How Alpine Climbing Prepared Me for Parenthood

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.