Hi, I’m Andy White.
I’ll pause for a second while you ask yourself, “who the hell is Andy White?”
Well, in the broad scheme of the climbing world, I’m not really someone who’s all that important or well known. Yeah, I’ve penned guidebooks and magazine articles, have been part of a few bouldering film projects, have put up hundreds of boulder problems in our region, manage our local bouldering blog, created and organize our local, annual bouldering festival, act as head routesetter at our gym and get the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for some terrific climbing companies – all while performing my “real job” as a full-time teacher. Still, I know there are many other people out there who have done much of the same, while also crushing harder than I do. I guess what gives me something to talk about is the fact that I sometimes manage to do these things, with varying degrees of success, while also playing the all-important, and at times, climbing-antagonistic role of father.
This madness all started a few years back, when upon our return from yet another carefree and blissful trip to Bishop, Staci and I found out our little family would be growing by one. After all the initial excitement and happiness, I have to admit, I started to think about how this would affect climbing… yes I have a problem. I’d seen many friends and strong climbers take a step back from climbing after having kids, and I was worried this would be the case for us. But, we quickly vowed to ensure that we’d continue bouldering as much as possible with a little one, or at least we’d go down swinging. We naively discussed how our climbing lives wouldn’t change all that much, and were over-confident and completely unaware of what was in store for us. Staci continued to climb in the gym past her due date and a few days later, we were thrust into the world of parenthood.
Quite honestly, we fumbled as new parents. Our expectations of a calm, controlled environment shattered in front of our eyes and it took us a while to get things dialed. We quickly realized that our lives were going to change in a big way, and that especially included our climbing lives. Parenting and climbing mixed together was like trying to climb V10 slopers in Squamish in 30°C summer heat with 50 people of different nationalities screaming beta at you in different languages. Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get the idea.
Gone were the days of routsetting a comp for 3 days, then hopping in the car and driving 20 hours south to boulder. No longer could we pack up and head to Leavenworth or Squamish on a whim for a fun weekend, nor could we make it to the gym or outside together during prime after work hours for a long session with friends. The thought of a relaxing, full day out in the boulders climbing, scrubbing and doing guidebook work was laughable, trying to hit the project during elusive prime conditions was like trying to get a picture of a Sasquatch, and the simple act of having a prolonged conversation, in the boulders or on the phone, about beta, new lines, inspiring discoveries and the like seemed nearly impossible. And, let’s not even mention the fact that driving the fairly short distances to bouldering areas in the Okanagan was a less than lovely affair with our son who seemed to be joining a worldwide baby revolution against car seats!
So, Staci and I decided to get our priorities in order. In the end, having a kid actually helped us to really set things straight and we both agreed that in our new world of very limited time resources, climbing came just after family/ friends (because family is always family and many of our friends are just an extension of our family) and work (because we have to pay the bills somehow) in order of importance. We were determined to ensure that climbing continued to be a key part of our lives and in doing so our climbing lives would look much different.
And, “much different” may be a bit of an understatement. Now, our family days out are typically post-nap “do-si-do” affairs in the midday heat where one person hangs with the little fella while the other climbs and vice versa before zipping home for dinner and bed/ bath time. These days, our family projecting/ first ascent days involve carrying what seems like the entire house in the pads, and are usually limited to areas that are shaded and safe for Cedar to cruise around and for us to spot a bit at the same time. Nowadays, the annual southern migration usually involves months of planning and a flight for at least one parent and our little guy, and cheap camping isn’t as much of an obvious option as it used to be. There’s not as much time to aimlessly wander through the boulders or wait for the perfect conditions or time of day for the big send. There’s not really such a thing as climbing on full rest, especially for Staci, because we’ve got the little energizer man that doesn’t seem to require sleep to function. Yeah, usually climbing is a solo or family venture these days because plans are made last minute and the ungodly hours that allow for training, climbing, and setting scare away most human beings.
There’s no more leisurely running through the circuit at the gym. Not enough time to train and socialize like we used to. Training/ gym time is much more focused than it used to be. Less time means you better work your ass off to achieve gains. Or, maybe all you have is a training session on the home wall because you don’t have enough time or energy after a full day of work/ parenting to make the hour drive to the gym, or getting home at 11:30pm (because gym time doesn’t start until after the youngster goes to sleep) and getting back up at 5am with him isn’t too appealing?
Sometimes, you have to drive all the way back into town from a remote bouldering spot to buy a new soother because the Soother Gremlin has once again stolen the one thing that might actually help get Cedar to nap in the boulders. And yes, there’s no way that the Soother Gremlin is a fallacy after the number of soothers that have mysteriously gone missing while we are climbing. Other times, you might drive almost 2 hours to the boulders just to find out it’s way too windy or cold, or a new tooth is popping through, and that ain’t fun for anyone, so you turn around to drive home. Sometimes you just can’t get out with the crew because the family is sick, you have a lot of work to catch up on (because you were busy being a family man and work was put on the back-burner), or your dad/ work schedule doesn’t line up with the good weather for the week. And, sometimes, you just have to be a parent, and the best decision is not to go out for the day.
Yes, sometimes your session gets cut short because it’s nap time or you forgot to bring the appropriate number of diapers, or even better are the times when your wonderful son waits until you’ve packed everything into 3 pads, put it on your back, then drops a deuce. You proceed to take everything off your back, set up the boulder pad change table and it never fails that at least a couple fingers get some loveliness on them. I say a couple because it rarely seems that it can be just one, or none for that matter. It’s like a game for the little man. Anyway, I digress.
There are also the times when you drop off a climb as your kid is incessantly yelling your name because it’s the coolest name in the world to him and you start to laugh and lose your concentration. Or the times when you might get to the crux move on a project, and see something moving below you. It’s your son, who has just learned how to spot and you can’t help but be so proud and fall off the climb. There’s also the always entertaining “beta avec baby” where you try to give your buddy beta on the new line while you pass the little fella back and forth from arm to arm while you use the other arm to point out the holds and moves.
Ah, then there’s the much coveted solo session. This is that special day when you get to run out after work or after doing fatherly/ husbandly things during the day, and have an entire evening to be productive. Yes, an entire evening! On these nights, you rush to the boulders and squeeze as much projecting/ developing/ guidebooking into every minute of light possible. If you’re not walking out in the dark, you didn’t get enough done. Who needs a whole, relaxing day when you can try to get it all done in half the time? Ha!
OK, this isn’t meant to be about whining because my life is so different with a kid (although that’s pretty much what it sounds like), but more of an idea of what life is like for someone trying to truly live climbing while also being a parent. There was once a time that I had no comprehension of the dog and pony show of a climbing family. Sometimes, I would even try to avoid it when I saw a family in the boulders. Now I live it. And, whether or not you have kids (and if you actually read all of this), maybe this gives you some insight into and appreciation of climbing with kids. Hell, maybe this little snippet of my life will even serve as motivation for some?
Yep, the world of a climbing obsessed, try to do it all, local developer father is much different than it used to be. Time is a precious resource and it’s definitely tough to fit everything in. However, I’m pretty sure having a kid has been a terrific stimulus for change and really coaxed me into being more committed, efficient and likely a better climber as well. I find myself more focused, motivated, engaged and stronger than I’ve ever been before. Having a kid has made me really look closely at what’s important and what I want to do well. It has made me have to work hard to truly commit to the sport and manage time well to be successful. In all honesty, I’m not sure that I would have done this otherwise. I’ve found that if you really love doing something, you make it work, and maybe if you’re lucky, you learn things about yourself, your values, your ethics, etc along the way and come out better for it.
In the end, while my climbing life may be a lot different than back in the day, I’m pretty darn OK with it. Probably the most amazing part of this whole being a climber-dad thing is the fact that I get to hang out in some of the most amazing, inspiring places on a regular basis with my family. I’m amazingly lucky to have an incredible wife who gets it and is as into the whole thing as I am, and to have my little outdoor-loving buddy to share it all with. While life with a kid can seem unfocused and hectic, making time together in the boulders a priority has proven to be a rewarding, uplifting and centering experience.
To all the parents still getting out and crushing, you’re awesome! And to all those of you climbing with more than one kid, you’re my heroes. I don’t know how it’s humanly possible to manage that.
So, as I sit here writing on this year’s southern pilgrimage to the desert, listening to the sound of my son’s breaths on the baby monitor as he sleeps, I’m feeling darn lucky that I get to do everything I do within the climbing world while sharing it with my family. Not too shabby!
[Climbing screengrabs provided by Clayton Arnall from the upcoming film, Out of the Shadows. Family photos by the Andy and Staci White.]