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How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

From 1 Kid to 2…How Outdoor Adventures Have Changed…

At the summit of Seneca's South Peak, circa 2009, just before getting pregnant w/Big C

At the summit of Seneca’s South Peak, circa 2009, just before getting pregnant w/Big C

A couple of weeks ago I received a question from reader Patricia T. that really made me stop and think.  She basically wanted to know specifics about how life has changed for us since adding another child to our family.  In her words – “…I’ve had so many people tell me that the second one really shuts your life down.  Now, I’m trying to take that with a grain of salt, b/c I think we (I’m assuming she meant outdoorsy folks) are cut from a different cloth.  But it still worries me.  What’s your take on this?”  

I wrote a lot about the adjustments our family made to our routine during those early weeks of Baby Zu’s life.  I wrote some practical posts about how we find time to climb, and how we kept our sanity during the first month.  I also wrote some reflective posts about love and expectations.  I reviewed all sorts of baby gear, from Boba to PeaPod, and I got really sentimental once or twice.  I even wrote a post entitled “Why the 2nd Baby is Easier…and Harder.”  But now that I’ve got one kid that’s going to Kindergarten in the fall and another that’s morphed into a toddler seemingly overnight, I feel like I might have a little more perspective from which to revisit that question.  (And probably even MORE so when I’ve got a 6th grader and a 2nd grader, or a 10th grader and a 7th grader, or heaven forbid one in college and one in highschool…but don’t rush me!)

So with that said, here’s how our climbing adventures have changed over the years (and how they’ve stayed the same.)

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TRAINING:

Pre-kids.  Meet at the gym after work.  Climb until our fingers fall off, then go home and eat a late dinner.  Repeat once or twice a week.
One kid.  Meet at the gym after work with child in tow.  Alternate who watches child and who climbs.  If we have an extra partner we can rope up, if not, we boulder.
Two kids.  It’s now unmanageable for everyone to be in the gym at the same time, so we take turns.  Someone climbs after work, we eat a family dinner together, and the other person climbs after the kids go to bed (more on that strategy here.)

TRIP PLANNING:

Pre-kids.  No plan needed.  We climb wherever we want, whenever we want.  Outrageous, I know.
One kid.  Biggest change is that we need to make sure we have an extra partner lined up, preferably one that doesn’t mind extra belay duty.  This frees up hubby and I to take turns watching kid when we’re not climbing.  Multi-pitch climbing is obviously out, but as long as the base is not terrible (huge drop-offs, etc), we can pretty much go craggin’ wherever we want.  A long approach is not a big deal because kiddo rides in a carrier.  Gear space is at a premium.
Two kids.  We definitely still need an extra person, although mostly just for the baby, as the older child is pretty independent and doesn’t need constant supervision at the crag (if both kids are very young, this is where things could get crazy…a 4 year age gap between our children was NOT by accident!)  In addition to the cliff base, we also have to consider the fitness of the youngest pair of legs in regards to the approach.  Long hikes in will take us sometimes twice as long as our climbing partners (if climbing as a party of 3, one parent will usually go on ahead w/our extra partner, while the other strolls along with the kiddos.)  We didn’t think we could bring any more gear to the crag…but somehow we’ve managed to double it.  Quite often we work non-climbing outdoor activities into our trips as well – hikes, swimming holes, picnics, etc.  Sometimes those end up being the most memorable parts of the trip!

Ten Sleep Canyon 2012

Ten Sleep Canyon 2012

Family of ALMOST 4 in Feb 2014

Family of ALMOST 4 in Feb 2014

AT THE CRAG

Pre-kids.  We climb as long as we have daylight and sometimes end up hiking out in the dark.  We do what we want, when we want to.  Freedom!!!
One kid.  High mileage days are difficult to manage, except on days where baby naps a lot at the crag.  It’s impossible to predict which days those will be, so we have to take it and run with it when it happens.  We usually average 5-6 pitches per day, and tend to stay in the same area all day rather than flitting from one side of the cliff to another.  (This meant that we started shifting more into a “project” mindset – trying multiple times to send rather than just moving on after one attempt regardless of the outcome.) When the other parent is on kid duty, it’s pretty easy to relax.  We finish our day before sunset, and kiddo usually konks out on the hike back to the car, which is welcome because we’re probably having a late dinner and that quickie nap will hopefully get us through until bedtime without a meltdown.
Two kids.  If we can squeeze in 4-5 pitches over the course of a day, we’re psyched.  In addition to climbing, belaying, and caring for the smaller child, we also need to spend time with the older child; who, although very good at independent play, still needs to connect with mommy and daddy several times throughout the course of the day.  Things can get overwhelming pretty fast, especially if either child is feeling clingy, tired, hungry, frustrated, temper tantrum-y, etc.  We end up hiking out between 4 and 5 pm usually, depending on how difficult the end-of-day trudge will be for 5 year old hiking legs.  Both kids are running on fumes by the time we get to (later than usual) bedtimes, and we find ourselves so exhausted that we often go to bed at the same time they do.

Craggin' as a family of 4

Craggin’ as a family of 4

When it comes to our climbing lifestyle, it was far bigger of an adjustment to go from no kids to 1 kid than it has been for us to jump from 1 kid to 2.  Cragging with one kid required a major change in our planning with regards to how much we rely on other people, but we already had that mindset once #2 came along.  If I had to sum-up the hardest part at this particular stage of the game, it would be the stress of being pulled in so many directions at once at the crag.  (Baby needs to nurse.  Time for me to climb.  Child needs help finding a spot to poop in the woods.  Partner needs a belay.  Baby needs diaper changed, then help going down for nap.  Baby’s asleep, I should climb…right after I read with older child.  Baby’s awake and hungry.  That reminds me, I should probably eat something too! And so on and so forth.)

But despite the new level of shenanigans our family has risen to over the past year, the one constant has been that it’s always seemed worthwhile.  Both kiddos love being outside, and the older one starts asking when we’re going climbing again long about Thursday of every week.  And as long as everyone’s happy, we’re gonna roll with it!  There may come a time where our current lifestyle doesn’t work for our family, and if that happens, we’ll or course shift gears.  But for now, we climb on!

Sibling love...so many emotions in a span of about 5 minutes.

Sibling love…so many emotions in a span of about 5 minutes.

I’d love to hear from other families out there that have added 1, 2, or even 3 or more kiddos into their crag-family dynamic (and I’m sure Patricia T. would appreciate other points of view as well!)  So please, feel free to share some thoughts, tips, or experiences below in the comments!

 

 

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A Wild and Scenic Weekend at Obed River, Tennessee

Family tradition mandates that we spend Memorial Day weekend climbing and camping at the Obed Wild and Scenic River, an area just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, and this year was no exception.  Despite my excitement to get on a rope again, I was a bit apprehensive about the logistics.  It was only our 2nd time roping up with Baby Z, and roped climbing can be a lot harder to manage than bouldering at this age since I can’t always just hop right down to get to her (although if I’m not there someone else always is.)  Additionally it would be Baby Z’s…Read the rest of this entry →

Crag-Family Interview: A Family Affair!

If you’ve been following the recent kid-crushage that’s been happening up at the Red River Gorge this spring, you might recognize one of the names in today’s family interview.  In fact, Deadpoint Magazine recently wrote an article on this family after 12 year old Harry ticked his hardest send to date – Southern Smoke (5.14c).  Fortunately, the Edwards’ also agreed to answer some of my questions about family life at the crag as well.  Here’s what they had to say when I caught up with them via email… Names: Rob (44), Jennifer (37), Samantha (15), Harry (12), Preston (9) From:…Read the rest of this entry →

Fellow Cragmama Charmagne Cox: Inspiration Multiplied!

A lot of times I wonder if the only reason our family has remained as active and adventurous as we have is because we have just one child…Then I met Charmagne Cox.  Her inspiring story leaves no question as to whether or not its possible to continue recreational pursuits with multiples…and by multiples I don’t just mean multiple children, I mean MULTIPLES.  As in TRIPLETS.  Let that sink in for a moment – 3 kids to carry in to the crag (in addition to all of your climbing gear), 3 kids to get down for a nap at the base…Read the rest of this entry →

Hey Baby Let’s Go To Vegas…Without the Baby!!!

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We’ve got a big milestone coming up in our household.  Any guesses?  Nope…not potty training (unfortunately).  You probably won’t guess, so I’ll just tell you – my first overnighter away from Cragbaby!  For the past 2 years and almost 8 months I’ve woken up every morning in the same house as C (and for a good bit of that time, in the same bed!)  And except for the occasional date night for New Year’s Eve and extended family vacations where C’s grandparents give us a night off from the bedtime routine, I’ve been there to give a good night kiss…Read the rest of this entry →

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