/ NEW ARTICLE: Mountaineering Mums

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UKC Articles - on 26 Mar 2009
[Isabelle Santoire and Alex, 3 kb]“For me personally, and I think for many women, either you want to climb or you want to have a family. I don't think many women can do both very well.”

In this UKC Feature Sarah Stirling explores the difficulties of pursuing an active climbing career and juggling family life.

She talks to top women mountaineers such as Ellen Miller, Ines Papert and Isabelle Santoire as well as weekend climbers from all over Britain.

How do they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children?

Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=1739

AnnaSpanna - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article and very inspiring.

It's hard being a mother and wanting to climb - and people don't think twice about giving their opinion about what constitutes 'good parenting'.

Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.
pebbles - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

top marks to the author for combining both roles brilliantly. It does irk me that climbing mothers are expected to justify themselves "how they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children" far more often than climbing fathers. You would think we had managed to move on a bit by the start of the 21st century
Heike - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to pebbles:
You took the words out of my mouth....completely agree with what you have said.
fimm on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

Really excellent and thoughtful article. Thank you very much.
saz_m - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article, interesting and really well written.
Sonya Mc on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: Enjoyed reading this. There are times when I have to sacrifice my climbing time for RB and it's quite emotional. You feel annoyed that you can't climb, but then you feel guilty that you feel annoyed because you *should* want to make sacrifices for your children right?
I can only just imagine the tearing that women guides or high mountaineers must feel if they have children, and climbing whilst pregnant esp to high altitude is a whole different ball game and I'm thankfull that I took up climbing after RB was born so I didn't have any emotional grief from that.

I love winter climbing and I want to push myself and I have soloed stuff in winter (nothing hard though) I never think about the consequences of what might happen if I hurt myself badly or got killed, you just don't entertain these thoughts when winter climbing!

I've had days where I've been out in winter and got back to base very late and been too exhausted to drive the 4hrs home, so have needed RB's dad or my dad to take RB to school the next day. Has only happened a few times, but the guilt is something awful! You feel totally irresponsible and a bad mother, but often I think it's in a woman's nature to feel guilt about such things.

Conversely, I consider myself VERY lucky being a single parent as my daughter goes to her father's 90% of weekends which gives me free time to climb. Sometimes it's not enough though, I want time midweek, I want time to go off on jaunts for a few weeks, but that just can't happen. Of course, I could take RB with me, but then I can't climb as hard is she's about. It's selfish yes, but no mother is perfect.

RB has just read this article and we were discussing that some people think woman are selfish for wanting to climb, esp if there is any danger that they might get killed. RB's very 1st comment was, 'what about father's who climb, it's no different.'
Very astute my wee girl.
Babika - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:
Yes I really enjoyed this - I wish more tabloid papers would consider such balanced views. Fat chance.

And speaking as possibly the only person in the world to have suffered a (very early) miscarriage actually on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro I feel some qualification to speak out about the guilt trip and the pressures:

But my two sons wouldn't have it any other way. They are really proud of the fact that Mum climbs, its way cooler than playing tennis. They come along with me some of the time, enjoy it as well and my 10-year old has already done 2 lectures to school groups of 30+ on the subject of ice climbing!

Do what makes you fulfilled - kids, climbing or both.
In reply to UKC Articles: Very well researched, balanced and thought provoking article. I don't have kids myself but I hope to one day and I have often wondered how life would work as a climbing dad.

I have to say though I was lucky enough when I was little to have gone to Snowdon and Ben Nevis once or twice with my Dad and for a very long day's walking down a deserted gorge in Crete with my Mum and I think these experiences were probably the times when I was closest to my parents in my childhood.

Mountains also have a way of making you see what is important in life, particularly if you are on your own, either on a solo trip or when you are using ropes so you are apart alot of the time. I can see how parents who used to enjoy that experience before having kids could still need that time every now and then to ground themselves. I expect I will probably be the same.
pebbles - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to Babika: good point, in many ways (and obviously there are downsides) climbing mums and dads must be really positive role models for their kids - which is probably borne out by the large number of climbers who have been introduced to the sport by their parents
Sarah Stirling - on 26 Mar 2009
Thanks to everyone for the interesting responses and positive comments.
Rock gobbler, I liked your comment about what we get from mountains: a place to ground yourself, see what is important in life, bond with the people you share mountain experiences with and, for some, an amazing place to introduce your kids to one day. When you put it like that, it highlights what a big ask it is to expect any mountaineer to give up what they love.
biped - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to SonyaD:

Sounds to me like you are being a very good mother by setting an example to your wean that life doesn't go on hold for anything. And a happy parent is imho more likely to be a good parent.

BTW, I'm still up for a trip to Northumberland sometime.
Astral Highway on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

Sarah, a very thoughtful, impeccably-researched piece. As the dad of a five year old, it's good to see a piece of writing that reflects the complexities of real life, as well as showing how some elite climbers have managed to continue doing what defines them professionally.

Wonderfully written, too. Thanks.
biped - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to AnnaSpanna:
> (In reply to UKC Articles)
>
>
> It's hard being a mother and wanting to climb - and people don't think twice about giving their opinion about what constitutes 'good parenting'.
>
>

Tae f*ck with those people. Ignore them.


(I do see the irony of having just given an opinion in reply to Sonya)
biped - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to Sarah Stirling:

Good article BTW. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but check out what you can about Brede Arkless, one of the first and ultimate climbing Mums. And the nicest lady you could ever meet. Some people on here will have known her far better than me.
Sarah Stirling - on 26 Mar 2009
Thank you for that, I will look into her.

By the way, if anyone's tried clicking my website, it's having end of the month stress issues. I will have it back up and running later.
AnnaSpanna - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to biped:

>
> Tae f*ck with those people. Ignore them.

Cheers, Biped - Very much my sentiment these days. However, these people help to look after my daughter when I'm away so with me it's all about finding a balance.

It was hard to start with as my sister and I would carry a pushchair up to the crag and carried her to the top of Skiddaw when she was 10 months old - my friends and family were horrified that I would introduce her into this environment - let alone 'desert' her to get my mountain 'fix'. I hope the mountains will be an integral part of her life - where else is better to teach her respect, self awareness, confidence, communication skills, etc than the mountains?

MattH - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to AnnaSpanna:

Enjoyed reading this a lot. Since having kids my climbing has changed. I was going to write suffered, but that's unfair. I'm climbing as well now as I ever did before. I've changed styles, focusing more on bioulderng and easy soloing as I can achieve much more volume this way. Foreign trips tend to be to Font or deep water soloing in Mallorca, or somewhere like Val Di Mello. Sure I yearn for the days when the boys are old enough to hopefully want to come with us on Alpine trips, but in the meantime things are pretty dandy. That's me - I'm a dad. I'd be very intersted to read an equivalent article on dads in climbing.

Nice one Sarah, and drop me a line if you want any comments on being a dad and a climber. Climbing was my life for the best part of 14 years. My boys are now 2.5 and 2 months and ecplips everything that went before (which was pretty damned good!).

MattH
Sarah Stirling - on 26 Mar 2009
Cheers Matt. That could be interesting. Someone told me Ian Parnell has declared he'll give up doing anything hard now he's a dad, so he would be a good one to speak to as well. And Twid, of course.
Tom Hutton - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:
I'm not a mum, and my climbing's not that good either. But it's great to see this standard of journalism on websites like this. Great article on a fascinating subject.
ads.ukclimbing.com
Sonya Mc on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to biped: Cheers! Yeah, would love to get back down there some time this summer, there are a few routes I'd like to do at Kyloe that I couldn't do last time cos of my dodgy arm.
Sarah Stirling - on 26 Mar 2009
"It's hard being a mother and wanting to climb - and people don't think twice about giving their opinion about what constitutes 'good parenting'."

I'd hate someone judging me if I was a mountaineering mum. I tried to let the people with first hand experience - mountaineering mothers (and Twid) -be the ones voicing the opinions. They all had a lot to say and I would say that many would agree with your comment.
Brendan - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to MattH:
Second that, an article on climbing Dads would be good. Also, the question of whether parents want their kids to climb/take the same risks they do would be interesting too.
domanka - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to Babika:
Do what makes you fulfilled - kids, climbing or both.
I couldn't have said it better. We all need to follow our dreams from time to time otherwise we might end up as miserable grumpy sods.
Ian Parnell - on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to Sarah Stirling:
"Someone told me Ian Parnell has declared he'll give up doing anything hard now he's a dad"

Hi Sarah excellent piece. However re your comment above, I definately intend doing as much hard climbing as I can while still btrying to be a decent dad. As a result Ive decided no more trips to the Himalaya, partly through time away (6-8 weeks) and the obvious risks. But this winter I probably climbed the hardest routes Ive done in Scotland I think partly because I was a Dad. In that my climbing time is now much more limited so I want to make the most out of that time. Its not something I feel is a burden though, infact its heigtened my enjoyment of climbing as a day out feels even more special than before.

Theres also the fact that when you spend time with young kids you are taken back to alot of the basics of life - that wonder of discovery, that thirst for new experiences, the lifeforce in full flow. For me its been a privilege to be reminded of how to approach life with fresh eyes by my 9 month old daughter.
Mike C on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to SonyaD:

> RB has just read this article and we were discussing that some people think woman are selfish for wanting to climb, esp if there is any danger that they might get killed. RB's very 1st comment was, 'what about father's who climb, it's no different.'
> Very astute my wee girl.

An interesting article & good to see various different opinions expressed. I remember this being an issue with the press over Alison Hargreaves' climbing & them taking a very different stance over her being a Mother climbing than anyone had before over a Father climbing.

When I became a (single) Father I started climbing again after a 20 year break. I did apply very different criteria though with regards to risk, seriously cutting down the solo climbing. All a matter of having responsibility for other lives.

Sonya - good on RB thinking about the Dads :o) My thoughts are what about the single Dads. Like Sonya, I "lose" my children at weekends to their Mum, which in theory leaves me free to climb. Not so easy though when you are in a relationship with someone who is the best part of 200 miles away & come Sunday you have to pick the kids up early evening. A mixture of priorites & neccessities then I guess. I'll still get out when I can, but I do nothing like I'd really like to.
Sonya Mc on 26 Mar 2009
In reply to Mike C: Yup, weekends are usually rush, rush, rush, stress, rush some more, think, 'yay, climbing at last;' drive lots, climb some, drive lots more, rush rush rush again. I'm lucky though as RB's dad takes her until Monday morning and my folks live in Dundee, not far from where RB's dad lives. So, thank heavens for my parents, cos I can doss at their house on the Sunday night, pick up RB early doors Monday morning to drive the 35miles back up the road to school. Midweek wall training sessions during the dark months are much the same. Pick up RB from school, go to wall and belay RB for a couple of hours. Her dad picks her up from the wall and she goes there for her tea, then I climb with my partner until the wall closes at 10 and doss at my folks house, again picking up RB early to drive back up the road. Half the time you don't know whether you're coming or going and add to that a bloke that lives 130 miles away, it gets quite tiring. And RB ends up with stuff scattered about everywhere. You can be looking for her climbing trousers but they've been left at her Dad's or she needs something at her Dad's but it's up at my house, etc (sure you've been there!)

What do you think about your kids climbing (if they wanted to?) RB loves it, and when it comes to toproping I'm really happy for her to climb and she often comes out hillwalking which is nice as we usually have a laugh together. But leading is a whole different ball game! I get so nervous for her, sometimes I have to have someone else belay her (so my nerves don't get in her way!) She finally persuaded me to let her try a climb in winter and Andy and I took her into Sneachda a while back and up a grade I gully. I was crapping myself! I do think about the 'what if's' ie if she hurt herself. Though I do feel if she wants to climb, she should have the oppurtunity and we shouldn't wrap our kids in cotton wool. But climbing *is* dangerous, should I encourage her to do something which could ultimately hurt her? And for the folk who say, 'would you rather they were sat on the sofa playing a Playstation or out stabbing auld grannies etc' I don't really think you can make that comparison. Most people would say that a more moderate level of activity (ie running, sports, swimming etc) are better for children, ie allowing them to be active, but with lower danger levels.
Children may want to climb, but do they romanticise it? Are they fully mature enough to understand the consequences should something go wrong? Are parents wrong to put that level of responsibility on a child, who is ultimately supposed to be under their protection and guidance?

Er, I'm havering now!
francoisecall - on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: Great article. I could give the point of view of a middle aged mum of teenagers, with a "reverse" climbing "career".
Mike C on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to SonyaD:
> (In reply to Mike C)
> Er, I'm havering now!

You are a bit :o)
Actually I have taken mine climbing & Alec is a keen junior munro bagger. Unfortunately i have 2 of these creatures & rarely do they want to do the same thing on the occasional weekends I have them.
anansie on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:


This was a very interesting article :o)

My kids will always come first but a mum is no where Near all i am and i don't think it should be, my kids dont either . I take my responsibilities at home very seriously and i'm not going to put myself in unnecessary danger , safety first. Just...i know i need this,my kids do to. This is mums way of going out to play :o)
Sarah Stirling - on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to Ian Parnell: Hi Ian, thanks very much for that - your comments were very interesting. You share some of Matt Heason's views, too. Do you mind if I email you some questions next week?
Sarah Stirling - on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to francoisecall: Hi thanks ... how strange, I was thinking about climbing mothers and teenagers last night and wrote about it in my blog. Or did you read that? So is it different being a climbing mother of teenagers than it was being a climbing mother of young children?
Ian Parnell - on 27 Mar 2009
In reply to Sarah Stirling: No problems with the questions, cheers Ian
Will_he_fall - on 28 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

It's interesting to hear the opinion expressed in this article that women feel greater responsibility to their childeren, and especially (Ines Papert's?) comments that this is entirely natural. Many feminist philosophers are keen to point out that Men tend to have equally strong desires to care for their children (what we refer to as maternal instincts), yet have a socially learned feeling that this just isn't the done thing. I personally know male climbers who are the sole/ main carers of their children, and to suggest that the effect on their lives and climbing will not be as great seems a little unfounded. Apologies if I'm getting the wrong end of the stick here.

Agree that the presses' treatment of Alison Hargreaves was totally unacceptable. Found her biography pretty heartbreaking.
In reply to pebbles:
> (In reply to UKC Articles)
>
> top marks to the author for combining both roles brilliantly. It does irk me that climbing mothers are expected to justify themselves "how they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children" far more often than climbing fathers. You would think we had managed to move on a bit by the start of the 21st century

Climbing fathers may not be judged by society to the same extent, but it does play on our own minds - well mine at least.

BrianT - on 30 Mar 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:
Bugger the kids, as long as Jude sacrifices her climbing to keep the house clean and have my tea on the table, I'm happy.
francoisecall - on 30 Mar 2009
In reply to Sarah Stirling:

Yes, I think there a a number of differences between young children and teenager re climbing mum.

By the time your kids are teenagers, they have seen a number of your friends die. They are seriously worried that the next funeral is their mum's. They are also very conscious of the dangers. They hear the stories around the dinner table and they have themselves been rescued and have near misses - with their mum.

They themselves become strong and you have to have to reign them in, but not too much. The balance changes in the relationship: you are not anymore the provider of knowledge and skills. They put the rope up for you. They challenge you to new practices.

I think that teenagers need more time intput than young children. That takes from the climbing time.
Ceridwen on 01 Apr 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: This is a fantastic article, well written and researched. I have relatively recently got into climbing and am now hooked. I have wanted to do it for years. While my son was young I actively avoided dangerous activities because I knew I am an only parent and I didn't want anyone else to bring him up. All these years I have craved adventure and now he is older I feel I am able to explore these desires. Climbers calculate risk, I want to go home at the end of each days climbing. He is a teenager now, when my son no longer needs me, when he is a man I will risk more.

Modern society is so devoid of danger that children are growing up unable to calculate risk in everyday situations. I read about a study that found young adults and teens are more likely to suffer serious injury or death now than ever before because of accidents that wouldn't happen if they knew how to calculate risk. Exploring our environment is healthy and should be part of every child's upbringing. If he wanted to climb I would encourage him, but he doesn't....
Sarah Stirling - on 01 Apr 2009
In reply to BrianT: Ha ha :)
Sarah Stirling - on 01 Apr 2009
In reply to francoisecall: Thanks ... it's interesting that you think teenagers need more time than young children. You have brought up some other aspects that I hadn't thought of, too. It sounds as though your children love climbing as much as you - it must be great to be able to share these experiences with them.

The sharp end - on 02 Apr 2009
In reply to Sarah Stirling:

Hi Sarah,

Very interesting article! Climbing/mountaineering mums have got so little press coverage (Am also asking UKC here - potential for more articles here?) so it was lovely to see your article online.

One question and apologies if this has been answered already and I missed it...are you a mum yourself? Just curious...

:)
Sarah Stirling - on 07 Apr 2009
In reply to The sharp end: Hello, no I'm not a Mum. If I end up being one, I would be just the same as these Mums I'm sure: unable to stop running around and climbing, seeing no reason why I should anyway, and trying to find a balance.

I did write earlier in the forum: "I'd hate someone judging me if I was a mountaineering mum. I tried to let the people with first hand experience - mountaineering mothers (and Twid) -be the ones voicing the opinions."

I'm going to write about mountaineering dads soon hopefully.

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