We Attempted A Climbing Trip with a Toddler and This is What Happened

Yes. You can still climb after kids. You just can’t do it in precisely the same way (ie Quietly. And without chaos.) But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be worth the (Herculean) effort.

Words & Photos by: Lisa Richardson

When you fly into Los Angeles with a two year old, people make assumptions.

“You guys are headed to Disneyland?”

I don’t mean to sound abrupt or dismissive, so I soften it with an apologetic smile, but no, absolutely not and hell fucking no.

An overpriced theme park awash with thousands of uninnoculated measles-infected children?

No, we were dragging our two year old to Bishop, California for a week of camping, bouldering and old-school dirt-bagging.

Did that make us selfish?

I was more concerned it made us deluded.

There we were, in the desert of the high Sierras, home of the Buttermilks and the Happy Boulders, cheap camping, natural hot springs, free wi-fi on Main Street, huge parks, and non-stop sun, (true bliss for a couple of waterlogged Pacific Northwesterners), and there was nary a kid in sight.

The complete absence of other families was unsettling as we backpacked the boy and the bouldering pad into five star bouldering destinations. Was there something nobody was telling us?

But when we finally did get the memo, this is what it said:

You might not be able to climb the way you once did when you’re toting a toddler, but it is possible.

You just have to loosen up – your definitions, your ambitions – pretty much everything.

My baby-daddy, Dave, likens having a kid to being part of a platoon where one member has been shot in the leg. “It’s how you decommission an entire team,” he’ll say, ominously, as I spend twenty minutes negotiating with the toddler to get him in the car seat.

Fast and light we might no longer be, but we can still share the climber’s lifestyle –trundling through mythic landscapes; shooting the breeze with open-faced strangers, who dish up beta, offer extra pads and spotting hands; moving on rock; playing in the dirt; rustling through thrift stores for forgotten camping supplies; mellowing out in the hot springs before dinner; snuggling around the fire with beers (and juiceboxes) as the stars explode in a peerless sky — and we can hope something takes root in the wee man, and grows into a love of nature and wide-open places, of scrambling and being delightfully dirty. (Maybe, one day, we’ll even get a rope gun out of him.)

The point, right now, is not the ticks, the route bagging, or even topping-out on anything.

“I actually don’t think bouldering is about getting to the top of the boulder,” pondered Dave, while the 2 year old played in the Best and Biggest Sandpit He Has Ever Seen: “It’s about getting on something really hard and doing one or two moves. Each time you do it, you get a little bit further. It’s so strange.”

We approached bouldering as if we were aliens.

Parenthood has occurred to us in the same way.

And the parallels kept coming.

Both are patently absurd endeavours. Both are about trying to solve a riddle. Both required us to shelve our stoic self-reliance and turn friendly strangers into members of our tribe.

Both require effort, beyond what seems natural or free-flowing. Both require some of the most improbably committing moves you can imagine, and both ask that you keep talking to each other, keep cheering each other on, keep working together, through the stress and awkwardness and misalignments and isolating exposure of it all.

Every now and then, as the three of us rambled and bouldered around the Happys, the Buttermilks, the Druid Stones, after a hundred fumbles and frustrated mis-starts, things would align for one of us. I’d suddenly find my groove, the rock’s riddles revealed.

In seven days, I can still single out one clear moment when I sent a problem, moving with a quiet surety that my mate had my back, my instincts were spot-on, and the place just beyond my comfort zone, that I was topping out on to, was absolutely worth stretching for.

800 days into parenting, those moments are still not givens, on or off the rock. But they’re so very necessary. And so worth striving for.