Cabin Fever

March 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm

As the snow swirls and blows and flies outside the window, I dream of places to go and adventures to be had this summer.

I dream of tall cliffs and desert sun.

Los Hermanos de la Weenie Way

Penitente Canyon, May 2010

I dream of wide mountain vistas and thin alpine air.

Lunch with a view

Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness, August 2011

I dream of raging waterfalls and calm montane lakes.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls, July 2011

I dream of dirt in my food and sun on my skin.


Kokopeli Trail, April 2009

I dream of giggling babies and tinkling climbing gear.

Crag Baby

Lilly Mountain, July 2011

I dream of sweat on my back and miles on my legs.

Long's Peak Summit

Long’s Peak, August 2012

I dream of sore muscles, sun burns, laughter of friends, beer by the fire, and sleep under the stars. But the snow just keeps falling…

How to recruit new Cragfamiles

September 10, 2012 at 9:01 am

This might look like a helpful and informative post, but it’s actually a trip report from two days of climbing in Vedauwoo, with nine adults and five kids under 4 years old, over Labor Day weekend. Shhhh. I’m being sneaky.

The golden rule of climbing with babies and young kids is that there is safety in numbers. Basic math states that you need at least three adults for a climbing trip involving a child: one belayer, one climber, and one to put cookies in the screaming baby hole. But the more people on a climbing trip, the more cookies you’ll find, and eventually, the relative number of screaming baby holes converges towards zero.

However, it may be that your area does not have many families out climbing. What if you’ve been climbing with only one partner for years, and now you need to recruit new people into your group of cragfamiles? How do you go about bringing people into your world? Well, here are some methods that have worked for Mark and I.

1. Be a good example.
Get pregnant and then keep climbing with your old friends. If you can pull it off, they may think that being a parent is easy and fun, and try it for themselves.

2. Be Flexible.
Invite everybody you can think of, but don’t worry about details. Just give everybody a vague description of where to go and when to show up. If you or multiple other families get lost on the way there, you’re probably doing it right.

3. Be generous.
Give away or loan out all of the clothes, gear, backpacks, tents, and toys that your cragbaby outgrew last year. Make sure the “gift” or “loan” comes with the prerequisite that the recipient accompanies you climbing. Then they will owe you for the favor and you can hold it over their heads, with Godfather-like power, for years.

4. Be daring!
When your vague plan for easy topropes falls apart, try leading up a climb that you have no information on, but “looks good” from the ground. Your new climbing partners will love slipping on lichen and moss on their way up a remote and unheard of 40-foot bolt ladder, I assure you. If it rains and then you taunt them into trying the climb on rock so wet it is “like climbing a mountain of soup,” they’ll be fellow cragfamilies for life!

5. Be helpful.
“I’ll watch yours if you watch mine” was never more true than with cragbabies.

6. Be interesting.
Start fires with dry grass and a flint and steal. Give lectures around the campfire about how trees turn air into wood (or bugs turn poop into water). Allow your 22 month old son to cover himself in spaghetti and sauce while everybody watches.

7. Be silly.
There’s no “ego” in “cragfamily”, and there’s no shame in our climbing. There’s no standard, no rules, and no such thing as “too much help!”

8. Be lazy.
Don’t bother to take your own camera out, and then steal photos from all of your new cragfamily friends! People love to feel needed, and despite their complaining, your friends will actually appreciate this deep down inside.

9. Be outside.
The winds, the storms, the lightening, the rocks, the sunshine, the smell of pines, the occasional moose, the coating of dirt on our children… is Vedauwoo.

10. Be happy.
Relax, enjoy your days in the sun, get dirty with the kids, and climb on!

Thanks to all of my friends who let me use their pictures for this post. Love you all! I hope we get lots of great climbing weekends with the kids over the next few years!

Where did my summer go?

August 24, 2012 at 6:39 am

You know that “Author blurb” I have at the bottom of each post? Where I describe myself as a “Scientist, rock climber, adventurista, crazy mom, and administrator of this blog?” Well, last month was devoted to science and mom, and not much of those other things. I had five presentations to give in less than four weeks, two conferences and a week of travel. The good news is, my real-life career seems to be doing well these days. The bad news is, we didn’t get out in the mountains as much as we wanted (or needed) to.

I had all of these awesome plans for Summer of Summits 2012, and we did manage to tick off a few little peaks, but we lost some momentum in the blur that was our August. Hopefully, we’ll make up some of that time in the few weekends of warm weather we have left this year!

Weeks gets taped up!

All is not hotel conference rooms and keynote presentations, though. We did get out for a couple of fun little climbing day trips, and I wanted to share some pictures from these.

We had a friend-of-a-friend, now a good friend, move into town in July. And to protect their privacy a tad, I’m going to give them the fun pseudonyms RockMomma and Charmed. If YOU would like a cool pseudonym, just ask! :)

Mark and I met RockMomma once maybe 10 years ago, when she was living in Chicago and we were in Indianapolis, and we all went on a climbing trip to the Red River Gorge together. None of us remember that meeting, of course.

RockMomma makes this climb look easy

These days, she and her family have moved to Northern Colorado, and we have been busy getting her and her daughter Charmed out to all of our favorite kid-friendly climbing areas.

Our little G-Man and Charmed have a ball when they get together. They spend hours running and laughing and hitting things with sticks. It makes climbing so much easier and more fun than the days of intensive baby care last summer.

G-Man and Charmed spent a lot of time “climbing” this rock

We took HiTruck (long story), RockMomma and Weeks (our mutual friend) up to Vedauwoo for a day at the end of July, taped them up and set them loose on a couple of off-widths. Even though this is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea climbing-wise, we all had a fun day.

Girls are ready to go!

On the first weekend in August, Mark and I took advantage of RockMomma’s Jeep to drive right up to Punk Rock. We ticked off 5 fun pitches that day, and climbed until our fingertips screamed.

Kate cleaning the anchors while everybody plays below

So, there is four weeks of science, family, sun, rocks, mountains, clouds and giggles in one blog post. I can’t wait to see what this fall has in store for us!

Head in the Clouds – A Spring Vedauwoo Trip Report

May 25, 2012 at 9:30 am

I guess all it takes is one blog post about wildfires and droughts, and the next thing you know, it rains all weekend!

Brave climbers on the Nautilus in the rain

I should not complain about rain at all. It helped contain the fire and saved many homes. But last weekend was the first time that we were able to round up some climber friends for a trip to Vedauwoo this year, and of course the rock was too wet to climb on Saturday.

Happy to be out in Vedauwoo

So, we went for a little hike instead. Vedauwoo is still quiet in May. There were a few brave climbers out on the wet rocks, but many of the popular campsites were sitting open and the trails were relatively empty of people.

Carrying the babies back to camp

We had many great wildlife sightings this weekend, even with our two-dog, one-baby, four-people circus. Rachel and Ben had two moose sightings, and on Saturday night we had a moose walk right through our campsite! Mark and I saw a HUGE marmot up in the rocks on Saturday, it probably sat 4 foot tall as it scanned the valley from that high perch. And there was a rare Bob Scarpelli sighting as the legend of a man hiked in to climb at the currently under-utilized Nautilus.

Of course, I didn’t get any pictures of them. But I did get a bunch of the kiddo!


So, Saturday was a quiet, chilly day for us. We started a huge campfire in the wet ring, but ended up with pouring rain at about 8p that night. There was some talk of playing games in the trailer, but we were all ready to turn in early.

"Yeah, that just BLEW YOUR MIND."

Sunday dawned bright, sunny, with the ground covered in a nice layer of frost! We let the world warm up for a few hours as we made breakfast and packed up camp.

Our nice trailer!

By the time we were parked at the Reynold’s Hill lot, there were more clouds moving in. We walked over to Tiny Town (as Mark and I had scouted it a few weeks previous), and set up to climb.

Mark climbing little rocks in Vedauwoo

Tiny Town is a really fun, little, bolted 5.8. Mark had a fun lead on it, and Rachel remembered all of her awesome belay skills. This was Ben’s first outdoor climb, and he did great! He said his feet hurt like mad in his new shoes, but he really enjoyed standing on top of that giant granite boulder.

Ben starts out with some Vedauwoo body-jamming sweetness

While everybody was climbing, G played a bit in the bushes, had his lunch, and then I tried out some advice from CragMama and took him for a walk in the backpack to get him to sleep for his afternoon nap. It actually worked! He zonked for at least 45 minutes in his little blue tent while rain showers blew by and we all enjoyed the crystal-y goodness of a sport climb in Vedauwoo.

Napping in his little blue tent

After I finished cleaning the route, the Gabinator woke up, and a bigger storm blew in. We packed it up after the one nice climb, and headed back to the cars. Even though we were rained on for two days, and only got in a single route, it was still a REALLY fun weekend. You can tell I had a great time, because there are 26 photos attached to this post!

Feels so good to be up in the clouds!

Sometimes camping is more about friends and relaxation and not the epic conquests that we hear so much about. And that is totally fine with me!

Don’t take babies to Combat Rock!

April 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm

The CragMama wrote a great post about the Rules for Ropes when taking babies rock climbing. I agreed with every one of these rules when I read it, and I’ve often had them in mind when planning our outings. Well, on our trip to Combat Rock, I think we managed to break every single one in a short, 3 hour afternoon. Pretty impressive, no?

G distracts Mark while he racks up for the climb

Rule 1: Bring an experienced extra partner.
Weeks agreed to sneak out with us on this trip again. For him, this was pretty crazy. He just started physical therapy for his two messed up knees, and he was squeezing us in between Bingo in Longmont and Dinner in Denver. But the plan was just for one long, easy route on sunny rock on a late Sunday afternoon. What could go wrong?

Rule 2: Know the area.
We have actually climbed at Combat Rock before. I remembered a quick 30 minute drive, solid white granite, a long fun climb, a short straight-forward approach, and a nice, open, flat area at the base of the rock. Perfect! Except, I’m now pretty sure that I was remembering the wrong place.

A little scrambling on the approach keeps moms on their toes

We took more than 45 minutes to drive there, making us terribly late. And without any cell coverage in the canyon, Weeks had actually given up on us (we passed his car on the way out and flagged him down). That short, straight-forward approach turned out to be steep, loose, over-grown and have some interesting scrambling that I wasn’t thrilled to see Mark doing with G clinging to his back in the carrier.

Rule 3: Safe baby placement.
Ok, I have no idea what climbing area I was remembering, but the base of Combat Rock is not kid-friendly. It was covered in deadfall logs, loose rock, steep ledges and probably poison ivy. We couldn’t even get to the bottom of the route we wanted for all of the steep scrambling required, and since we were already running so late, Mark tossed the rope down “near” the climb and decided to just adventure his way up the wall.

Mark decides to start climbing WAAAY off route

Weeks belayed while G and I played with sticks and rocks. At one point, I handed the baby a rock, checked on Mark’s progress and then looked down to see my baby COVERED in ants! Freak out time!

Combat Rock: Not a baby-safe crag base

Mark had the trad rack and a well featured rock. He just led up in the general direction of the route, and eventually found the bolts. This resulted in some bad rope zig-zags and awful rope drag as he got higher. In fact, he took the entire 200ft of rope to reach the anchors.

There are mid-height anchors to the left and down of our route, so Mark could do two rappels to get down. But he needed somebody to climb and clean behind him. This left Weeks and I staring each other down.

If I climbed, Weeks would have driven all this way just to belay and babysit. And he’d be chasing an energetic toddler through unfriendly woods for at least half an hour. If Weeks climbed, I could stay with G and make sure he was generally safe, but we’d be putting more strain on Weeks’ knees than he ever intended.

I made Weeks climb.

Weeks climbing up to Mark on Rambo Santa (5.7)

Rule 4: Expect extra nursing.
Ok, well, G was weened last summer, so I’m going to expand this rule to “Pack extra food.” Which we didn’t do, because we were supposed to be finished with the route by dinner time! I did pack some snacks and baby food tubes, so G had enough in his stomach to keep him happy for the evening. But Weeks didn’t make it back down from the route until well after 6p, and Mark and I weren’t back to the car until 7p. Oops, so much for dinner!

Weeks and Mark climbing Combat Rock

Rule 5: Don’t be a moron!
The CragMama laments those days before babies, where you could brag about being benighted on a climb, or an epic descent in a storm with lightening crashing all around you. Well, as Weeks was finishing up on Combat Rock, the clouds started pouring in, the sun was getting low and temperatures chilled rapidly. I brought just enough warm layers to keep us comfortable until we could get out of there, but no headlamps or hats or mittens.

Plus, I’m pretty sure that we blew the “Don’t be a moron!” rule right out of the water when we assumed we could do a 130ft pitch of bolted climbing in two hours on a Sunday evening. Yeah, that was far too optimistic.

Well, it is a pretty view to end the day with

In the end…
The crazy thing is, everybody had so much fun! Mark was in a fantastic mood all evening. He had a long, beautiful climb under his belt for the weekend. Weeks also really enjoyed the route, and loved that he could go from high on a rocky mountain top to dinner at a mexican restaurant in town in the space of an hour (Colorado is pretty neat). G slept amazingly well Sunday night after getting to play outside all evening with sticks and rocks and climbing gear.

Life is often about assessing and dealing with risk. And when it comes to kids, it is so easy to just cocoon yourself in safety and refuse to move outside of that comfort zone. But fate will always throw curves in your road, whether it’s an unexpected epic when climbing or an unexpected career change. And as my mom says, you can either slam on the brakes and refuse to continue, or you can take those curves on two wheels screaming “Woo-HOO!” the whole way!

Hooray! Success at the anchors!

Though, we won’t be climbing at Combat Rock again for quite a while.

Do Babies Belong at the Crag?

April 7, 2012 at 10:50 am

I was going to write this nice post about our climbing outing to North Table Mountain in Golden last weekend. It was going to have all these lovely pictures of us smiling in the sun, playing in G’s little blue tent, and plum bushes in bloom. Weeks came out and climbed with us, even though he has two torn MCLs, and we did a run-out 5.7, a fun trad-sport mixed 5.8 and beautiful little 5.9- face climb. Really, a nice day.

North Table Mountain and plum bushes in bloom

But, I’ve been reading all week long about Peter Beal’s challenges to the climbing media community to examine the place of our sport in the world and our impacts on the environment as we practice it. Here’s one interesting quote:

The issue is never just how many believers but what kind of believers they are or what they will actually practice. And to make the analogy with climbing a bit closer, how many Christians can we fit in a given physical church? Because like it or not, climbing is not all in the mind or soul; it is a practice that happens in a finite physical world, that draws upon resources that are fragile and not easily restored. We can’t keep building new cathedrals or Cathedral Ledges ad infinitum. So yes, more climbers have an impact and not just on the “experience” but on living things, ecosystems, and a natural order that we haven’t much of a clue about and may well not be around by the time we figure this simple truth out.

So, his arguments begin with a classic “oh dear, the sport has sold out, and everybody has lost the true meaning of climbing“, and ends with an interesting discussion on our impacts as a user group on those bits of stone and mud we love so dearly.

I always end up with one picture like this after climbing with Weeks

These types of complaints always get me, because I am a completely sold-out climber. I do nothing to “push the sport forward.” I’m just out to have a good time with my friends at a sunny crag. And now that I have started bringing the kiddo along with us, our impact on the area has probably doubled or tripled. For instance, last Saturday, we added to the circus at North Table by pitching G’s little UV tent right at the base of a rarely climbed 5.12. We ran around making noise, instigating dogs to bark, and probably trundled more than one rock off the side of the trail (erosion!). And, I’m pretty sure we left a couple crackers laying in the dirt at the end of the day, litter bugs that we are. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Kate and G hanging out at the crag

Babies and Dogs are classic complaints on internet climbing forums. People just love to complain about how much they are disturbed by barking, crying, diapers, messes, and distractions. And they have a point, in a sport as dangerous as rock climbing, really bad things happen if you are not paying attention to the task at hand.

So, should we leave G home with a sitter? Should we give up climbing all together because our impact on the environment is far beyond our contribution to the sport?

G eats an orange in his little blue tent


I love climbing. I love getting my kiddo outside. I love playing in the dirt with him, and I love playing in the sun with him. I love the smiles we get from other climbers and the way friends and complete strangers interact with him at the crag. I love showing G that there are more interesting things to do with your time than playing video games or watching DVDs. I love introducing him to an exciting world, the taste of adventure, and the experience of nature. And I think his contribution to the sport could one day be far beyond anything we can imagine now.

Mark and a very tired G hike out at the end of the day

So, thanks Peter Beal, for making me think a little about why I do what I do. We’ll try harder to make sure we pack all of our trash out with us (and maybe some extra), and talk to G about why the rocks need to stay on the trail next time. We can also sign up for more trail clean-ups and adopt-a-crag days. I can’t obliterate my impact on a crag, but I can try to reduce it a bit. Because it’s true, we’re taking more from nature these days. We can afford to give a little more back.

Weeks and Mark pack up at the end of the day

Starting a new climbing season!

March 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm

It always seems like winter is so long around here. Mark and I used to drive five or six hours to desert areas where we would try and climb all year long, but that plan is less practical with a fidgety one-year-old in your backseat.

And beyond the kiddo, we’ve had bouts of illness, a seasonal decrease in climbing partners (skiing sucks!) and constant winds to make getting out on the rock even rougher.

Dark Basalt and Denver views

At the beginning of March, we pounced on the first warm day and first friendly helper we could find, and headed out to North Table mountain to get our climb on. LeeAnne came out to help belay and baby watch. And she was great with both!

LeeAnne is an awesome babysitter!

We started the day getting our egos’ smashed by the classic sandbagged routes Thelma (5.7) and Louise (5.8). We were all a little shaken up by the experience, so we hiked over to Kevin Spies the Line (5.6) and finished the day on a high note.

LeeAnne gives Mark the first lead belay of her life

G spent his day climbing over boulders, throwing tiny rocks, making friends with dogs and other kiddos in the area, and eating all of the snacks I packed for him. I can already tell that climbing this summer is going to be radically different from last year. We now have (1) a more mobile child, (2) a child who doesn’t put EVERYTHING in his mouth, and (3) a child who responds to basic voice commands. I hope this makes our outdoor adventures just a little easier.

G having a blast at the crag

We got to the crag a little late and left a little early, but it was a wonderful afternoon in the sun, and we all desperately needed that.

Mark and G climbing above the Coor's Brewery

Bring on that warm weather! We’re totally ready!

G was sooo excited to see the backpack get pulled out

Are you ready for the upcoming climbing season? How about your kiddos? What’s new and exciting for you this year? Let me know in the comments!

Bouldering at Rotary

November 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Ok, ok, we’re not climbing as much these days. I’ve actually been pretty proud of the amount of time we have gotten on the rock this year, and the fact that we’ve managed to visit most of our favorite places. With the baby in tow, we’ve climbed trad in Vedauwoo, sported it up at Shelf Road and in Estes Park, and even gotten in a bit of bouldering on the historic sandstone at Rotary Park.

Evening at Rotary

Ok, well, Mark and I did a little bouldering. G tried out eating, licking, running on, and falling off the boulders.

G relaxing and sucking on some rocks

The bouldering at Rotary is notoriously difficult, and Mark and I are absolutely out of shape. So, we mostly tossed down the pad and tried a few moves of a traverse across the bottom of the wall, the Bolt-Wall chimney, and a traverse across the lower left side of the bolt-wall dihedral.

Bouldering at Rotary

Playing on the crash pad

It was a beautiful November evening, and very nice to get out on the rock. These days, I’m dreaming about the snow melting and more fun trips in the spring!

Family portrait at Rotary Park