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

Strategies for Rainy Day Climbing (with a Toddler!)

All decked out in our rain gear on a typical spring weekend at the New River Gorge!

All decked out in our rain gear on a typical spring weekend at the New River Gorge!

In just a few short weeks it’ll be springtime again.  I can picture it now – buds will begin to sprout up in the garden, the birds start singling a little louder, and the days start getting a little longer.  Oh yeah and it rains.  All the time.  Actually that’s not true.  It doesn’t rain ALL the time.  The typical m.o. in the Southeast is for the skies to be bright and sunny all week, with clouds moving in on Friday afternoon, just in time to thoroughly soak your newest objective at the local crag.  But before you’re tempted to cancel that trip you’ve been planning for weeks in favor of pulling on plastic in the gym (AGAIN!), take a look at these tips for making the most of a wet and wild day of family craggin’…

DRESS FOR SUCCESS:  When it comes to playing outdoors, our family generally adopts the mindset that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.  In our household we’re firm believers that if you are dressed appropriately, you can have fun outside in whatever Mother Nature decides to send your way.  Good rain gear for the ENTIRE family is a must.  Grown-ups might be able to get by with nothing more than a hooded rain jacket (but I promise once you try a pair of rain pants you won’t ever go without!)  That’s because we tend to not sit directly in the mud…probably not the case for your child!  Full-body coverage is a MUST!  The Crag-kiddo has used rain suits from 2 different brands, both of which we would recommend – Oakiwear (cheaper, but a little less durable, review here), and Ducksday (a little more expensive, but more durable and more versatile, review here).

A little rainy day guidebook research...

A little rainy day guidebook research…

PROTECT YOUR ESSENTIALS:  It’s darn near impossible to spend a rainy day outside with kids and stay completely dry.  But who cares?  Neither of you are made of sugar, so you won’t melt!  Rest assured, a rainy day will undoubtedly bother you much more than your kiddo, provided you are able to keep him/her warm (and eventually dry!)  Your gear, however, might be a different story.  Nothing cuts a day short like throwing your wet jacket onto your pack and having the water soak all the way through to your diaper stash (ask me how I know…)  For items that cannot under any circumstances get wet (diapers, extra set of clothing, camera), bring a dry bag.  Better yet, get a rain cover for your kid carrier.  All of the major brands have some sort of rain cover built in or offered as an additional purchase.  Learn how to set it up quickly BEFORE you get stranded at the cliff in a passing band of summer showers. 

CHOOSE YOUR CRAG WISELY:  I’ve stayed dry many an afternoon in a steady downpour, and I’ve also had my fair share of bails within 30 minutes of a light rain.  It all depends on the crag – the terrain, the type of rock, sun/shade aspect, etc.  Do a little research beforehand, whether that means digging through guidebooks, talking to locals, or scouring comments on Mountain Project.  Generally speaking,  the steepest, most overhanging (and often most difficult) terrain tends to be the last to get wet.  But this is not always true – a moderate line that finishes beneath an enormous capped roof might never see so much as a drop of rain!  Some crags stay dry for the first couple of hours of rain, but then water starts to seep through the cracks, whereas other areas may be unclimbable initially, but will literally dry off in minutes with some sun and a slight breeze.  Every crag is different, and you’ll probably do most of your learning by trial and error. 

Soggy approach...but believe it or not, plenty of dry rock!

Soggy approach…but believe it or not, plenty of dry rock!

PLACE YOUR BETS:  Staying one step ahead of the weather is always a gamble.  I’ve gone to the New River Gorge expecting an all day washout only to see clear, sunny skies.  I’ve also been stormed off the rock at 10 am with only a 10% chance of rain.  You can play it by ear to a point, but sometimes you just have to commit one way or the other.  The weather will be what it’s going to be, but so long as you’re prepared, it doesn’t have to make or break your day! 

MODEL A GOOD ATTITUDE:   Don’t ever forget that your child has an “agenda” at the crag too, one that is much less weather-dependent.  I know it doesn’t matter to C whether the holds are wet or dry, but he does care whether I’m happy or sad.  So the next time you get stuck in the rain and are tempted to complain, stop.  Take your child by the hand and go splash in a puddle.  Laugh, jump, and get wet.  The rock will always be there, but those tender teachable moments with your 2, 4, 6 year old are as fleeting as those April showers.

Sometimes unexpected weather brings out unexpected discoveries!

Sometimes unexpected weather brings out unexpected discoveries!

Some days you can force it, but other days it’s just not meant to be.  Climbing is a fun thing, but if it’s you’re ONLY thing, you may wind up disappointed down the road…but that’s for another post.  My advice?  Take a chance on a sketchy weather forecast every now and then.  Go prepared and with an open mind, and I’d be willing to bet you’ll still have a lot more fun than you would sitting at home on the couch eating Oreo’s and watching climbing videos. 

How does your family handle climbing trips with potentially rainy weather?  Do you go anyway and make the most of it, wait to the very last minute to decide, or play it safe and stay home?  Feel free to share any rain-related family mishaps at the crag in the comments section below…


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