Well, not that it was any sort of surprise, but my husband and I didn’t quite make it all the way through our 4-6 week break from climbing after the baby was born – we were two days shy of 4 weeks before we hit our local gym, Triangle Rock Club. One of the routesetters had named a route in honor of my brand new son, so of course we had to try it out before it got taken down! Getting back to the gym felt amazing, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good my body felt postpartum! I guess carrying around 20+ extra pounds for several months kept me stronger than I had expected it to – although I will say that “gone” is too mild of a term to describe how my core felt initially coming back! It was very freeing to be able to boulder and get in the lead cave again, after months of being restricted to toproping only. And Canaan has seemed to adapt well to lunchtime sessions at the gym – for the most part he just hangs out in his stroller and sleeps while we do our thing… for about an hour or so, then he gets hungry of course and duty calls.
As good as it felt taking our newborn to the gym, it was indescribably better taking him to the crag for the first time! We of course had to rely on the help of our other climbing partners – we figured it was safest for everyone involved if belayer and baby-watcher were never the same person. So after 9 months of “in utero” training, and a few weeks of local day hiking, Canaan was finally ready to take his first day trip to Pilot Mountain when he was 6 weeks old. I was very anxious about how the day would go, but he was a champ! He must have climbing in his blood, because things went amazingly smoothly for a first time out with such a little guy! Even though we were moving much slower than our norm, we still got in 6 routes, which is quite respectable any day of the week. I even got my first outdoor postpartum lead in (The Herculean Test, 5.11a), and it felt wonderful to be back on the sharp end again.
Since Canaan did so well at a day trip, the next step of course, was to get our boy in a tent for a multi-day excursion. After two weekend trips in a row were cancelled due to weather (what else can you expect for springtime in the Southeast?!?), we opted to go for a mid-week jaunt up to the New River Gorge in West Virginia just before Memorial Day weekend, not quite a week after Canaan’s 2 month birthday. Our plan was to not experiment with all the logistics of camping and climbing with a baby with the throngs of people that we were sure would also be flocking to the area for the holiday weekend. So we drove up on a Wednesday evening and met up with our friend Scott to climb on Thursday and Friday, with a tentative climbing day on Saturday before heading back home, so long as things were going well.
And oh how well things went!!! The camping was not a problem in the least for Canaan – he took to sleeping in the woods like a boulderer to his beanie! The first climbing day was spent at the Fern Buttress, and was not without a few bumps here and there. We decided that Canaan was GOOD, but not GREAT. The hike in (which was a lot more substantial in length as well as difficulty than our approach at Pilot Mountain), went well, but Canaan fussed a lot more throughout the day than he usually does, and a couple of times, he was downright inconsolable, which is not the norm for him. And as nature would have it, the majority of those fussy times came on like clockwork right when I was mid-crux high up on a route. It happened so many times that it got to be (almost) quite humorous. But it was too stellar of a day to let a few sprinkles of crying here and there ruin it – good times were had by all and we got some fantastic climbing in. From warming up on a funky gear route with a spectacular view (Hysteria, 5.8), to big sustained moves that packed a pump (New Tricks for the Old Dog, 5.10c), to some technical slabs that proved to be quite heady leads (Two-Tone Arete, 5.10b, and Fragile Ego System, 5.10a), to ending on a classic for the grade that had a little bit of everything (Wild Seed, 5.11a), I must say that we definitely got in a full-value day.
As we wound down and reflected upon the day’s events at Pies n’ Pints (where else?), we came up with some ideas on how we could have made things a little easier on Canaan. First of all, we realized that we had been one the move a good bit during the day - climbing a route, then hiking 5-10 minutes over to the next one. We realized that we never really gave poor Canaan a chance to get in some solid naps, and that much of the crankiness could probably be attributed to him being overtired. We also realized that I probably wasn’t staying hydrated enough “for two,” and that Canaan could easily have been frustrated with my milk supply (which is strongly affected by hydration levels, especially during the heat). And the last piece of the puzzle came together when I noticed some prickly heat rash on his chest – no wonder the little man was a little irritable!
The next day everyone awoke rejuvenated and ready to tackle the Junkyard Wall. We made several changes to our plan of attack – we picked an area with several routes close together, so that we could set up a “nap spot” nearby that we could take turns hanging out with Canaan at so he could get in some good napping action. We also made sure his napping spot would be in the shade all day, and I made sure to be diligent about drinking water.And if Canaan scored a “good” at Fern Buttress, then his performance at the Junkyard was positively angelic!
Combine Canaan’s behavior with the bright and cheery skies (despite the forecasted 70% chance of thunderstorms…) and our day could be described as perfect! We warmed up on a route with an awkward for the grade roof finish (New River Gunks, 5.7), then got on a finger crack with a technical face crux (Team Jesus, 5.10a/b). I rediscovered my love for crack climbing on two delicious hand cracks (The Entertainer, 5.10a, and New Yosemite, 5.9), and tried to use my go-go-gadget arms with some ridiculously reachy face climbing (the aptly named Reachers of Habit, 5.11b).
We closed out our trip by giving our friends Norbert and Manuela a tour of Endless Wall on Saturday, thinking that we could avoid any major crowdage out there – it turned out to be a great plan. Everyone was tired and no one was looking for anything physically demanding, so we hit up a few long and technical slab routes before hiking out and heading back home – The Upheaval (5.9), Totally-Clipse (5.8), and Fool Effect (5.9).
It was so much fun to go back to one of our favorite places, this time as parents, and participate in our favorite activity, now as an expanded family. I can’t wait til Canaan is big enough to actually get on the rock himself – it sure will be fun teaching him how to climb. And who knows, maybe in a few years, we’ll have our own little ropegun to show for our efforts… but even if he’s not as into climbing as his Mom and Dad, I have a feeling he’ll still be a pretty cool kid!