Ask Beth Rodden: Taking Kids On International Climbing Trips
Beth Rodden has inspired a generation of climbers—and now she’s opening up to share in a monthly Q&A column on Verticulture. From her early days smashing climbing comps, her landmark free climbs on El Cap and groundbreaking first ascents like the unrepeated 5.14c Meltdown in Yosemite—to her openness about climbing as a mother, Beth’s life has been a journey in transcending possibility. Her boundary-breaking climbs and hard-won wisdom have made her an icon within the climbing community. Outdoor Research is proud to partner with Beth for a regular Q&A column! Each month we announce a topic on Facebook and Instagram, and choose a question from the responses for Beth to answer. Here's this month's winner:
From herro_its_hellsbells, via Instagram: Hi Beth! I am due in 2 weeks and wondering when you took Theo on his first international climbing trip? Also, how do you manage all the stuff...baby gear, climbing gear etc?
From Beth: Hi Helen! Thank you so much for your question, and first off, congratulations on the arrival of your little one—so exciting! I hope you’re recovering OK and he's taking it easy on you with the whole sleep thing.
I was an extremely anxious new mom for many reasons, but mainly because I hadn't dealt with my fear and trauma from a trip I took to Kyrgyzstan when I was 20 years old. On that trip my friends and I were held hostage in the mountains for six days, eventually escaping and running to safety. For years I bottled my fear and anxiety away and tried to live in a safe little bubble. But suddenly, when I became a mother, I wasn't just making decisions for myself anymore—I was making them for a brand new little person, too. I started to see everything as a threat to Theo: the sun, the wind, people, germs, food, etc. and it was making me miserable and making it miserable to live with me! So, I started going to therapy for my PTSD and it has made a world of difference.
I'm still not at the point where I want to travel to "adventurous" places, far from hospitals, fresh water, etc. I think that if I had never had that experience in Kyrgyzstan, I might be a more adventurous traveler; but for now, I'm happy to explore places that are a little more known.
I also had a pretty rough physical postpartum, which meant we weren't traveling immediately after Theo was born. We had friends who used their maternity and paternity leave to take their very young kiddos on climbing trips to Europe, which sounded like a perfect plan to us! But, I was pretty much bed ridden for the first month. Our first travel with Theo was on a family vacation with my family to Kauai and then up to Squamish. The water was perfect for a slowly recovering mama, and the pace was great for traveling with a kiddo. It really showed us that we were ready to travel internationally.
That next spring, when Theo was 10 months old, we headed over to our favorite place, Fontainebleau, France. It was one of our favorite places before we had Theo—and for climbing with kids, it doesn't get much better. The landings are generally flat and sandy, and the climbing is very condensed, so there’s something for everyone to play on. They even have kids circuiting when they get old enough, and Theo just started breaking into those this year. Also, it's a decent sized town with good food, restaurants, pharmacies, etc. It's only an hour from Paris for an easy touristy day trip. It was the best place we could think of to try our hand at international travel.
We ended up packing quite a bit of stuff for our first trip, but have since traveled each year and have learned what we can pare down. The first time around, I didn't know what type of diapers and wipes they would have in France, so I brought enough for our trip. But the next year we didn't bring any of those, since his skin was fine with the wipes and the diapers worked great. I really valued having the Ergo carrier along, and Theo’s warm, durable clothes. Things that I'm sure I could have found over there, but were essentials to our daily routines. Theo would normally nap in the Ergo or on a bouldering pad, so those were key to have, plus an extra down jacket to cover him in the boulders. We didn't bring any special food since he was still nursing quite a bit and the food over there actually has more stringent standards for pesticides, etc., than at home. So I felt good about feeding him anything we found over there.
We’ve always taken a car seat with us, since we've had friends and family members rent them and they seem pretty flimsy and cheap. We didn't take a porta crib, since the places we rented have either had them or we put Theo on a crash pad on the floor. We've never taken a stroller since Randy is a minimalist—face palm!— but we've always had friends bring theirs and I would bet they'd say it's a very, very valuable tool to get kids from place to place and for napping. We take a few key toys and books, but always know that "new" ones are more exciting if we really need them. And, so far, time in the forest has proven the best entertainer.
We've now taken four international trips with Theo, spending three months in places like Norway and South Africa. And while traveling as a family often feels a bit like a circus, it also has provided my favorite family memories. It’s also a great reminder of how nice home is—we just appreciate everything that much more. The international travel has also made me a more easygoing mom, because I'm forced out of my comfort zone a lot, and shown how resilient both Theo and I can be. That if he missed a nap, or two (or five), he'll be okay. Or that we can figure out how to sleep in different situations and set ups. And exposing him to all the different people and cultures, I think, is such an important thing to learn.
Best of luck with this amazing new adventure of motherhood—we hope to cross paths with you and your traveling family soon!
Photos by Becca Caldwell, Randy Puro and Beth Rodden.