Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Adventuring with Toddlers – In a Nutshell Why It’s Worth It

A lot of times I get asked what makes it worth it.  Why do I put forth so much effort to continue down such an adventurous path now that I’ m a mom?  Maybe because it seems so natural to me that I can’t imagine life any other way, but I sometimes have trouble finding the words to answer that question on the spot.  But as I look back and reflect on how much our family has been able to share together, I know that those memories speak louder than any words ever could…so here’s my attempt to (briefly) address the question of what makes it worth it.  

I carried him in my womb for 9 months, where he learned to feel the rhythm and movement of a day on the rock from the confines of a plushy amniotic sac long before he could see mountains.  A Cragbaby (and Cragmama) in the making. 

C crankin' on the inside at month 8

C crankin’ on the inside at month 8

I then carried him to the base of the cliff, first strapped tightly to my chest, then harnessed in a backpack, where he got to engage with the rock on his own developmental level and at his own pace – at first just observing from the ground, then playing with gear and touching (and sometimes tasting…) the natural world around him.  A sweet little Cragbaby, soaking up the world like a sponge.

6 month old C at the Obed  in fall of 2010

6 month old C at the Obed in fall of 2010

Slowly but surely the backpack rides are replaced by hiking hand in hand to the crag together.  He creates his own boulder problems to scramble up, “spots” his friends while they climb, and can identify every piece of gear that goes on my harness.  An independent little person is starting to emerge, one that can hardly be called a Cragbaby anymore.  (But too late, the name has stuck!)

Showing off his new gear at Crowders Mountain in January of 2012

Showing off his new gear at Crowders Mountain in January of 2012

C and his Daddy in Ten Sleep Canyon, July 2012

C and his Daddy in Ten Sleep Canyon, July 2012

There are even times these days when he ties into a rope and climbs as high as he can, just like everyone else.  And as our eyes lock and he flashes me a grin, I’m incredibly thankful that we stayed committed on those days it was hard to get out the door, because these moments make it all worth it.  It’s in those moments that I know that he “gets it.”  He understands why we adventure outdoors day after day, week after week, month after month.  Just as I can’t, he might not be able to put it into words, but that million dollar smile says more than enough. 

Ready to climb in Spearfish Canyon in July 2012

Ready to climb in Spearfish Canyon in July 2012

Roping up at Crowders Mountain on Christmas Eve, 2012

Roping up at Crowders Mountain on Christmas Eve, 2012

From a climbing family, that’s been our experience.  But I’m sure that all of the bikers, backpackers, skiers, and boaters among you all have similar sentiments as you’ve watched your little people learn how to be big people within whatever activities you’re passionate about.  So with that in mind, I’d love to hear a snippet of anyone else’s journey as an adventuring family in the comment’s section.  My guess is each person’s story will resonate with us all! 




16 Responses to “Adventuring with Toddlers – In a Nutshell Why It’s Worth It”

  1. As my cliff babies are now teenagers, I can definitely say it’s well worth it. My girls have self confidence and a deep love of the outdoors. They hate shopping malls and don’t crave lots of material objects.They can climb 5.11a. They would rather camp than stay in a hotel. They understand physical challenges and are willing to push themselves. The sense of adventure permeates all aspects of life. My older daughter just came back from a year in Japan as an exchange student – learning a new language, making new friends, living with another family, joining the boy scouts and camping/caving in a typhoon and doing a 100km race – and LOVING it all. I think our outdoor adventures made these difficult opportunities a no brainer for her to try. She now knows she can do anything she sets her mind to. Unlike most teenagers, both of my girls aren’t embarrassed to be seen with mom, they’re happy to hug me in front of others and even sometimes hold my hand as we walk to the crag! We are each other’s climbing partners but the bond is even deeper because we’re mother & children as well. Oh, it’s SO worth it and I’m thrilled that my girls are growing up to be amazing young ladies.


    • Erica

      Beautiful, Jannette, thank you for sharing – it sounds as though you have an amazing relationship with your girls. Treasure that, and kudos to you being such a good role model for them!

  2. Amy

    Seeing my two-year old daughter’s face shine with pure delight when I announce that we are going snowshoeing…watching her anticiption grow as we drive to our destination…getting her dressed and out the door with daddy as fast as I can when we get there because she’s about to burst with excitement…feeling such relief when my 8-month old son automatically transforms from a crabby, don’t-bundle-me baby to a relaxed, happy and curious baby the moment we step on the trail….watching his sister hit pine branches to make the snow fall off…getting a chance to actually converse with my husband because the kids are content and the woods are so quiet…listening to my daughter giggle as she and her daddy play along the way…looking at my kids’ rosy cheeks and the snowflakes that are gently gliding down…feeling all warm and snuggly with my baby riding on my front zipped inside my fleece…sensing that our bond as a family is being strenghthend…clearing my head, feeling my smile and sense of adventure come back to me…enjoying a post-hike picnic lunch that tastes amazing now that we’ve worked up an appetite…having two sleeping babes by the time we get home………..these are only a few of the reasons that I love taking our kids outdoors.


  3. Wow, I can not put it so eloquently as Amy & Cliffmama did, but their words definitely resonated with me! May favorite memories from last summer were 9 month old Alex “ahhing” and “cooing” while on my back for many White Mountain miles, and one pine needle covered lunch spot we stopped at while in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness… his curiosity about every sound in nature was contagious, and while I love the winter I am looking forward to the warmer hiking/climbing season approaching!


  4. Deborah P

    Such a great post, Erica! I don’t think I ever said that to you, but we are really proud of your family and the choice that you guys made! I think is such a blessing that you decided to pass your passion to your next generation! Keep up the good work, friend!


  5. Natanya

    Great post! Thanks for the inspiration.


  6. Erica

    Amy – Another response with beautiful imagery. Thank you so much for sharing. Your post made me really wish we lived somewhere cold enough to snowshoe!

    Dave – I think the innocent curiousity you mentioned is one of my favorite parts of family adventures! Children have a way of changing our perspectives, don’t they?

    Deborah – Thank you so much for your kind words. We were just talking the other day about how much we missed hanging out with you guys. Let’s get together for s’mores around the firepit soon!

    Natanya – Glad you enjoyed it!


  7. Well-said. And exactly why we do it too…except I admit sometimes when it takes 30+ minutes to get everyone DRESSED, I rethink things just for a moment! 😉 hehe.


  8. I hope you don’t mind if I quote myself here, but I was recently writing about this very question:

    Why Bring Kids Into The Woods?

    Because they might scream and whine for half an hour while you struggle to set up camp and start the fire? Because they might sleep on your lap for an hour while you perch on a seat of knobby rocks, looking out to sea and slowly succumbing to the chill of the frozen morning? Or because they might gleefully hunt for anemones by headlamp in the darkness of a low-tide snowstorm? Crow with delight as the packraft slips into a cave hung with icicles? (All of this happened on Sunday night’s camp-out)

    Bringing them into the woods is a lot of work.

    Selfishly, I do it because I love both my kids and the wilderness, and refuse to give up one for the other. Visiting a city last fall, I enjoyed movies and restaurants and aikido classes. My kids enjoyed playgrounds and Christmas lights, and children’s museums. Unlike these city pleasures, Nature is something we can share. Walking through a snowy forest, even at 4 year old speed, even with a 2 year old on my back, I’m not just experiencing joy through the eyes of my children. I’m actually enjoying myself.

    Philosophically, I do it because I think they need it. To run, explore and discover in some place real — in an environment that hasn’t been designed just for them. To imagine and observe. To feel their own strength and power in the face of the difficulties and discomforts that come along with nature.

    I think the world needs it too. Needs people who know both how to plug in and unplug. To talk and to observe. Who realize that they can thrive in situations far beyond what they ever imagined. Of course, you think I’m talking about the kids here. Which I am. But I’m talking just as much about the parents. Parenthood can feel so overwhelming and intimidating, that sometimes it can suck you right “into the box” of doing exactly what you think you’re supposed to do, or what everyone else is doing — rather than what’s best for you, your family, or the world.


    • Erica

      Amelia – Indeed. It’s not all waterfalls and rainbows. The diaper disasters and wardrobe mishaps are there too…but thankfully those aren’t the memories that stick with us 🙂

      Erin – I love your example that nature is something we can all do together, on the same level. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I couldn’t agree more. As my kids get older I’m thankful that we connected them to nature at such a young age. We’ve all learned to enjoy time outside as a family.


  10. Great post Erica. I clicked through to this post as I was shutting down for the day, the week in fact. Our first camping trip of the year is tomorrow. Spring hits the desert southwest earlier than most places so we are lucky.

    The boys, almost 5 and 2, are pumped for the drive to get firewood this afternoon and then audit all of the gear for the trip.

    My oldest has been hiking with me for as long as he can walk. We did nearly 4.5 miles together two years ago for father’s day when he was just 3 years old. He mentions each morning that he remembered his dreams from the night before which invariably revolve around a hike and dinosaurs. Go figure!

    I think it’s easier for those of us that were raised in a similar way. Perhaps, it’s just easier to justify. But I grew up in a very small town in PA and my wife is from Buffalo, WY not far from the Tensleep pic in your post. She spent years packing horses into the backcountry of the Big Horns with her father and I walked hundreds of miles of streams and rivers in PA fishing the miles away. Started solo trips with a buddy when we were just 8 years old.

    Clearly, it’s difficult to put the “reason” why we all lead lives like this into words but dead simple through stories to share our love for it.

    Thanks for a great post. This will surely start our weekender off just right.


  11. This was wonderful! My little just turned 3 months and I’m so excited to see as he grows up outdoors and along side our wonderful sport.


  12. Erica, it’s so much fun to watch your kids growing up to like the outdoors. We’ve started taking longer bike trips recently and even when there is rain and wind, the kids still have fun. The greatest part of it all is hearing them talk about it once they get home and realize what they’ve accomplished.


    • Erica

      Andy – I think starting young is definitely key.

      Tim – I hope you guys had fun – campfire prep is always a big hit at our house too!

      Sabrina – congrats on your newborn! It’s a wild ride for sure! 🙂

      Andy A – Yeah my child and I have different definitions of “best conditions.” Still all fun though! 🙂

  13. Jess

    Your blog makes me think maybe we will have kids one of these days. So many of my friends will hardly leave their houses now that they have babies and getting them to do anything is so hard. Thanks for showing me we could keep up our climbing and other outdoor adventuring even with a baby in tow. When I do have a baby, I’ll be using blogs like this for my parenting manual!


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN