I never realized just how many people didn’t want me to climb hard until my wife got pregnant.
You get to witness some rather interesting responses from friends and acquaintances when they find out you’re on deck to becoming a parent. It’s funny … in a way.
Most climbers, with their social skills of autistic hermits, are only truly comfortable having conversations about project beta, personal fitness, or how many muscle-ups Alex Puccio just did in her latest Instagram. Few climbers know how to appropriately respond to the news that baby’s on the way.
“This is the best thing that’s ever going to happen to you!” my friend Julie exclaimed. “It won’t even matter that you won’t be able to climb hard anymore.”
That’s the main trope, anyway. Have a kid, and life as you know it is over. It’s as if the ghost of gumby future appears with a chorus of bearded, crooked-helmet-wearing bards, and suddenly they all start rattling hexes at you while chanting:
No more redpoints, no more sends.
Say goodbye to France and Spain. Hello, Bend!
Retire those sporty draws, kneepads and downturned shoes,
And welcome to the world of strollers, diapers and mustard-colored poo
Now all you’ll ever climb are jug-covered slabs,
For the sport climbers of yesterday are tomorrow’s Trad Dads.
Sport climbers who actually have young children themselves can barely contain their schadenfreude, ostensibly because soon you, too, will be joining them in the purgatory of plateaued performance and diminished free time to whittle away micro-beta on the mega proj.
They offer halfhearted congrats, while inside bursting at the seams, thinking to themselves:Now you’re gonna know what it’s really like to be me! Let’s see how hard you climb after the first month of no sleep, you guileless jerk!
Even climbers who don’t have kids of their own seemed to perk up and shimmer at the idea that there would soon be one less person competing with them for best climber at the crag on any given day.
“Well, I guess it’s time,” my friends would say solemnly, as if I were being put out to pasture, my climbing jersey hung from the last project I ever sent. “Maybe we could even try to get together once or twice a year to see you.”
The best reaction, though, was from Tommy Caldwell. “Congrats on the new addition!” he texted me, before adding, “You’re fucked!”
Speaking of Tommy, he and his wife Rebecca just had their second child: a girl named Ingrid. Their firstborn—a son, named Fitz, after the Patagonian mountain—made a cameo in last year’s REEL Rock Tour. In the film “A Line Across the Sky,” Tommy wrestles with being both a dad and a cutting-edge alpinist. He then hugs Fitz and sets off on a five-day “extreme backpacking” trip with Alex “Honnlove,” in which they tag the summit of all seven peaks in the Fitz Roy range. Not bad for a dad!
A year later, Tommy completely bone-crushed his 10-year project: the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. He showed up to the biggest stage the climbing world has ever known in the best shape of his life. The only crux for Tommy, it seemed, was all the down time and waiting around that he had to endure while waiting for his partner’s wittle-bitty flapper to heal up.
See? Becoming a father doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to start sucking at climbing! There’s hope after all! I’m sure seeing Tommy bone crush the Dawn Wall was inspiring to many other dads out there, too—at least up to a point. After all, no one on earth has ever uttered the phrase, “Well, if Tommy Caldwell can do it, so can I.”
Many of my peers seem to be having kids. It’s weird how that switch flips once you reach a certain age. Having kids spreads like a virus, decimating entire populations of otherwise happily self-absorbed folks in their mid-30s whose main concerns are whether their current hangboard routine will actually pay off come Sendtember.
My friend Chris Kalous, of Enormocast fame, and his partner, Steph, just had a son, Miles, aka the “Enormobaby.” He’s two weeks older than our daughter, Piper. During the pregnancies, Chris and I had been planning our offsprings’ future wedding. That was until Kalous found out that Tommy Caldwell has a daughter, and now Piper is out of the picture.
“You understand, right?” Kalous said. “We have to do what’s best for the Enormobaby. And Tommy has much, much better climbing genes than you.”
Dogs and babies together outnumber actual climbers at many crags these days, particularly my home crag, Rifle. Those without dogs and/or babies will inevitably be more annoyed by this fact than those who are forced to bring their annoying little bundles of love and joy to the cliffs.
“Rob’s kids were screaming their freakin’ heads off the other day,” said my friend Joe, complaining as we drove out for an afternoon of pitches. “Three years ago, I would’ve been really pissed off about this. But now that I have my own kid, it’s OK.”
Once, on Mother’s Day, I saw a female friend launch into a Facebook tirade about how, just because she doesn’t have a child, doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t also be celebrated on Mother’s Day. The Internet has become a strange place, don’t you think? There’s no such thing as agreeable disagreement anymore, and everyone now believes that their circumstances entitle them to special treatment.
It’s gotten to the point that, the only thing I’m now interested in looking at online is photos and videos of dogs and babies.
Dads have it easy, at least in terms of maintaining some semblance of climbing fitness during the pregnancy. As I was now “drinking beer for two,” I admit to putting on some “sympathy weight,” even though I preferred to call it “training weight.”
In advance of our daughter’s birth, I also went through my own “nesting” phase, which manifested itself as building a complete training dojo.
“Do you think you could build the crib now?” Jen would ask.
“Just as soon as the campus board is done, babe,” I’d reply.
I explained this plan to my friend Josh Wharton, who is also a badass dad who continues to crush.
“Nice work on the baby preparations,” he said. “A Home gym, and a baby monitor, are life savers. I think men are genetically programmed to explore new hunting grounds, and kill shit when there is a new mouth to feed. In climbing this translates to at least a letter grade or two. For me it’s been really fun and rewarding, like adding another passion to your life. It’s also been good for my climbing, as I’m home and training more, and more focused with the time I have to get outside.”
Of course, the best part about having a kiddo is that it’s a chance to not take yourself or your climbing too seriously. But if, as Wharton says, that kid also translates into some higher climbing performance, that’s OK with me, too.
A version of this story originally appeared in Rock and Ice magazine.