So you’ve taken your family on some local mini-adventures, you’ve got all the right gear, and you’ve got the right perspective – you’re ready to hit the crag for real! You’ve got a few different options – you could clip some bolts, plug some gear,or break out the crash pad. And although a lot of the logistics are the same, we have discovered that within different types of climbing there are a few distinct differences with how a baby best fits into the picture. In order to keep this post fairly concise, I’ve decided to split this section into two posts – this one for roped climbing, and the next one for bouldering…
Pre-cragbaby Steve and I loved planning our multi-day climbing trips around areas that we could do both sport and trad. My favorite combo was a day of hard clip-ups followed by a nice long, easy multi-pitch climb. You know the kind I mean – the approach is the crux, and the actual climbing is a relaxed way to take in some pristine mountain panoramas. (Think: Linville Gorge, NC, or SuperNova in El Potrero Chico, MX). But now that Canaan is in the mix, our multi-pitch days are out – not forever, just until Canaan is either done breastfeeding and able to stay with the Grand’s, or eventually, big enough to tie in with us (that’ll be a whole ‘nother post…) So suffice it to say, all the roped stuff we’re doing these days are single-pitch – for you non-climbers out there,that means less than 100 feet or so off the ground. It’s obviously pretty important that at no point is everyone off the ground. Although you’d be shocked at how many people assume that I just strap C on my back and take off up the cliff…these of course are the same people that questioned my judgment for top-roping in a full body harness while C was well-protected and padded in a cushy life floating around in amniotic fluid…but again, that’s a whole ‘nother post.
Steve and I made a pact before we ever took Canaan out cragging: NEVER LET BABY-WATCHER AND BELAYER BE THE SAME PERSON. Even though logistically it probably would’ve worked, especially in the early days before the C-Squatch got mobile, we were never willing to take the risk – too many variables outside of our control. We decided there would always be a designated man (or woman) on Canaan duty at all times. So the first Rule for the Ropes is this:
1. An experienced extra partner. Three climbers means one person is climbing, one person is belaying, and one person is on Canaan- duty. Unless your extra person is just a non-climbing babysitter, it is important that your third person be an experienced climber that you feel very comfortable with – remember, the entire day that person will hold either you or your baby’s life in their hands. A less tiring option is to have two extra partners. Its not a big deal if your fourth person is a newbie. Four climbers means one person is climbing, one person is belaying, one person is on Canaan-duty, and one person is free to grab a snack, take pictures, scout out the next route, etc. This option is more relaxed, but with a party of 4 climbing on one rope, don’t expect to get in a ton of routes. In our experience the ideal option is 5 climbers – 2 people climbing, 2 people belaying, one person on Canaan-duty. You save time because there are two ropes up at once, but during the down times, there are a lot more hands on deck. More than five climbers and your posse starts getting a little crowded…
2. Know the Area. Use your best judgment and don’t forget you have precious cargo with you (that #6 camalot wasn’t cheap, right? Just kidding…) Some climbing areas are better suited for hiking in with a baby than others, so now is not the time to try out a new area. Its not so much about the distance as it is the terrain. Approaches involving scree slopes, talus strewn trails, fixed lines and water crossings are probably a little ambitious to start with, especially if your baby is still too young to ride in a backpack carrier. Think about what the cliff base is like – if there is a chance of rain, are there any natural caves/overhangs that you’ll be able to take shelter in? Are there steep and rocky places where it will be difficult to put your baby down for naps and diaper changes?
3. Safe Baby Placement. This also goes along with knowing the area, but its about more than just having a flat spot to toss a blanket down for naps. Rock fall is fairly common in some areas, and who here among us has ever accidentally dropped gear? I know I have. That level, out of the way area shaded by a tree might have a hornet nest at the base, or be right beside a patch of poison ivy. Inspect these areas thoroughly. Even though there will always be a person on baby duty, its still of utmost importance to consider all of these factors in deciding where to set up your “baby station.”
4. Expect extra nursing sessions. Breastfeeding is definitely the way to go for a whole bunch of reasons, but when it comes to cragging with your little bean, it can’t get any more convenient! For the first 6 months you don’t have to pack any extra food (except for the ravenous nursing Mommy…) And although the AAP recommends babies are exclusively breastfed until 6 months, there’s nothing magical about their 6 month birthday that means all of a sudden baby needs his own bag of trail mix and energy bars. It wasn’t until around the 8 1/2 month mark that we started bringing food for C at the crag since up until then he was only eating one meal a day (dinner).
Also, accept the fact that odds are no matter how hard you try to time it, your little one will decide that only Mommy will do JUST as you are trying to pull through the crux on one of your pre-pregnancy projects (ask me how I know…). In the early weeks there were some days that I remember preemptively nursing Canaan right before I tied in almost EVERY TIME. Nursing is about more than just nutrition – its a safe and familiar comfort for your baby when he or she may feel a little anxious about being in such a strange environment. Also don’t forget that babies quench not just their hunger but also their thirst through nursing. On hot days, expect your baby to get more thirsty (don’t you?). That being said, here’s a tip for the nursing Mommies – you will be more hungry than usual, and you should be drinking more than usual, pack accordingly.
5. Don’t be a Moron! Pre-cragbaby, it might have been cool to spray to your friends the next day about how you got stormed off your project just as the sun was setting, had to rap down in the dark because your rope got stuck, then got lost on the hike out and almost got be-nighted because you just barely made it through before the park ranger closed the gates. This is NOT cool with a baby on board…do your best to avoid situations that lead to these types of shenanigans. Only climb in areas/routes that you know well, and allow plenty of extra time to make it out before dark. Make sure both you and your baby are prepared for any and all types of weather situations you may encounter. Do your very best to avoid an epic – even though its read as a cliche at the front of every single guidebook that I own – “Rock Climbing is a dangerous sport that can result in death, paralysis, or serious injury.” Stay safe out there and have fun!