In a perfect climber’s fantasy, every day would be sunny with winter highs in the 50’s and summer highs in the 70’s. Long, pristine multi-pitch, aesthetic sport lines, and world-class bouldering all within a 30 minutes drive. It would only rain on days that you had previous (indoor) committments and couldn’t climb, and the sun would never set before 9. Oh yeah, and you’d never have to wait in line for your favorite 4-star lines, even if you overslept.
Sure, it all sounds great, but if your life is anything like mine, sometimes reality goes more like this – You’re an hour away from the nearest decent rock, way too far to get out mid-week during those short winter days. Monday through Thursday temps are dry and stellar, with storm systems moving in just in time for the weekend. Then, when you finally do get the best weekend weather anyone’s seen in ages, it also happens to coincide with your boss’s daughter’s birthday party…
We all go through phases in life where we can’t get out as much as we’d like, which is why man invented climbing gyms. And unless you’re one of the lucky ones that regularly reside in any of the above mentioned fantasies, you’ll probably be logging more than a fair share of hours at the gym over the course of this next year. So how can you get the training time you need to stay in shape on the rocks while keeping your cragbaby entertained as well? As long as you plan carefully, pulling on plastic can be a fun way for the whole family to stay active! Here’s what works for us…
Timing is Everything. Head to the gym during the hours that it is the least crowded. For us, this means early afternoon, right when the gym opens. Steve meets us there on his lunch break, and there is usually only a handful of other folks there. We can get right down to business without wasting time waiting for routes to open up, and Canaan can wander around (within a safe distance of course) without getting in anyone else’s way. In the early weeks and months, we would try to time it so that Canaan konked out on the 20 minute drive, and we would usually be able to successfully keep him asleep in the frame stroller long enough to give us an hour or so to climb. After a few months though, Canaan realized that there was way too much going on to stay asleep! So nowadays, our plan is to leave pretty soon after he wakes up so that we can maximize the amount of time we have before C turns into a pumpkin and gets whiney.
Get Your Stroll On. We used to stroll sleeping beauty into an out-of-the-way spot where we could still keep an eye on him, and then climb as much as we could until he woke up. Now we still start Canaan out in the stroller, but he will last anywhere from only 5 minutes up to about 30 tops before he gets antsy and wants to get down and explore.
Build a Barricade. Another advantage of climbing when hardly anyone else is there is that you can commandier multiple crash pads for your cragbaby’s spelunking pleasure. We push them up against the wall in the lead cave so that Canaan has a “cave” to play in with some toys. Its a safe spot for him, and it keeps him happy for a good long while. Sometimes he “climbs” on whatever holds happen to be near him, sometimes he plays with his toys, and other times he just babbles at us – he’s either cheering for us, or spraying beta, we can’t tell which yet. 🙂
Have a Plan. If its just the two of us, we try to do any lead climbing/roped stuff in the beginning, when Canaan is either happy in his stroller, or safely playing behind the barricade. When he’s tired of entertaining himself and wants to hang out with us, we take turns bouldering problems that we feel comfortable working without a spotter.
Safety in Numbers. We try to get out on real rock most weekends, but the weather sometimes has other plans, which means that we occasionally have to battle the birthday party and meet-up group crowds at the gym on the weekend. Having an extra partner or two is always helpful, but its especially important if you’re dealing with crowds. With friends around, your options are wide open – lead, toprope, boulder, depending on how you want to train.
Don’t forget to have fun. Yes, the main draw of a climbing gym is to train for the real crag, but you won’t fit in the door if you try to bring both your baby as well as your ego. You’ll find that how much of a “workout” you get is hit or miss at best. Some days it will seem like all you did was crawl around after your 10 month old watching other folks hop on the “send train.” Other days you’ll be the one sending all your projects. Regardless of how each session goes, use this time as a family to have a blast being active together. On the rare days that Canaan ends up being the only one that got any sort of a workout, I remind myself that by no means was it a wasted trip. I’m modelling to my child a healthy, active lifestyle, that will hopefully have way more long-term benefits than any pump my forearms might receive on any given day.