To celebrate Mother's Day, Sarah Stirling caught up with four climbing mothers to ask: how do you juggle climbing and motherhood? And to ask their kids: what are the pros and cons of climbing with your mum?
Jill and Pete Whittaker
Paul and Jill Whittaker seem to have bred the perfect climbing family: kids Pete and Katie have been safely encouraged to the forefront of the sport and they enjoy family adventures together on classics like the Cuillin Ridge. Is it as good as it looks?
If you could put each other on any route in the world, which would you choose and why?
Pete: I'd probably take Mum on El Cap! The style would suit her and she likes an adventure. She's pretty good at pulling some hard, crimpy, techy slabs out the bag when seconding me. Also there's a cafe close by and both my parents like cafe stops!
Jill: I'd put you on a route you've never been done. Pete loves to discover new routes, work out how they can be climbed and then get the first ascent.
The top climbing tips you've learnt from the other?
Pete: When my sister and I started out trad climbing it was always about placing lots of gear and gaining good experience. If I didn't have any rack left at the end of a pitch Mum was pleased. Even though I've done lots of bold climbing I've carried this attention to safety with me.
Jill: I've learnt that I will get a phone call from Pete if there are awkward or antisocial belaying duties to perform!
Pete: I also learnt enthusiasm and determination from Mum. These have come in very useful when climbing, training and completing projects.
Jill: And finally, I've learnt the importance of training from Pete. Even his Mum can improve (hopefully)!
At what age do you think you will or have climbed your best and why?
Pete: I think sometime between now and 40. A lot of the harder routes I've done have required hard training and (I don't know) but it could be impossible to do this sort of training after a certain age. Hopefully I can prove myself wrong.
Jill: Having never been a great climber, the good news is that I have got better with age. I've done my best climbing post 50 and hopefully there is just a bit more to come!
WATCH: Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall: No Sleep Till Bakewell on BMC TV.
Kate and Emelia Toon
From crawling through heather to baby-bouldering, and from precarious approaches in the baby-carrier to a night in an alpine hut, Emelia has joined her mum on climbing trips. As well as hanging out at crags all over the UK, by her second birthday she had been to Kalymnos in Greece, the Picos in Spain and Arapiles in Australia.
What's it like being a climbing mum with a toddler?
It's more enjoyable with a baby! When it’s not your turn to climb, you spend one-on-one time playing with your little one in beautiful places without distractions like phones or housework. Most crags either have woods to play in, or boulders or nearby beaches. It's real quality time.
How easy is it to juggle climbing with a toddler?
It can feel like you need all the stars to align: babysitter, belayer, dry weather and dry rock, so it's made me more focussed. If the chance to climb a route is there, then I have a crack and give it 100%, no excuses.
Things don’t always work out. You may have ambitions for a big training session, or drive all the way to a crag but a cranky or bored baby means not much climbing happens. I’ve adopted the motto: ‘ Something is better than nothing’!
What if she doesn't like climbing?
It's great to think that in the future I might be bivvying out in the mountains and sharing long routes with my daughter. Emelia may like climbing, she may not. While she is young, I see that it’s just about getting her to appreciate nature and having fun in the outdoors.
Patricia Novelli and Christopher Novelli-Cain
Patricia is a 44-year old Italian based in Shropshire. Before having a child she was a solid VS leader. She is now working back to that standard after shoulder subacromial decompression surgery. Her eight-year-old son Christopher has seconded up to HS.
What would be a top outing for Mother's Day?
Patricia: We have had a lovely season just gone by, doing easy grit classics together. If I had to choose one next adventure for Mother's Day, it would be a more exposed mountainous route like Grooved Arete on Tryfan. I can't wait to take him up there now he's ready.
Christopher: Anything on the grit at The Roaches. It must have caves, slabs, aretes and many pitches. Oh but no reachy overhangs! I hate those.
What would be your favourite post-climbing Mother's Day meal?
Patricia: Definitely at a climber's pub. Steak and kidney pie with chips and a pint of Guinness.
Christopher: A roast dinner with Yorkshire puddings and gravy, a steak and kidney pie, and chips for dessert. I am always very hungry after climbing.
Are there any drawbacks to being mum-son climbers?
Patricia: Not many. I dread the moment he will want to climb without me! It's so nice for us to share a passion. I don't always climb the routes I want to but that's a minor drawback. Also, as a mother I want to give advice and it can be hard not to give away too much beta and spoil the route!
Christopher: Yes many. She never lets me do the routes I want to do. Sometimes it is not cool climbing with your mummy.
Michelle, Jordan and Lauren Mc Laughlin
Michelle lectures in sport and teaches climbing, canoeing and hillwalking. She often took the kids with her to work when they were young. She also plays Gaelic football and rugby and has just completed her first triathlon. Michelle's son Jordan works as a lifeguard while doing a Foundation Degree in Sport, while daughter Lauryn is doing her GCSEs and is about to start her NICAS climbing award scheme.
How did you get into climbing?
Michelle: I got into climbing when I started a sports course at North West Regional College. My first climb was the Red Dots in Roe Valley in Limavady Co Derry. I did my SPA training twice before I had the confidence to do my full assessment. I have been teaching climbing for years and love all the new FUNdamental courses.
Lauryn: My mother got me into climbing when I was very young. She used me as a ginnea pig so older people would go up the climbs.
Jordan: Yes, Mum got us into climbing: she took us everywhere with her!
What would be a top route for Mother's Day?
Michelle: I love sea-cliff climbing in St David's in West Wales and multi-pitch climbing in Avon Gorge. But I think North Donegal is my favourite place to climb.
Lauryn: Culdaff in Co Donegal most likely. I love all the climbs there.
Jordan: Cheating Bitch in Culdaff. As a child I loved even saying the name of the climb.
Do you prefer climbing on your home turf or adventuring elsewhere?
Michelle: I love adventuring around other climbing areas as I'm always looking to pick up new techniques and ideas. Climbing in France was an eye-opener! But as long as the family are out with me whether it be hillwalking (which we do every Mother's Day) or paddling, then I'm happy.
Lauryn: I prefer home turf because it's more recognisable and you're more aware of the surroundings.
Jordan: I like adventuring elsewhere.
WATCH: Shifting Ice & Changing Tides
This film about a mother and daughter duo on a sail and ski trip between Iceland and Greenland will be shown as part of the BMC Climate Change panel at this year's Sheffield Adventure Film Festival on Saturday 12 March.
Shifting Ice & Changing Tides from ShAFF on Vimeo.
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