders strewn about for Big C to scramble and hop around on.  The water was breathtakingly cold, but that didn’t slow the kids down one bit!

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Happy kiddos at the base of Elk Falls

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By this point Baby Zu was in need of some shut-eye, so we let her doze while we made our way back towards Boone to meet up with some friends at Sunken Treasure, another little mini-crag off Highway 221.  Our tick list was short, but quality.  Skin it Back (5.10a), a burly little number that felt kinda pumpy for the grade and Swashbuckler (5.12a), which in my opinion is one of the best routes along 221.

Proof that we actually did climb on this trip! Swashbuckler (5.12a)

Proof that we actually did climb on this trip! Swashbuckler (5.12a)

Crag Daddy on Swashbuckler

Crag Daddy on Swashbuckler

All that cool, crisp air (and frigid water!) was both physically as well as mentally refreshing.  The mountains are good for the soul!  We made an early-ish exit around 4:00, which put us home in time to not only get groceries but even make an appearance at a neighborhood block party…where it was still 85 degrees at 8 pm.  Ugh.  It’s less than a month before we embark on a family climbing trip to greener pastures (well, cooler, anyway) in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and we are counting down the days!

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?  (And if the answer is “60’s and sunny”, don’t rub it in…) ;)

 

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From 1 Kid to 2…How Outdoor Adventures Have Changed…

At the summit of Seneca's South Peak, circa 2009, just before getting pregnant w/Big C

At the summit of Seneca’s South Peak, circa 2009, just before getting pregnant w/Big C

A couple of weeks ago I received a question from reader Patricia T. that really made me stop and think.  She basically wanted to know specifics about how life has changed for us since adding another child to our family.  In her words – “…I’ve had so many people tell me that the second one really shuts your life down.  Now, I’m trying to take that with a grain of salt, b/c I think we (I’m assuming she meant outdoorsy folks) are cut from a different cloth.  But it still worries me.  What’s your take on this?”  

I wrote a lot about the adjustments our family made to our routine during those early weeks of Baby Zu’s life.  I wrote some practical posts about how we find time to climb, and how we kept our sanity during the first month.  I also wrote some reflective posts about love and expectations.  I reviewed all sorts of baby gear, from Boba to PeaPod, and I got really sentimental once or twice.  I even wrote a post entitled “Why the 2nd Baby is Easier…and Harder.”  But now that I’ve got one kid that’s going to Kindergarten in the fall and another that’s morphed into a toddler seemingly overnight, I feel like I might have a little more perspective from which to revisit that question.  (And probably even MORE so when I’ve got a 6th grader and a 2nd grader, or a 10th grader and a 7th grader, or heaven forbid one in college and one in highschool…but don’t rush me!)

So with that said, here’s how our climbing adventures have changed over the years (and how they’ve stayed the same.)

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TRAINING:

Pre-kids.  Meet at the gym after work.  Climb until our fingers fall off, then go home and eat a late dinner.  Repeat once or twice a week.
One kid.  Meet at the gym after work with child in tow.  Alternate who watches child and who climbs.  If we have an extra partner we can rope up, if not, we boulder.
Two kids.  It’s now unmanageable for everyone to be in the gym at the same time, so we take turns.  Someone climbs after work, we eat a family dinner together, and the other person climbs after the kids go to bed (more on that strategy here.)

TRIP PLANNING:

Pre-kids.  No plan needed.  We climb wherever we want, whenever we want.  Outrageous, I know.
One kid.  Biggest change is that we need to make sure we have an extra partner lined up, preferably one that doesn’t mind extra belay duty.  This frees up hubby and I to take turns watching kid when we’re not climbing.  Multi-pitch climbing is obviously out, but as long as the base is not terrible (huge drop-offs, etc), we can pretty much go craggin’ wherever we want.  A long approach is not a big deal because kiddo rides in a carrier.  Gear space is at a premium.
Two kids.  We definitely still need an extra person, although mostly just for the baby, as the older child is pretty independent and doesn’t need constant supervision at the crag (if both kids are very young, this is where things could get crazy…a 4 year age gap between our children was NOT by accident!)  In addition to the cliff base, we also have to consider the fitness of the youngest pair of legs in regards to the approach.  Long hikes in will take us sometimes twice as long as our climbing partners (if climbing as a party of 3, one parent will usually go on ahead w/our extra partner, while the other strolls along with the kiddos.)  We didn’t think we could bring any more gear to the crag…but somehow we’ve managed to double it.  Quite often we work non-climbing outdoor activities into our trips as well – hikes, swimming holes, picnics, etc.  Sometimes those end up being the most memorable parts of the trip!

Ten Sleep Canyon 2012

Ten Sleep Canyon 2012

Family of ALMOST 4 in Feb 2014

Family of ALMOST 4 in Feb 2014

AT THE CRAG

Pre-kids.  We climb as long as we have daylight and sometimes end up hiking out in the dark.  We do what we want, when we want to.  Freedom!!!
One kid.  High mileage days are difficult to manage, except on days where baby naps a lot at the crag.  It’s impossible to predict which days those will be, so we have to take it and run with it when it happens.  We usually average 5-6 pitches per day, and tend to stay in the same area all day rather than flitting from one side of the cliff to another.  (This meant that we started shifting more into a “project” mindset – trying multiple times to send rather than just moving on after one attempt regardless of the outcome.) When the other parent is on kid duty, it’s pretty easy to relax.  We finish our day before sunset, and kiddo usually konks out on the hike back to the car, which is welcome because we’re probably having a late dinner and that quickie nap will hopefully get us through until bedtime without a meltdown.
Two kids.  If we can squeeze in 4-5 pitches over the course of a day, we’re psyched.  In addition to climbing, belaying, and caring for the smaller child, we also need to spend time with the older child; who, although very good at independent play, still needs to connect with mommy and daddy several times throughout the course of the day.  Things can get overwhelming pretty fast, especially if either child is feeling clingy, tired, hungry, frustrated, temper tantrum-y, etc.  We end up hiking out between 4 and 5 pm usually, depending on how difficult the end-of-day trudge will be for 5 year old hiking legs.  Both kids are running on fumes by the time we get to (later than usual) bedtimes, and we find ourselves so exhausted that we often go to bed at the same time they do.

Craggin' as a family of 4

Craggin’ as a family of 4

When it comes to our climbing lifestyle, it was far bigger of an adjustment to go from no kids to 1 kid than it has been for us to jump from 1 kid to 2.  Cragging with one kid required a major change in our planning with regards to how much we rely on other people, but we already had that mindset once #2 came along.  If I had to sum-up the hardest part at this particular stage of the game, it would be the stress of being pulled in so many directions at once at the crag.  (Baby needs to nurse.  Time for me to climb.  Child needs help finding a spot to poop in the woods.  Partner needs a belay.  Baby needs diaper changed, then help going down for nap.  Baby’s asleep, I should climb…right after I read with older child.  Baby’s awake and hungry.  That reminds me, I should probably eat something too! And so on and so forth.)

But despite the new level of shenanigans our family has risen to over the past year, the one constant has been that it’s always seemed worthwhile.  Both kiddos love being outside, and the older one starts asking when we’re going climbing again long about Thursday of every week.  And as long as everyone’s happy, we’re gonna roll with it!  There may come a time where our current lifestyle doesn’t work for our family, and if that happens, we’ll or course shift gears.  But for now, we climb on!

Sibling love...so many emotions in a span of about 5 minutes.

Sibling love…so many emotions in a span of about 5 minutes.

I’d love to hear from other families out there that have added 1, 2, or even 3 or more kiddos into their crag-family dynamic (and I’m sure Patricia T. would appreciate other points of view as well!)  So please, feel free to share some thoughts, tips, or experiences below in the comments!

 

 

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New Child Carrier! The Thule Sapling…

Evening picnic along the MST in Linville Gorge

Evening picnic along the MST in Linville Gorge

If you’ve ever done any sort of outdoor endeavor that required gear, you’re probably familiar with Thule. From bike racks to kayak carriers, roof boxes to duffel bags, this company has been providing safe and easy ways to transport the gear we need and love for over 70 years.  So it just made sense when Thule announced their latest line of products to transport the most precious cargo of all – our kiddos!  The Thule Active with Kids line currently features child carriers, bike trailers, bike seats, and sport strollers.

After more than 5 years of almost constant use and abuse, our obsolete Kelty FC3 (reviewed here) has seen better days, so our family was pretty excited for the chance to try out the Sapling Child Carrier (and while the carrier was provided free for purposes of this review, all opinions expressed are our own!)

What was GREAT…

ADJUSTABILITY – This pack fits both hubby and I equally well, and it’s very simple to adjust both torso and waist back and forth between wearers.

WATER BOTTLE HOLDERS – The mesh water bottle pockets on either side are thoughtfully designed so that your thirsty passenger can reach them as well.

HYDRATION SYSTEM – A bladder is not included, but the Sapling is hydration system compatible.

SUN SHADE – The sun shade is obviously great for sun protection, but it also offers some added protection from tree limbs and leaves on trails that require a little bit of bushwhacking.  However, a really great feature about the Thule sunshade is that it packs down to a very compact size when not in use, as opposed to the bulky one on our Kelty.

LEG STIRRUPS – Although Baby Zu certainly doesn’t need them yet, leg stirrups will provide added comfort and support for her little legs once she’s older.

HIP POCKETS – On this pack the waistbelt pockets are a size that can actually fit something other than a small key!  I put my phone on one side, and a bag of hiking bears on the other.

Happy as a lark riding with Daddy!

Happy as a lark riding with Daddy!

What was NOT SO GREAT…

STORAGE – To be fair, our Kelty Carrier was the premium model, and our new Thule is the basic model, so we aren’t necessarily comparing apples to apples.  The Sapling Elite appears to have similar storage capacity to our Kelty.  That being said, we still manage to (baaaarely) squeeze in a day’s worth of food/water for both mom, dad, and toddler, as well as diapers, sunscreen, and a small blanket.  Our camera case easily clips onto the outside of the pack, but if Big C wasn’t carrying in his own pack at this point, it would be wishful thinking trying to get everything in.

Sleepy girl...

Sleepy girl…

NO MIRROR – Another apples to oranges issue, we REALLY liked the child-viewing mirror on the straps of our Kelty, but this is only available in the Elite model of the Sapling.

Overall, we’re pretty psyched about the Sapling, and from the looks of things, our own little sapling is pretty excited about it too!  We haven’t had it for very long, but if it’s like any of our other many Thule products, I don’t think durability will be an issue.  We would definitely recommend this to any new parents out there looking to adventure with the kiddos.

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