Just picture it – You’ve been climbing hard all morning, and are one run away from sending your summer project. You’ve got the crux dialed, the draws are already hung, and you’re totally psyched – all you need now is to refuel, hydrate, and depump for a little bit before tackling your redpoint burn. But just as you sit down with your trail mix and nalgene, the heavens open up. What?!? There was only a 10% chance of rain today! Or picture this – you’ve got Monday off so you made plans to head to the Obed River for a long weekend of clipping draws, but the forecast is for brilliant sun with a high of 97, humidity at 85%. Or even this – cold, crisp, temps in the 20’s that will make the top out on that friction problem you’ve had your eye on feel a full grade easier, but with winds 15-20mph and lots of cloud cover. Now picture a baby in all of these scenarios…suddenly it feels a little bit different. You can’t just wake up and head out to the crag with whatever was left over in your pack from your last trip, ready to climb on no matter what weather conditions you find there. And no matter how much you stalk the meteorology trends on your favorite weather website, we all know that “subject to change” is probably the most accurate description.
So you have a choice to make – you can either 1) Stay inside and wait until the forecast is absolutely perfect (and then hope that the forecast was actually CORRECT…), or 2) Make the most of the weather you’ve got. It should go without saying that I’m not advocating taking your 8 week old out climbing during an F4 tornado – always be reasonable in what you ask of your baby. We’ve not encountered anything Man vs Wild worthy by any means, but as long as the weather was good enough to climb, we weren’t afraid to get out there as a family and enjoy it! But we have learned some lessons along the way with regards to keeping baby comfortable in all types of weather situations. This post will attempt to tackle the main questionable conditions we’ve faced so far, along with some don’t-leave-home-without-it essentials for each situation.
HEAT - To say that this past summer in the Southeast was hot would be an understatement. In North Carolina we set a record of days over 90 degrees in a year, and most if not all of those days were coupled with humidity that was as tangible as wearing a wet blanket. The main concerns we had to be cautious about were heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sunburn.
- Hat - Especially if your baby is less than 6 months old (when sunscreen is not recommended), make sure to cover the head and shade the face, as well as the rest of the body.
- Fan - A portable fan can work wonders. We picked one up for a few bucks at K-Mart, and it turned out to be a fantastic investment. Not only did it provide a nice breeze, but Canaan was mesmerized by the fan blades (thankfully they were soft…)
- Pack Stacking – Set up your climbing packs in such a way that they cast shade over your little one’s sleeping spot
- Tummy Sleeping – It’s a lot easier to keep the sun out of their eyes this way.
- Breastfeeding – This seems to come up as an answer to a lot of things…it really is nature’s perfect food for baby! Remember that a nursing baby satisfies both hunger and thirst at the breast, so offer often to keep your babe hydrated. With that in mind, make sure Mommy stays hydrated too – it takes a lot of water to make a lot of milk!
- Carrier - If your baby is too young to hike in with a backpack carrier, you’ll probably be using a soft front carrier on the approach, which means baby is snuggled right against Mommy’s chest. Choose climbing areas with short, shady approaches to keep the sweat-fest to a minimum.
COLD - By no means does North Carolina get down to what I would call “extreme” cold temperatures during the winter months. Compared to what Alaskan Mommies over on Skedaddle go through to get their kiddos bundled up for a trip to a local park, it makes our highs in the 20’s appear downright tropical! But this blog series is about taking your baby ROCK climbing, not ICE climbing, so obviously we aren’t talking about sub-zero highs here…
- Layer Up – It might take 15 minutes to get your little one dressed in the morning, but layering clothing will go a long way in protecting him or her from the cold and the wind throughout the day. For really cold mornings we use a down suit as Canaan’s outer layer. It works out especially well for multi-day trips that involve camping – the down suit also doubles as a sleeping bag, so he can stay nice and toasty around camp while we are cooking breakfast and gearing up. For day trips where we aren’t outside as the sun is coming up, we have a bunting type suit that we’ve christened as “the bear suit” that not only keeps Canaan warm and toasty, but is also amazingly cute!
- Double Diaper Duty – Frequent changes are not pleasant for anyone as the mercury drops. If you’re using cloth diapers, beef them up with a couple more absorbent layers so that you don’t have to change as often.
- Legwarmers - These are a must to keep the least amount of skin exposed as possible during diaper changes!
- Insulate - Don’t underestimate how cold the ground can be when it comes time to put baby down for a nap. Make sure you have a thick enough layer (ideally with a waterproof underside) to shield baby from the frosty ground.
- Body Heat – Babies are like heat-seeking missiles. Some extra snuggle time can be the ticket to keep both baby AND you nice and toasty!
WET – It’s a scientific fact that germs are what make you sick, not being wet (and not from leaving the house with wet hair…sorry mom) No matter how sweet your little bundle of joy may be, rest assured, he is NOT made of sugar and therefore will NOT melt in the rain. Being stuck in the rain will undoubtedly bother you way more than your baby, provided you have taken some basic precautions.
- Rain Cover – Any good backpack carrier will have some sort of rain cover built in or as an additional purchase. Learn how to set it up quickly BEFORE you get stranded at the cliff in a passing band of summer showers. If your baby is in a front carrier, make sure that your rain jacket is big enough to cover both you AND baby!
- Extra Burp Cloths – These are invaluable for keeping all of the gear that you couldn’t get in your pack in time from turning into a mud pit.
- Waterproof Diaper Bag - Let’s say you were able to get your pack cover on before any water leaked through. But then later on after the sun comes out you stuff your (wet) layers of clothes into the pack…water leaks through, diapers are now useless. Something as simple as a gallon sized ziploc bag can make the difference between a dry, happy baby and a soaked, screaming baby…
- Sure Feet – It’s a lot harder to scramble around in the rain while wearing another person – bring whatever gear you need to make sure that you can move quickly but safely. For us that means a good pair of approach shoes, and maybe even some trekking poles, depending on the terrain.
Again, this is not a blanket invitation to put your baby in dangerous weather conditions. Do look at the forecast ahead of time, and do come to the crag prepared for any and all sorts of weather. But also start to look at less-than-ideal weather conditions from your child’s perspective – an opportunity to soak up (maybe literally!) new experiences and learn from them, while you’re safe in the arms of the people who love you most! Case in point – Last July we took Canaan to the New River Gorge for the weekend. The forecast called for rain, but not til the afternoon, and if you have ever climbed at the New, you know just how fickle the weather forecast can be (as well as the fact that there are numerous caves and overhangs that provide climbable rock on even the wettest of days). So we’re pulling down at some sweet Summersville sandstone when the skies went black and the deluge began. We waded our way through ankle-deep mud over to a giant cave, where we could wait out the storm and dry off.
During the frenzy I started having those guilty “What kind of mom are you to take your kid outside in this?!?!” type of thoughts. But when we got to the cave and I laid Canaan (who was dry as a bone, by the way) down on a blanket, he looked at me, flashed a toothless smile, and let out a cackle of laughter without abandon that I’ll never forget. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the bigger picture – the experiences our family has had and will hopefully continue to have because we aren’t afraid to get out and explore. Some days it would be easier to stay inside, but easier isn’t what memories are made of – so don’t be afraid to get out there!