This week my husband and I are learning something new about the risks we choose to take outdoors as parents.
We have always been acutely aware of how the choice to pursue riskier activities in the mountains could impact our responsibilities we have as parents. Like many others, we have struggled to pursue the things we love knowing we need to provide for our daughter, which ultimately includes wanting to ensure we come home safely from any outdoor pursuit. Of course this is never guaranteed, but nor is it every time you get behind the wheel of a vehicle or even just wake up in the morning. We simply can’t control everything in life.
However, the choice to pursue a riskier activity, such as mountaineering, is in our control. We choose to lace up our boots and wander across glaciers, to kick steps up steep snow, and do our best to mitigate objective hazards.
But when you become a parent, you can no longer be the same person on the mountain. Parenthood has this way of turning you inside-out, of exposing you to emotions you never thought possible, of calling you to the most vulnerable place you’ve ever been. Parenthood introduces a kind of love to your life you never experienced before – a love that is different than the kind you have for your partner, or your own parents.
Taking our inside-out selves into the mountains, where we are often called to be tough-as-nails, can become the real crux of the climb, especially when it happens for the first time.
Here’s what we have learned: one of the biggest risks we can take in the outdoors as parents is putting ourselves face-to-face with the realization that our usual craving for adventure has been overwhelmed, perhaps trumped, by the love we have for our child.
For many serious adventurers, this realization can be a tough pill to swallow, so much so that it is one of the reasons why some choose not to become parents in the first place. Some may have no problem toning things down for a bit, or abandoning certain activities altogether. Still, it is something we all have to face.
The First Big Trip
Since entering the land of parenthood, and perhaps even a little bit before, my husband and I have wondered when that ‘first big trip’ would come along. Since we had our daughter five months ago, Paul has had the chance to do some scrambles each week (nothing too technical) and a few one-night overnight backcountry or photography trips. If you’ve been following my journey, I have been sticking to hiking with Maya, and haven’t ventured off on my own too much this summer.
But this past week, Paul got the opportunity to go on his first big mountaineering trip. And as it happens, it’s a climb of Mt. Robson, which at 3954 metres is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Paul is a professional mountain adventure photographer, and was invited by a guide (our friend Mike Stuart of Canadian Alpine Guides) and one of his clients to take photographs on their climb. This stunning peak has been on both of our checklists for some time, so when Paul told me about the opportunity, I told him he absolutely needed to go. I’d deal with my feelings later.
Beyond the Worry
I generally deal with my fears by trying my hardest not to think about things while Paul is away on a trip without me. Somehow when I’m on the mountain with him it is different. Knowing he was climbing with a very competent mountain guide was reassuring, but I couldn’t quell some of my worries. I’d be pouring my coffee in the morning thinking about how thankful I was that we had life insurance and a policy to cover mountaineering.
Beyond these (rather reasonable) fears, I was curious to know how Paul was doing on the mountain, and how he was managing his own feelings about his family back at home. As he said to me prior to leaving, “This trip could very well be about more than just climbing Mt. Robson. I’ll see how I feel about being disconnected from my wee family up there.” It was tough for him to leave even though he was going to do something he loved.
Would he be able to separate himself from his emotions during the climb? Decide it is just too much for him right now, and give up on climbing big peaks for awhile? Perhaps he would allow his love for his family to fuel his ascent and give him the extra drive he needed to go for the top.
You’ll have to wait for Part 3 to find out…