Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Colorado has been on my bucket list forever.  I thought it would be a great place to visit with a baby - not too far away, amazing natural beauty, same language/ culture, not insanely expensive - so when Dave had a tournament outside of Denver this summer, we jumped on the chance to have our first family "vacation."

I put "vacation" in air quotes because this experience involved living out of a van and camping with a teething, non-sleeping baby.  And river baths. One of these days I'm going to get my fancy adult beverage with a little umbrella served to me on a tropical beach...

Where Did We Go?

Due to foul weather and our discovery that car naps are great, we ended up driving way more than intended.  We never planned on visiting the Steamboat Springs area, but it ended up being our favorite place on the trip.

Here's our route:

What Did We Do?

The usual:  camped every night (except for our tournament nights in an AirBnB), hiked many days, lived out of a sweet rented minivan.  Sort of like the soccer mom life... except way dirtier, and less Pinterest.

How Was Camping With A Baby?

Ok, I'll be honest:  the sleep thing was tough.  We tried 6 different night time arrangements (which means at least 6 nights of crappy sleep) before we found something that was even remotely satisfying:  KK on a sleeping pad on her own, KK on a sleeping pad behind a sheet, KK in a cardboard box with the sleeping pad on the bottom, KK in the box draped with a muslin blanket, KK next to Dave on her own sleeping pad, KK next to me on her own sleeping pad.

She and I eventually ended up on a queen-sized air mattress (bonus: nights were in the mid-thirties by that point, so she stayed cozy).  Dave and KK got great sleep, I got borderline acceptable sleep, but we did better overall as a family.

(Then we discovered that KK's Colorado souvenirs would be her first two teeth - that explained at least a little of the crappy nighttime sleep!)

Overall, camping with a baby wasn't much more difficult than camping without a baby.  KK isn't mobile yet, so when we got to camp, we'd plop her down on a sheet to play in the dirt while we set up camp.  She ate what we ate, plus a few easy baby snacks, and nursed more than usual due to teething.  She is very easy to entertain; she was content to tinker around with a small selection of easily packable toys, plus sticks/ stones/ leaves/ pinecones, plus a ton of attention from Mommy and Daddy.

How Was Hiking With A Baby?

Great!  KK does great in her Chariot.  For some reason, she never falls asleep on the way out or up, but she almost always snoozes on the way in or down.

We followed the same principles RE: altitude for a baby as for an adult:  take time to acclimatize, climb high/ sleep low, descend if you feel unwell.  (Babies can't tell you if they feel unwell, so I kept my eyes peeled for any behavioral changes.)  We went to 12,000' with no ill effects.

Even our hike in the cold rain went great.  Again, we followed the same principles for a baby as for an adult:  no cotton, cover your head, layer a weatherproof layer over an insulating layer.

How Was #VanLife With A Baby?

We would have been miserable in our Toyota Matrix. The rented minivan was the way to go, especially with a GINORMOUS wet tent, and cooking all of our meals on our camp stove (= grocery box), and bringing the jogging stroller with us (= naps during the tournament).

How Was Flying With A Baby?

We brought bribery chocolates for the flyers in the rows in front, behind, and to the side of us.

Didn't need them - Little Smiles was thrilled to have 175 new best friends.  She smiled at anyone who would look at her.  I was so worried about her disturbing other passengers that I played with her the entire time, tiring myself out, but really she was fine.

We flew Southwest, which was awesome - we checked 4 bags, plus 2 carry-ons, 2 personal items, a stroller, and a car seat.  The days of hopping on a flight with a toothbrush and my passport are over...

Do It Again?

Oh heck yeah.  We're already planning our next adventure!

Before KK arrived, Dave and I realized that we'd have to start with the basics again.  I would never feel comfortable taking a kid on an international trip focused on outdoor adventure if that kid had never worn a pack or hiked more than a mile.  My hope is that little adventures with a baby will lead to bigger adventures with an older child.

I also want to introduce KK to the woods when she's very young to normalize the presence of girls in the backcountry.  If she decides that she no longer wants to accompany Dave and I when she's older and can make her own decisions, that's just fine (really!).  But if we wait to introduce her to the outdoors once she is aware that world is dominated by boys and men, the likelihood that she'll ever feel comfortable there is certainly diminished.  And that would be a shame, because then she'd miss places like this:


And this!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Next Chapter (For This Blog)

I'm still not sure how much I want to share publicly about my family life.  On the one hand, my child deserves the right to privacy and anonymity until she's old enough to decide what to share for herself.  But it's difficult (impossible?) to talk about life in early motherhood without mentioning your kid.

I wish I knew more mothers who hike, camp, climb, and travel with their babies.  Real-life friends are the best (swap belays between breastfeeding, anyone?), but even stories from the virtual world could be a source of learning, solidarity, and connection.

So I'm going to share just a little.  From my perspective only - not speaking for my daughter.  Using one of her nicknames, "Kick-Kick" or KK, instead of her real name.  Adding a watermark to any photo in which she appears, so the photo can't be re- or misappropriated.

Most importantly, remembering that I am a parent in real-time for my daughter, not for this blog, or for an online photo album, or for social media.

(Though I will always believe you can never have too many baby pictures!)

the climber's DIY baby swing:  rope, trad draw, 2 biners, and a pull-up bar
(bicep pullups, not diaper pullups)
(baby not included)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to Adjust the "Mountain Mama" Harness

This pregnancy, I used a borrowed "Mountain Mama" harness by Mad Rock, a.k.a. The Strangulator.  Learning how to fit it to my body required looots of trial and error.

Eventually, I figured out that I need two adjustment settings:  one for belaying and one for climbing.

Hopefully this beta will help some other pregnant climber out there.  :o)

To belay comfortably, loosen the strap directly above your hip so the tie-in point is high and looser at your breastbone, with the red belay loops close together.  Also, don't belay (toprope) climbers that are significantly larger than you are, as this adjustment transfers more pressure to your mid-back, instead of around your legs.

This is the intuitive way to adjust the harness, but it compresses your rib cage and prevents you from raising your legs.  Result:  if climbing, you can't breathe while weighting the harness, and you can't keep your face/ belly off the rock while being lowered.

belaying adjustment
To climb comfortably, cinch the straps directly above your hips down as far as reasonable.  This separates the tie-in points and pulls them low across your belly, but it also transfers more weight to the straps around your legs and lower back.  If I rest or fall, the tie-in point rises to the level of my sternum and doesn't crush the bump.

climbing adjustment
Around 36 weeks, the harness just got too uncomfortable, and I stopped toproping entirely and switched over to gentle bouldering traverses.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Nova Scotia

While Dave was preparing to leave for a 2.5 week mountaineering trip in the Cascades, I decided that he wasn't allowed to have all of the fun - I would have a little adventure of my own.

Destination?  Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Why?  Cheapest flight out of Ithaca to somewhere interesting.

The general plan?  Rent a car, drive somewhere interesting, hike along the way, camp.  No specific itinerary or route, and therefore no reservations.

Of course, I couldn't make it too easy:  no smartphone or GPS for this trip.  I used maps printed on dead trees, questions to friendly passersby, and a healthy dose of serendipity to navigate and plan my next move.  How quaint, eh?

Here are the highlights...

From Halifax, I drove along the southern coast.  This part of the island felt abandoned and overlooked.  I camped at Sheet Harbor and enjoyed the solitude.

Next was Cape Breton Island, and specifically the Cabot Trail, a scenic drive at the northern tip of the island.  I'd read that the hiking was great and the scenery was superb...  but I thought the hiking was over-rated and the scenery was "just nice."

My favorite location was this little fishing harbor on the western coast that wasn't mentioned anywhere in the tourist brochures:  Pleasant Bay.  The easterly winds were so fierce that they were blowing the waves away from shore!

no waves here
I spent less time than I expected on Cape Breton Island and ended up in Pictou, the terminus of the Prince Edward Island ferry.  PEI was never part of the plan, but the ferry was right there, and free going over to PEI.  How could I resist?

Prince Edward Island was beautiful:  agricultural, quaint, rural, colorful.  I spent only one day, driving across the southern part of the island, stopping to see whatever caught my fancy.  A highlight of the trip, and completely unplanned!

point prim
life-changing clam chowder - now i understand!
growing potatoes
From PEI, I checked out Cape Chignecto and its hiking trails at the tip of the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides.  Once again, the hiking at Cape Chignecto was over-rated, and I stayed for much less time than I had expected.  (Side note:  Cape Chignecto has a 3-4 day coastal backpacking loop that looks very exciting and beautiful, but already my pack's hipbelt is uncomfortable, so that wasn't an option for me on this trip.)

Instead, I continued on to Five Islands and camped at the provincial park there, high on a bluff overlooking the Minas Basin.

not even low tide.  crazy.
I looped around the Bay of Fundy and ended up at another favorite place, Delaps Cove.  The camp steward recommended a silly little walk in the equivalent of a county park here in the States, and for whatever reason, it captured my fancy.  I think this highlights the value of wandering, being open to suggestions, and having no fear of adjusting your plan on the fly.

uh, where's the water?
I also enjoyed a cone of "Privateer's Bounty," vanilla ice cream with salted toffee and black licorice jelly.  That probably didn't hurt my opinion of the area.  :o)

I passed by Kejimkujik National Park and did a few more hikes.  This park is best enjoyed by canoeing or kayaking, but the parts I saw on foot reminded me of the Adirondacks.

Along the southern shore, west of Halifax, I ran into Tourism Central.  The historical town of Lunenburg and the photogenic lighthouse of Peggy's Cove are mentioned in every tourist brochure, and while they are lovely, I passed by many more beautiful villages and lighthouses that were not swarming with people.

peggy's cove from afar - those black dots are people
Also, I can't believe I have written this much with only one photo of a lighthouse.  Seriously, the Nova Scotia coastline is covered with lighthouses.  Here, have another:

ridiculously cute, no?
This was my last solo trip for many years (the thumping in my lower abdomen makes it hard to forget), and that made it very special.  I intended a mostly hiking trip, and because the hikes were short, easy, and somewhat boring, it turned into a mostly road trip.  I'm happy I didn't have a plan and was able to discover places for myself.

Friday, May 29, 2015

46er!!! ...And the Next Adventure

On Saturday, May 23, 2015, I hiked to the top of Nippletop and became an (unofficial) 46er.

However, this trip report begins at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, December 29, 2008. Bear with me: I have a story to tell. It's a tale of adventure, struggle, character - and yes, it's also an old fashioned love story.

So here I am, the baby face of 6.5 years ago: I'm standing in lightly drifting snow, figuring out how to put on my snowshoes, fresh out of their eBay box. I've got my Columbia jacket I've had since college, with its thin fleece lining and non-water-resistant shell, and a pair of my mother's old wool mittens from Sears. The cap is already partially frozen onto my waterbottle. I am drastically under-prepared and dramatically over-excited, because it's Day 1, Mile 1 of my second winter hike ever, and my first High Peak experience.

I'm hiking with two friends and the guy I started dating seriously just a month before. The trail goes straight up, and it takes us 3 hours to go 2 miles because we stop every 1/2 mile. It bitterly cold on the summit, and savage winds make mincemeat of my sad jacket. But just like that, I've hiked my first High Peak.

Cascade Mountain, 12/29/2008
Then my boyfriend reminds me that we're not turning around just yet - there's a second summit "over there." I realize that anyone who hikes 46 of these beasts must be certifiably insane, plus possess powers of stamina, balance, fortitude, and power that I would never have. I was frozen to my core, my knees ached, and the roar of the wind took my breath and left me fearful - and exhilarated. I was so small on that mountain, yes, but I also was something that mattered, someone who could remain standing while the wind roared.

Why did I return to those mountains? Stubbornness? Curiosity? Something to prove? Adrenaline rush? Fear of missing out? A budding love of the wilderness? I don't know, because my first experience was kind of miserable.

But I did return.

Sometimes with friends...

Rocky Peak Ridge, 2/23/2012
Sometimes alone...

Phelps Mountain, 3/3/2013
But usually with that boyfriend. That boyfriend, who took me up the Trap Dike, over Colden, then up the back side of Algonquin to traverse the MacIntyre Range on my first ever backpacking trip. (Let's just say that he was trying to kill me, and if I survived, I'd make a decent girlfriend.)

Algonquin, 8/16/2009
Some of his "adventures" were my misadventures, and especially in the early days, I didn't always love him when we were in the mountains. But as the miles passed under our feet, we learned to work as a team. My developing backcountry skills gave me confidence to voice my opinions and needs. He learned to give appropriate feedback and recognition. And eventually, there were no more misadventures.

We hitched our lives together on the summit of Mt. Marcy, highest point in New York State: a fitting place for our love, born in the wild.

Mt. Marcy, 6/15/2013
Without noticing, I had hiked 28 of the High Peaks and had become one of those certifiably insane hikers who can start a one match fire and who carries a toothbrush without a handle (saves 15 grams!). 28 down, 18 to go - and then I thought I might finish, because what the heck: I, and he, and we were having fun.

Finally: the morning of Saturday, May 23, 2015. Today I finish my 46. I'm hiking with some friends, and of course, my husband. As we gain altitude, I start to see the back side of the Great Range, Haystack there, Colvin and Blake in front - memories from so many miles of trail, each peak an old friend now. Speaking of old friends, those hiking partners from my first High Peak trip are married, with a baby son, and live across the street. It's a bluebird day - reminds me of my wedding day - in fact, there's Marcy.

After 6 years, 4 months, and 25 days, 275 miles, 117,000 feet of elevation gain, 18 distinct trips spanning 27 calendar days, 3 pairs of hiking boots, 50 pounds of trail mix, and an infinite number of black fly bites, I summited at 12:45 p.m.

After 46 of these, there isn't much to say. It was a lovely day, and this adventure was complete.

Of course, the completion of one adventure always marks the start of the next one...

P.S.  Completing the 46 on Nippletop was a total coincidence - but it does make me chuckle.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

And Then There Were 43

Colvin & Blake.  14.8 miles.  4,310' elevation gain.  8 hours 54 minutes hours car-to-car.

great range
autumn awesome

Marshall.  14 miles.  2,575' elevation gain.  EXACTLY 8 hours car-to-car.

marshall panorama
prettiest trail in the ADK
And now.


Which would you do last?