How Alpine Climbing Prepared Me for Parenthood

By Sarah Garlick, 10 November 2013

  • DATE

    10 November 2013


    Sarah Garlick


    Rock Climbing

This summer, my husband and I took our then six-month-old son on his first climbing trip. I was stir crazy to get out of New England, and we’d been hearing for years that the City of Rocks is a great family crag—and our friends Bayard and Anne were headed there too. So the destination choice was a relatively easy. Everything else about that trip? Not so much.

On our flight back East, in between doses of Tylenol to keep his off-the-charts fever down just so we could make it home (he was fine, just a three-day bug), I thought about some of our epic travel sagas returning from various climbing expeditions and I realized there were a surprising number of parallels between alpine climbing and taking care of a baby. As my husband likes to say, quoting Bruce Miller: “Life: it’s the perfect metaphor for climbing.”

If you’re a climber considering taking the plunge and starting a family, or perhaps a parent wanting to take your climbing career from the crag to the mountains, you might find you’re more prepared than you think:

Gear management is essential. Whether it’s ending up in a backpack or a diaper bag, how you choose, pack, and maintain your stuff is key. I like a small roll of tape, a knife, and a lighter in the inside lid of my climbing pack. Inside the stash pocket of the diaper bag? Extra pacifier, a few single-pack wipes, and small tube of baby sunscreen.

It’s all about systems. Whether you’re building an anchor or changing a diaper, efficiency, function, and neatness all count.

You can function without sleep at a higher level than you probably think. Alpine starts, in-a-push ascents, teething child, etc. Sometimes sleep just isn’t an option.  

Hazard analysis and mitigation are part of the game. Toxic cleaning supplies in an accessible cabinet, a hanging serac above the approach, an impending meltdown after a skipped nap, the threat of an open bivy under plummeting temps—we face our obstacles head on.

When the shit hits the fan—your baby’s wailing hits that next decibel and/or you and your climbing partner start wigging out, for whatever reason—it’s helpful to focus on the basics: food, water, shelter, rest. 

The small moments are the ones that count: putting on your crampons by moonlight, flaking out the rope for your partner beneath a cool-looking wall, rocking your kid by the glow of a nightlight, coaxing a smile with a game of peek-a-boo. Life really is magic, after all.

Sarah Garlick

North Conway, NH

Sarah Garlick got her start bouldering in Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island in the late ’90s, and has since gone on to explore mountains and crags around the world. She’s put up first ascents in Newfoundland, Greenland and Jordan, and has climbed alpine rock peaks in Patagonia, Peru and the Canadian Rockies. Still, the traditional granite climbing at her home cliffs in New Hampshire is her favorite.

Trained as a geologist and writer, Sarah’s book, Flakes, Jugs & Splitters: A Rock Climber’s Guide to Geology, won the 2009 Banff Mountain Book Award. Sarah currently serves as the Northeast Regional Coordinator for the American Alpine Club. She lives in North Conway with her husband, climber and filmmaker Jim Surette, and their son Oliver.