Don’t let some of life’s milestones stop your climbing. You can continue doing what you love while pregnant, with a baby, toddler, kids, or even with all of them at the same time.
We actually didn’t become climbers until we were already parents. Now, we have six children AND we climb regularly! So we have this climbing through life’s child-related milestone down!
Stage 1: Pregnant
Rock climbing really can be the perfect pregnancy activity. Pregnancy can be difficult for a lot of women for a lot of reasons, but continuing to exercise while pregnant is great both physically and emotionally. Obviously, not every sport is safe for a pregnant woman, and lead climbing is not advised. However, top-rope climbing is a low-impact and incredibly safe sport. It provides cardio and strength building without additional strain on the bones, joints, or baby. That’s why climbing is considered a lifetime sport that can be enjoyed in the later years as well.
But what about falling when climbing? With a responsible belayer, ‘falling’ on a toprope climb is akin to the movement of sitting down in a chair. A few years ago, Mountain Mama and Mad Rock came together to make a full-body climbing harness for pregnant women to top-rope. Now, Edelrid and Petzl have pregnancy harnesses too. All of these harnesses work on a similar concept where none of the webbing compresses the abdominal area and, because it is full-body, it keeps the body upright during a “fall.” I’ve successfully used the Mountain Mama harness for two of my pregnancies.
Of course, the important things for a pregnant climber to remember are: listen to your body, stay educated, and keep you and your baby safe.
Stage 2: Babies
The stress of so many sleepless nights can really wear on you, making it all the more important to take some time for yourself and continue to do what you love! Take advantage of the fact that your little cutie will sleep a lot during the day! Take some trips to the climbing gym with your significant other and take turns watching your baby sleep or holding your baby while the other boulders or climbs with a partner. You will be surprised with how soon your little cragsman will want to climb just like you!
If venturing outside, get a backpack infant carrier and a baby cot/cage/tent. A carrier will be useful for any hikes, for walking to calm your baby, and even belaying a top-roped climber. We bought, what was called, a ‘cot’, which is essentially a miniature tent, with a padded floor and zippers that only zip from the outside. We refer to it as our baby cage.
Our first child never wanted to use the “cage” because she had to be held constantly. However, my next two used it ALL THE TIME. And now, everyone wants to get in it together. Having a baby cot is helpful for naps at the crag, and playtime with toys and snacks. The kiddos can crawl around, and stay safe while you get some better climbing in or lead/lead belay.
Stage 3: Toddlers
This can be an exciting time because now your toddler can join in on the climbing. By this time, our kids had already been exposed to a lot of climbing and had their own tiny climbing wall at home. We started with just having them swing on the harness and getting used to the feel of being on the rope. An overhanging crag is usually perfect for this.
Once the young-ones want to start climbing, I don’t recommend just letting them go straight up the wall. You might end up with a toddler screaming at the top of a climb, not knowing how to get down. Constantly check in with the child, making sure they are sure he or she is not scared. Also, make sure your child knows how to be lowered safely before you ever let her go above your reach. We like to tie an extra rope or webbing to the back of our kids’ harnesses so that you can pull them off and away from the wall if you need.
We’ve also recently learned that having a crash pad with you, even if its not a bouldering destination, can be incredibly useful for young kids. Our kids and their cousins have often napped, played, climbed over, and used it as a couch and chalkboard. It’s made some trips a lot easier.
At this age, location also becomes incredibly important! Your approach and landing matter a lot. You will care if it's too far, too dangerous, not shady, etc. Pick your crag carefully. You are also going to want to find some spots with a variety of climbs – harder climbs for you and some really easy routes, 5.3-5.5, so that your toddler can start to do top-roped climbs. Take turns so it’s not always all about you.
(At the end of this article I provide links to our website Cheerio in My Chalk bag which provides child-safe location reviews.)
Stage 4: Kids
This is when you start to have a real climber on your hands and it becomes a real family sport. Location might not be as stressful but it is still important. You don’t want any little daredevils wandering off a cliff.
Once the kiddos start really climbing, let them mock lead. You can do this by tying an additional piece of rope onto their harness that will hang down a few feet. Give them the quick draws, a lesson on leading and let them practice clipping in with the extra rope while you belay them top-roped.
This can be a lot of fun for them. Remember kids love to be like you and they see you leading all the time so let them give it a try.
Also, consider a 3-person multi-pitch. A multi-pitch can be an incredibly fun experience for your kids but there are a few things to consider. Mainly, depending on the age of your children, they are likely not able belay you because 1) they are too small and will be pulled upwards if you take a fall and 2) they are not competent. When would you trust your life to your kid?
An easy 3-person multi-pitch will allow you to take your mini on a multi-pitch even though s/he cannot belay. These are the dynamics you need to keep in mind: (1) An adult will be tied into each end of the rope using an eight knot. The child will be tied into the middle of the rope using an eight knot on a carabiner. You will never untie, move, or change this order. (2) One adult will belay the other as they s/he leads the first route. (3) The leader is an adult who will belay the middle climber (child) from above. The leader will also belay the last climber, another adult, from above. (4) The adults can switch leading but the child will always remain in the middle. (5) You cannot do a climb over 100 ft. on a 60-meter rope or 115 ft. on a 70-meter rope. Also, keep in mind you are going to need a few feet to work with at the anchors and belay station. Do not make this mistake, its very important or you won’t have enough rope. Remember your child is at that middle mark.
I recommend a short and easy two-pitch for their first multi-pitch climb.
If your kid is old enough and competent at rappelling then go ahead and do that for the descent. That might even be your child’s favorite part. But remember to have your child rappel second so an adult can set up and check the rappel at the top and the other adult (who rappelled first) can fireman belay at the bottom.
If your little one is not old enough to rappel him or herself, like mine, then look for a multi-pitch with a walk off.
Use Cheerio in My Chalk Bag to plan your next family outing
Want to learn more about climbing with children and find some great locations to climb with kids? www.cheerioinmychalkbag.com is a comprehensive guide to climbing with kids. It provides tips, product reviews, and information about climbing areas so you can have all the information you need to plan. It categorizes, rates, and details climbing areas so that you can know which places (1) are best for kids to do their own climbs; (2) are safe and fun for the entire family when just you are climbing; and (3) are essentially a ‘no go’ if you have young children.