A lot of times I wonder if the only reason our family has remained as active and adventurous as we have is because we have just one child…Then I met Charmagne Cox. Her inspiring story leaves no question as to whether or not its possible to continue recreational pursuits with multiples…and by multiples I don’t just mean multiple children, I mean MULTIPLES. As in TRIPLETS. Let that sink in for a moment – 3 kids to carry in to the crag (in addition to all of your climbing gear), 3 kids to get down for a nap at the base of the cliff, and 3 sets of poopy diapers to hike out at the end of the day. But the Cox family not only made it work, they enjoyed it so much that 5 years later, they did it all again (but this time with just 1, not 3!) Here is the story of Charmagne’s climbing journey…
Name: Charmagne Cox
Crag-kiddos/Ages: Emily, Madison, and Chloe (10 year old triplets), and Hannah (4 years old)
Currently in: San Antonio, TX
Climbing for: 20 years and counting
Favorite Climbing Area: The Red River Gorge! My husband is from there, and we have a cabin on 175 acres there. It will most likely be where we move to after retiring from the military. (Hopefully in 4 years!)
Proudest Climbing Achievement: After being diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, and enduring 10 torturous weeks of bed rest followed by an emergency C-section that left me with a 4 inch hernia that required surgery, I was so weak that I literally could not squat down without falling over. Recovering from all of this was difficult and time-consuming – but although I haven’t climbed at the same level I climbed at pre-triplets, I have been able to work my way back up to solid 5.12 while raising 4 kids. I would not have been able to do this without my amazing husband, who is an even more amazing dad!
When did you first take the triplets climbing?
The triplets spent their first 7 weeks in the hospital due to being nearly 12 weeks premature, and we took them out climbing for the first time at 8 weeks.
How did you manage the logistics of 3 infants at the crag at once?
We have been very blessed with an enormous amount of help with the girls. One of my sisters lived with us for 9 months after the triplets came home from the hospital. She or one of the grandmothers (my mom, step-mom or mother-in-law) would come with us climbing. We also have wonderful friends who have children the same or similar ages who we share(d) kid duty with.
What age/phase was the most difficult to manage at the crag? Any good stories?
The most difficult time for us was 6 months until about 3 years – kids are mobile, but clumsy and can’t do long hikes. And mine were always into everything! I remember one time we hiked into Tyranny Wall at the Obed when the triplets were around 20 months. I had one in a backpack carrier with the food, one in a front carrier and my husband had all the gear and one girl on top of his pack. The trail had changed and we got lost…it was epic!!! By the time we got there I was so exhausted that I only did 2 routes before stopping to make sure I had the energy to hike out! We still laugh about that day. It would have been so tempting to quit but we knew if we did, starting back would be even harder.
What is your climbing life like now that your girls are older (and now that you have 4?)
Climbing still takes a lot more planning and work, but it is very manageable. We almost always climb with other families so our girls always have someone to play with and there is usually an adult on “kid duty”. Honestly, having three the same age makes some things easier- they always have someone to play with whereas my youngest doesn’t always.
Another thing that makes climbing very doable for us is that I home school our girls, although I must point out that climbing is not why we home school. But it does give us an enormous amount of flexibility for climbing trips. I spent 7 weeks at the Red this past fall, and just brought their schoolbooks with us! We have school year round, taking breaks when we need to or are on vacation. Additionally, if they are exhausted on Monday from being out all weekend, they are able to sleep in and still have more than enough time to complete their schoolwork.
Do your girls climb too? If so how do you balance finding routes suitable for the entire family in a climbing trip?
My big girls do climb some. Chloe has shown the most interest, but it comes and goes and is largely dependent on how much fun they are having playing in the woods, building fairy houses, swimming . . . We encourage them to climb but have never forced it. Balance on climbing trips has not been a problem so far but it could be in the future if their interest picks up, which I think is likely! Chloe is very strong and would make a great climber and Madison has no fear! If you combined them they would be unstoppable. Emily, is my little diva and I doubt would ever pursue climbing but who knows! Hannah, of course, is still very young, but she does climb in the gym and loves to swing.
Since becoming a mom, has your attitude about risks in climbing changed at all?
ABSOLUTELY! I had never really struggled with my “head” too much before becoming a mom. After having the triplets, I was terrified on lead. I do not remember exactly how long it took to adjust (a few months) but it was definitely a struggle. I am still more cautious now but don’t struggle with fear while on lead. I also didn’t experience that same fear of leading after Hannah was born. I guess I went through it once and moved through it.
What is the most challenging aspect of family climbing trips?
Hmmmm, if we are not at our cabin, I would say the insane amount of laundry after coming home, especially after camping!
What is the most rewarding aspect of family climbing trips?
The most rewarding part of family climbing trips is experiencing new things with my girls. Climbing introduces us to new places, people, and cultures and is a wonderful hands-on learning tool. I believe most children will adjust to whatever their “normal” is. Climbing, and therefore travelling, is normal for us. In fact if we take time off, we all get grumpy and the girls will beg to go! I was raised in the outdoors and all of my siblings have their own outdoor passions: hiking, fishing, skiing, and surfing…I hope to instill the love of nature and exploration in my girls and encourage them to maintain healthy lifestyles.
If you could offer one piece of advice to other mama’s out there what would it be?
Enjoy your children when they are little! Don’t get caught up with thoughts of “I have to redpoint a certain grade,” or “I have to climb at the same level I did pre-kids.” I had started getting back into decent climbing shape when the triplets were around 4 or 5 and then was VERY surprised (shocked might be a better word) to find myself pregnant with Hannah. It has only been since Hannah was around 2.5 that I have been able to devote the time needed to climb hard. I don’t regret those years that I “gave up”. They are gone so quickly and you can never get them back. I will never regret the routes I didn’t send because of the time I spent with my children!
Anything else you would like to add?
I love coming home and feeling that deep, core tired from “playing” outside. Many people relate climbing to being spiritual – a communion with nature- and it is definitely so for me. I can’t imagine climbing not being in my life. Climbing with kids was a forgone conclusion for us. We never considered the idea of stopping…
Kudos to Charmagne for not only keeping her recreational passions alive, but for making them a family affair! My guess is that if more families chose to live like the Cox’s, there would be a lot more kids outside enjoying nature on the weekends, and a lot fewer kids inside on the couch watching TV! Thanks to Charmagne for allowing me to tell her story. If you enjoyed it and found it inspiring, please leave some love in the comments section below!