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

Winter, Spring, and first 5.12 of the Season

The climbing at Hidden Valley has been on our radar ever since the Carolina Climbers Coalition purchased the land at the end of 2014.  Early reports from friends sounded appealing – short approach, winter sun, summer shade.  But somehow we never managed to get up there until this past weekend.  A couple of times we did make plans to go – but then kids got sick, or the weather was yucky, etc.  But mostly, it’s just hard to get us away from the New during prime climbing season.  I guess we’re just spoiled that way!  

Anyway, after lots of gym time, but very little outdoor climbing over the winter, neither the CragDaddy nor I had a lot of expectations going into the weekend.  We were just excited to get back into an outdoor groove as a family, and climb on some new-to-us rock with friends.  I was glad we had two days to explore, because it definitely took the whole family a while to warm-up (literally) to not only a new season, but at a new crag.  

Our first day was a little lackluster by way of performance, but still a great day out in the woods.  There was plenty of sun, but temps on the mountain never got above 40, so cold hands were a common theme on any rock that was even close to being in the shade.  A favorite moment for the cragkiddos was the group of fighter jets that boomed across the valley mid-afternoon (I’m glad it wasn’t naptime, because the sound was deafening!!!)  They also marveled at the giant icicles hanging (rather treacherously) atop many routes.  As the day went on, more and more were melting and dropping off, so we had to be be extra vigilant about where the kids could play, and looking up before we sat down!  Routes climbed: Oregon Trail 10c, Farley 9, and Spurs 10c.  

CragDaddy making a long reach on Flavored with Meat 12a

The next morning brought more warmth than we’d seen at any point the previous day, so we hiked back in to the crag in higher spirits and less layers!  At a new crag it’s often hard to get your bearings and know where to start – what’s good, what’s not, along with the adjustment to a different type of rock, so our second day was definitely a more informed one.  Group consensus was that everything Day 2 overall was far better than Day 1!  Routes climbed: Tidy Bowl 10a, Mooning 11a, and Flavored with Meat 12a. 

Crankin’ and high-steppin’

Flavored with Meat was a route that I’d had on my radar ever since I unwrapped the new guidebook on Christmas morning and saw Monica Browne styling it on the cover.  The rock was just as impressive in person.  Day 2 was the CragDaddy’s day to hang draws, and he definitely took one for the team – not only because the key holds were pretty hard to find without chalk, but because 2 out of the 3 distinct crux sequences put tall people at a disadvantage, due to the high feet and compact movement.  

I, however, truly enjoyed the chance to get put my feet at my face and get all scrunched up on microscopic holds…without having to get creative to make a crazy reach!  However, it seems like I always have a hard time summoning my “try hard” at the start of the season, so my first run was pretty lazy.  I had no trouble with the moves, but I pretty much went bolt to bolt.  When I got to the top, I rehearsed a few of the sequences on lower and linked most of it…and it was like something clicked in my brain.  My wishy-washy psych level soared, and I couldn’t wait to get back on it again.  My next go I executed every single sequence incorrectly at one point or another…but I sent.  It took CragDaddy’s tall, +3.5 ape index frame 2 more burns to send, but he snagged the tick just as the sun was turning the corner of the cliff.  

We hiked out brimming with excitement for a new season of adventures, and the satisfaction that comes from spending a weekend in the mountains with family and friends.  Hidden Valley is definitely worth adding to our arsenal of spring climbing destinations, so stay tuned for more! 




A Nature Study Focus for the Birds

Who doesn’t love digging through owl vomit to find bones and fur?!?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our homeschooling escapades (since October, actually!) But we’ve been doing some exciting stuff lately, so I thought I would share some of it over the next few weeks.  We recently just wrapped up a nature study focus on birds.  Birds are some of the most easily accessible wildlife available for kids (and adults!) to learn about firsthand.  After all, with some cleverly-positioned feeders, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to enjoy and observe your local feathered friends, which can be a real plus on cold, winter mornings!  

While our rocks and mineral unit study in the fall involved several field trips, our Bird Study kept us closer to home.  We did have one excursion to the Carolina Raptor Center, where we got to see all sorts of owls, hawks, and falcons, and even meet a Spectacled Owl up close!  But our backyard buddies kept us plenty busy in other ways.


Our family got together with another family to dissect owl pellets (which, for anyone that might not know, is the remaining parts of the prey that the owl can’t eat – bones, fur, hair, etc.)  After the initial gross factor, everyone was amazed at how we could determine our particular owl’s diet based solely on the pellets – apparently our guy was really into rodents!  


We kept a running tally of all of our feeder birds on a giant chart in our kitchen.  Our count went on for 10 days, and at the end I was able to squeeze in some sneaky math lessons as we analyzed our results.  In case you’re interested, our most common bird was the Carolina Chickadee, and our most popular day at the feeder was January 10, when we logged 54 birds.  We had 17 different birds on the chart, and we really got to know them quite well.  We saw them often enough to learn who always fed with a mate, who ate a heavy breakfast but sometimes skipped lunch, who liked to their meals “to go” versus who hogged the feeder, and who preferred to dine on the ground.  We also got some handwriting and literacy practice in by alphabetizing our list.  

I love this display so much, I might keep it up all year!


I was inspired to introduce Big C to the world of chalk pastels after browsing through Hodgepodge Mom‘s website.  He did portraits of a few of his favorite backyard personalities – blue jay, mourning dove, and cardinal.  After observing an entire flock of Cedar Waxwings gorging themselves on our Holly bushes, he decided to add one of those to the collection as well.  


I can’t take credit for the idea (it was floating around pinterest somewhere), but we made the most adorable little snowy owls out of pine cones and cotton balls!  Super easy, super cute, and surprisingly durable – Little Zu carried hers around non-stop for about a week, and it is really no worse for the wear.  

Don’t you just love these guys’ natural camo?!?


For Christmas, Big C got a woodworking kit, and one of the described projects was a simple bird feeder.  It was a perfect way to keep the momentum of our bird watching long after our “official” unit was over.  (We have sort of always been into bird feeders.  For some other ideas, check the blog archives here.)  


Every year I try to do some sort of handprint art with the kids, usually around the holidays.  This year we went with handprint cardinals, with thumpprint snow!  The project turned out great, and since it’s “winter” than holiday-esque, I still have it up in our kitchen!


A unit study wouldn’t be worth very much without a pile of living books to go along with it, so we took advantage of our library quite a bit.  Mostly we just perused the animal aisle, and picked out what looked interesting – anything related to owls was at the top of Big C’s list.  Owls in the Family made for a charming read aloud during the quiet afternoon hours.  Another title that simply MUST be mentioned is Blacky the Crow, by Thornton Burgess.  Our first foray into Thornton Burgess works was last year with the Burgess Bird Book (which would obviously have been relevant to this study as well!).  However, I found that my then Kindergartener was getting bogged down by the very detailed, field guide-like descriptions.  But Blacky the Crow is a lot different – MUCH more story-oriented, although there are still LOADS of facts woven in as well.  The chapters are short, the plot simple enough that even Little Zu can follow it when she has a notion to sit still with us, and the personification of the animals is just endearing.  Best of all, Blacky is just one of dozens of books written by Burgess about the “little folk of the Green Meadow and the Green Forest.”  Since finishing that one up, we’ve since read through 4 more – Mother West Wind, The Adventures of Buster the Bear, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, and The Adventures of Bobby Raccoon.  The characters are the same throughout the series, really giving a charming depth to each story, without having any particular preferred order of reading.  I’m pretty sure Big C won’t rest til we’ve read them all….and perhaps we should break out the Burgess Bird Book next time around to see if he’s ready for it!  

Our bird study only “officially” lasted 2 weeks, but the observation habits we got into have lasted far beyond that.  We had so much fun with it that I’ve decided to do an Observation Chart each season, so we can then compare when most of our friends hang around, and when they fly elsewhere.  Then maybe we’ll do it again when we go to the beach for a week…who knows?!?  But what’s clear is that our family has been bitten by the birding bug for sure! 

These goons pretending to be owls at the Carolina Raptor Center.

Does your family go nuts about birds?  What are your favorite places to go and activities to do surrounding our feathered friends?  





KidORCA: Our New Favorite Toddler Mud Boot!

Not sure about yours, but our household never has a shortage of mud.  While some seasons of the year are decidedly more notorious than others, I find myself battling muddy feet, clothes, shoes, hair (yes, hair!), sometimes on a daily basis.  It’s like every mud puddle has an irrestisible gravitational pull around it that my kids are destined to become one with.  Which is why, in our household, there is also never a shortage of mud boots.  Many times we happen upon free boots in exchange for an honest gear review – you can find our previous love for STONZ and MyMayu here and here.  Other times we fill in the size gaps at our local consignment shop, because with my kids, we can’t be without a good pair of boots for even a day.


Which is why I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you how excited I am about a new line of kid boots from a brand new company called KidORCA.  One of the things I love about this company is that they were born out of a family that sounds a lot like ours – active kiddos that love to get wet!  But what I love the most, of course, is that the product they’ve come up with is top notch.  Our experience with them has been (almost) perfect!


  1.  These boots are completely waterproof – up to the mid-thigh!  Seriously.  The extendable gaitor leg adds a couple of extra inches of ABOVE THE KNEE dry coverage to Little Z’s chubby toddler thighs.  She has literally fallen on her bum while wading in a shallow creek, and while the side of her that landed in the water was of course wet, all body parts covered by the boot were still dry as a bone.  (As long as they are cinched up tight enough, more on that below!)
  2. These boots are so versatile in that your child doesn’t have to have all that extra coverage when it’s unnecessary.  He/she can fold the gaitor legs down and look cute everywhere from the hiking trail to the grocery store…then just extend them when everyone’s ready to make a splash.
  3. The inner lining of these boots is a thin fleece, which helps keep feet dry AND warm.  After a several hours tromping around in wet, slushy snow at the snowtubing park, Little Z’s feet were still warm to the touch, with only a single pair of wool socks.


The only somewhat negative experience that we have had with these boots was the very first time we took them out into the creek at the end of our street.  We had sized up in order to maximize our use out of the boots, and that combined with the rocky bottom made for a very unsteady toddler who eventually found herself bottoms up.  Clearly I hadn’t cinched the boots as tight as I should have because the inside of the boots got soaking wet.  While I’d expected the inside of the boots to get wet after being completely submerged for several seconds, I was disappointed in the amount of time it took for them to dry, due to the inner fleece lining.

Eventually (after several days), I took a blow dryer to them, which helped out considerably.  I contacted KidORCA about the issue, and they recommended the balled up newspaper trick (duh, it works with my running shoes, not sure why I didn’t think of that!)  I haven’t tried it yet on Z’s boots, because as I stated earlier, when the boots are cinched nice and tight, they are leak-proof even in total immersion, so we’ve yet to encounter wet boots again!

These boots are less packable than others that I’ve seen, but the complete coverage makes it worth hauling them in if your child doesn’t want to hike in them…but Z seems happy as a little river otter in them, and would probably wear them around the house if I let her.  She loves that they are yellow, and especially loves the “shark” (it’s actually an orca…but try and tell her that.)


Currently, you can only buy these boots in toddler sizes, which my bigfoot son was pretty disappointed about initially.  But according to KidORCA, their next design will offer bigger sizes up to around 10 years old.  Maybe after that they’ll consider expanding their line to include mom (and dad) sizes…but until then, anyone that knows an avid little adventurer in little kid sizes 7-12 is welcome to enter a giveaway, generously sponsored by KidORCA!  To enter, just leave a comment about how/when/where your favorite explorer would get the most use out of the boots, and fill out the rafflecopter widget below.  Contest will run through Valentine’s Day.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


2016: Tis the Season for a Year in Review


Mirage 12c

In my tick list for 2016 I stated that one of my main goals was to “focus more on the process than crossing something off the list.”  And by that I meant that I wanted to be more picky in the routes that I invest extra time on, choosing quality over quantity.  At the end of 2015 I found myself easily frustrated at the amount of routes I had “unfinished business” on.  Our family’s climb time is at a premium, and the logistics of getting back to certain climbs with an extra partner often ends up being a crux.  So this year I made a point of giving myself a free pass to walk away from routes I didn’t necessarily feel called back to – just because I believe I CAN send it doesn’t mean I HAVE to.  In other words, if it’s fun and feels worth my while, give it another go, train for it, etc.  If not, leave it undone for now…or forever!

Practically speaking, this meant spending MORE time on LESS routes, often choosing to try something harder that I knew I probably wouldn’t send rather than logging more mileage at a more comfortable grade/style.  The result was that I wound up with far fewer ticks on my sending belt than the previous year…but the ones I did get are a lot more meaningful.

It’s also no surprise that many of my year end highlights did not result in an updated 8a card.  But the following are my top ten climbing moments of 2016.

10. “TRY HARD” BOULDERING:  This summer the CragDaddy challenged me to step up my bouldering game at the gym.  Power tends to always crop up as a weakness of mine, and I’ve decided that it’s actually just as much a movement/coordination issue as it is strength/power; ie, I default to static movement that often times doesn’t allow me to “tap in” to any power that I might already have.  Anyway, I surprised myself and actually had a LOT of fun throwing myself around the boulder problems at the gym, and I’ve seen some really good gains.  Who knows, maybe next year’s tick list will include some boulder problems?

9.  LEGALIZE IT 12a and WAKE AND BAKE 11d (Red River Gorge) – After blowing the flash right at the end of the 12, I redeemed myself with a pretty casual second go send, and an onsight of it’s slightly easier next door neighbor.  Not my hardest onsight ever, but hardest one in at least a year, probably since Ten Sleep last summer.

8.  GALUNLATI 12b (Red River Gorge):  This is the route that made me fall in love with the Solarium, which is now my favorite crag at the Red.  Not only is it awesome, but it was my first (and so far only) 12b at the Red.

Enjoying the view from the Tree Ledge

Stone Mountain multi-pitch with the CragKiddo

7.  BLACKHAPPY 12b (New River Gorge) – I knew I wasn’t going to send this one on my 2nd go.  But it went a lot better than I expected, and I was happy that I gave it another effort rather than  finding something easier to end the day on.  It’s a long hike in for the kids, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to work on this one some more next spring.

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

Line of Fire 12c Photo creds: Justin Hedrick

6.  ORANGE JUICE 12c (Red River Gorge) – I’ve been dying to touch this route ever since I first laid eyes on it in 2012.  I knew I didn’t have the guns for it then (and I’m not sure I do now…).  But I sure was psyched to give it a couple of tries this past November, and after feeling how hard those upper cruxes were, I’m even more psyched I was able to execute all the moves on point.  No send, and no plans to come back any time soon, as neither the hike nor the cliff base are great for the kids.  But experiencing this 5 star classic that I’d wondered about for so many years was amazing!

5.  CRAGKIDDO’s 1st MULTI-PITCH – I wasn’t the only one that came to terms with walking away with unfinished business this year.  Big C experienced this when we had to bail just one pitch below the summit on his very first multi-pitch endeavor at Stone Mountain back in February.  Despite not making it to the top, I was so proud of how brave he was (and he was too, once he got down and saw where our high point was on the mountain!)

4.  MIRAGE 12c (Red River Gorge):  Did I mention that I love the Solarium?  This one was a completely unexpected send at the end of a fabulous spring weekend at the RRG.

3.  TIPS AHOY 12d (Hawksbill Mountain):  First ever 12d!  Sharp microcrimps on an ever so slightly overhanging face…if only I could find a zillion more like this.

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

Tips Ahoy 12dPhoto: Joe Virtanen

2.  LINE OF FIRE 12c (Hawksbill Mountain):  Even though grade-wise this one is easier than the previous one, I think I’m more proud of this send.  In the same breath everyone told me I’d like Tips, they also told me that I probably wouldn’t like Line of Fire, due to the dynamic, bouldery moves.  My first time up, I agreed with everyone else, and I only got on it again because the CragDaddy was still working Tips.  It took a while to find beta that worked for me, but the 7th try was the charm, and when it went I had it so dialed in it almost felt easy.

1. JESUS AND TEQUILA 12b (New River Gorge) – Last year I said that if I sent only one route the entire year, I wanted this one to be it, and if that truly was the only one, I’d count the year as a success. I’ve got a lot of emotion wrapped up in this one, and I know that it’s one of those that I’ll still remember vividly when I’m old, gray, and can’t even toprope my kids’ warm-ups.  After multiple heartbreaker attempts, crushing this one in unexpectedly fine style this past November was by far the highlight of the year!

And that’s that!  Please don’t let me spray by myself…I’d love to hear about your favorite achievements this past year (climbing related or not!)  So comment below so we can cyber clink our glasses to 2016.



Our Family is Getting Hi-Tec

Well, the shoes, that is.  As for the other, one person in our family has always been high tech enough to have the rest of us all covered.  But back to the shoes.  Recently I was contacted by Hi-Tec, a company that is probably a household name for anyone that likes to hike, backpack, or pretty much do anything outside that requires a solid pair of shoes.  They asked if our whole family (minus Little Z, since they don’t carry sizes small enough for her!), would be interested in testing out some footwear of our choice for review.  As if we would say no…

Anyway, we each chose a favorite pair, and have been putting them through the ringer ever since.  I was looking for a boot that would be a good crossover between morning playdates, afternoon hikes, and a casual evening out with friends.  I went for the Sierra Tarma, and it totally fits the bill.  Supportive, comfy, and surprisingly warm!  The first time I wore them was at a weekend women’s retreat in the NC mountains a few weeks ago.  They were the only shoes I brought and they were perfect – not to mention I got loads of compliments on them!

Cragmama's Shoes

Cragmama’s Shoes

The CragDaddy was looking for some approach shoes/light hikers, and went with the Bandera Low WP.  His review gave high marks in comfort and traction, even in steep terrain on slippery fall leaves.  He really appreciated that they were offered in wide sizes.  The one drawback he noted was that there was no loop on the heel to clip his shoes to his pack/harness with a carabiner.  Not a big deal for hiking or for the everyday craggin’ we tend to do as a family, but these shoes would not be a good choice on multipitch endeavors due to an inability to carry them with you on the rock.

CragDaddy's Shoes

CragDaddy’s Shoes

Big C got the Hillside Low Junior.  The traction is top notch, and the low tops keep his feet from getting hot and bulky when he transitions from outside to inside play.  They are equally great for playgrounding, neighborhood walks, as well as muddy hikes.  And the laces stay tied well, which is very convenient for beginning shoe-tie-ers and their frustrated ever-patient parents.

Cragkiddo's Shoes

Cragkiddo’s Shoes

Bottom line?  These shoes are durable and well-made, and my guess is that they will be in our shoe arsenal for years to come.  Well, for me and the CragDaddy anyway.  For Big C only if I can somehow figure out how to keep him from growing.  But if that doesn’t happen, they will make great hand-me-downs when they are done with round 1!