Expect[ing] to Thrive: Rules of the Ropes from Cragmama

Welcome to Expect[ing] to Thrive! If you’ve just joined us you don’t want to miss our very first post: An Invitation to Action, not Comparison and our very first GIVEAWAY from Mountain Mama!

Today we have guest contributor Erica Lineberry sharing her story of pregnancy, climbing and the adventure of having a “cragbaby.” You won’t want to miss the video at the end! Whether it’s dangling from a rope on a rock face or catching bugs in the backyard with her toddler, chances are you can find Erica outside somewhere. As a sponsored athlete for Trango Climbing Gear and Athleta Women’s Apparel, Erica seeks to not only promote rock climbing, but also become an inspiration for families wanting to get outside and recreate together. In addition to gear reviews, helpful tips and how-to’s for taking your family into the great outdoors, Erica documents her family’s adventures on her blog, http://cragmama.com, an online resource for families and families-to-be. 

When I got pregnant in the summer of 2009, I was shocked at how matter-of-fact people were with their “advice.”  Most annoying to me were the comments around my husband’s and my recreational pursuits, specifically rock climbing… “Kiss all those crazy climbing trips on the weekends good-bye!” and, “I guess you’re not climbing anymore, so what are you guys gonna do for fun instead?” or even, “It’s about time you guys settled down and stopped all that climbing business!”

Jerks.  Okay, okay, that might be a little harsh.  I’m sure that most, if not all, of those statements were made out of ignorance rather than cruel intentions.  I can brush them off now, but trust me, they didn’t sit well with me as a large and in charge, hormonal pregnant woman, nor did they sound any better when I was a sleep-deprived new mom with cabin fever!  The funny thing is, we don’t get those comments anymore – I think we’ve proven that even though our family may not fit into the typical mold that most American families naturally fall into, we’re doing what works for our family – and having a blast doing it!

Our little Cragbaby (aka C…) was born on the first day of spring in 2010.  I’m not sure how this happened, but he will be 2 and a half this week!!!  Anyway, by this point, we’ve gone on many family climbing adventures, and thankfully have developed a “system,” more or less.  Of course, since Cragbaby is changing all the time, we are constantly having to make adjustments, but the following is a synopsis of what we’ve learned (sometimes the hard way…) about how to have a successful climbing day with your little one.


1. Stick to Single-Pitch.

It’s obviously pretty important that at no point is EVERYONE off the ground.  (Although you’d be shocked at how many people assume that I just strap C on my back and take off up the cliff…these of course are the same people that questioned my judgment for top-roping in a full body harness while C was well-protected and padded in a sea of amniotic fluid…)  Keep it simple – only one rope length off the ground or bouldering.

2.  An experienced extra partner.

My husband and I made a pact before we ever took Cragbaby out:  NEVER LET BABY-WATCHER AND BELAYER BE THE SAME PERSON. Even though logistically it probably would’ve worked, especially in the early days before C got mobile, we were never willing to take the risk – too many variables outside of our control.  We decided there would always be a designated man (or woman) on Cragbaby duty at all times.

2. Know the Area.

Use your best judgment and don’t forget you have precious cargo with you (that #6 camalot wasn’t cheap, right?  Just kidding…)  Some climbing areas are better suited for hiking in with a baby than others, so now is not the time to try out a new area.  It’s not so much about the distance as it is the terrain.  Approaches involving scree slopes, talus strewn trails, fixed lines and water crossings are probably a little ambitious to start with, especially if your baby is still too young to ride in a backpack carrier.  Think about what the cliff base is like – are there any natural caves/overhangs that you’ll be able to take shelter in during a passing shower?  Are there steep and rocky places where it will be difficult to put your baby down for naps and diaper changes?  For more on choosing a baby-friendly crag, click here.

3.  Safe Baby Placement.

This also goes along with knowing the area, but it’s about more than just having a flat spot to toss a blanket down for naps.  Rock fall is fairly common in some areas, and who here among us has ever accidentally dropped gear?  I know I have.  That level, out of the way area shaded by a tree might have a hornet nest at the base, or be right beside a patch of poison ivy.  Inspect these areas thoroughly.  Even though there will always be a person on baby duty, its still of utmost importance to consider all of these factors in deciding where to set up your “baby station.”

4. Expect extra nursing sessions.

Breastfeeding is definitely the way to go for a whole bunch of reasons, but when it comes to cragging with your little one, it can’t get any more convenient!  Accept the fact that odds are no matter how hard you try to time it, your little one will decide that only Mommy will do JUST as you are trying to pull through the crux on one of your pre-pregnancy projects (ask me how I know…).  Nursing is about more than just nutrition – its a safe and familiar comfort for your baby when he or she may feel a little anxious about being in such a strange environment.  Also don’t forget that babies quench not just their hunger but also their thirst through nursing.  On hot days, expect your baby to get more thirsty (don’t you?).  That being said, here’s a tip for the nursing Mommies – you will be more hungry than usual, and you should be drinking more than usual, pack accordingly.

5.  Don’t be a moron.

Pre-cragbaby, it might have been cool to brag to your friends the next day about how you got stormed off your project just as the sun was setting, had to rap down in the dark because your rope got stuck, then got lost on the hike out and almost got be-nighted because you just barely made it through before the park ranger closed the gates.  This is NOT cool with a baby on board…do your best to avoid situations that lead to these types of shenanigans.  Only climb in areas/routes that you know well, and allow plenty of extra time to make it out before dark.  Make sure both you and your baby are prepared for any and all types of weather situations you may encounter.  Even though its read as a cliche at the front of every single guidebook that I own, it’s printed there because it’s the truth – “Rock Climbing is a dangerous sport that can result in death, paralysis, or serious injury.”  Stay safe out there and have fun!

For a glimpse into what a typical day at the crag looked like for us in that first year, check out this video, entitled “The Cragbaby Project.”

Thank you Erica! Click here to follow Erica on facebook and twitter.

9 comments on “Expect[ing] to Thrive: Rules of the Ropes from Cragmama
  1. Nice summary. I think Erica is a great inspiration, so glad you have her guest posting here! I was pregnant in our small, northern Colorado town, and my midwife was not surprised at all to hear that I intended to keep climbing through my pregnancy. The one piece of advice that she gave me (and that stuck with me), was that during your pregnancy, your muscles and ligaments naturally loosen and stretch out. This can lead to a slightly increased chance of pulling a muscle or damaging joint tissue (also an issue for intense yogi’s). My midwife told me she had another climber mommy who gave birth just a few months before me, who pulled a groin muscle at about 6 months along, and it never really healed. It gave her a lot of trouble during her last trimester. So, when climbing and pregnant, pay very close attention to how you are moving your body, and be careful not to over-pull or over-extend those loose and flexible hips!

  2. Kate, you are right about that…on the flip side, so long as you proceed with caution, you can take advantage of your extra “stretchiness” to make long-term gains in your flexibility that will last well after you give birth (so long as you continue to stretch, of course 🙂

  3. Thanks for the great tips! I’m currently pregnant and still climbing. As I’ve started to get bigger I began using one of my husband’s larger harnesses. But as I’m just coming out of my first trimester (and starting to get even larger!), I’m going to transition to a body harness. My questions is: at what point in your pregnancy did you stop belaying?

    I’ve been hesitant to talk to too many people about climbing in pregnancy as many have assumed that I would stop now that I’m pregnant. My local retailers looked at me a bit crazy when I inquired about adult body harnesses. 🙂 I’m so happy to know (online) some wonderfully active pregnant moms!

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