Mamas Climbing Weekend in Banff

We have been back from our family journey to Europe for three and a half months. From being confined in tight spaces as a family 24/7 to being back at work and straight into our real life routine, I was craving a little break from the everyday and some time for myself. More than anything, I was craving time in the mountains.

My loyal climbing partner, Shenoa, and I started plotting our mountain adventure weekend, settled on dates and set our sights on a multi-pitch extravaganza in Banff National Park to tick off some of the recommendations from this article in Gripped.

Our neck of the woods boasts some fabulous rock climbing but unfortunately no moderate multi-pitch sport routes. Long climbs also require a bigger time commitment than cragging and therefore, you tend to never know when you are going to come home, which isn’t ideal for mother for whom being home on time to cook a healthy dinner is a top priority.

This is my bad; unlike my dear husband who has no problem blocking out every other aspect of his life (such as his daughter and myself) when he climbs, I feel like I am failing at mother duties if I am away for more than a half-day. However, I don’t seem to feel that way when I am away with work for multiple days. Women psyche…still trying to figure it out myself!

Perhaps it’s a form of mother FOMO?! How on Earth are they going to survive dinnertime without me? They sure will be dying from a frozen pizza overdose and a TV comatose if I am not around?!

Anyhow, I knew that removing myself from the family for an entire 2 days and 2 nights was probably the best way to really focus on my own goals: climbing two classic moderate Rocky Mountains itineraries, getting half-way through my Jan Redford book “The End of the Rope”, sleeping nine uninterrupted hours twice, engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend over wine and chocolate and somehow avoiding to spend significant financial resources in one of Canada’s most pricey resort town.

Yes, we were really going to dirt-bag it! Well, sort of.

We left town on a Thursday after work in my friends shiny F-150 pick up truck loaded with a luxurious Bronco pop-up camper at the back that contains a plush queen-size bed, a cozy duvet and a 3-way fridge stocked with dry cider, four different types of cheese, artisan sourdough bread, fresh garden produce and a healthy dose of dark chocolate…and red wine. Real fancy dirtbags we are!

Our fancy dirtbag set up…

We arrived at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot quite late where we would spend the night, avoiding paying campsite fees. A sleepless night later (awoken every ten minutes by semi trucks rolling on the busy nearby TransCanada highway) we popped the camper down and agreed on the plan to head to the Tunnel Mountain campground to snatch one of the last first come first served campsites. Heck, I had already screwed one of my night’s sleep, I sure didn’t want to risk screwing the next one and even worse, our climbing goals because of sleep deprivation.

While we were driving to Banff, we got the news from our hubbies that Kimberley was under evacuation alert because of the nearby wildfires. Darn! That almost put a damper on our adventure as the guilt started settling in my stomach: my husband would need to pack our essentials on his own and still get my daughter to her swim lesson on time. How could I be such a selfish mother, prioritizing rock climbing over my family in danger of evacuation?! Fortunately, we were on a rock climbing trip and not a shopping spree, which likely would have made our respective husbands request that we come home NOW! Somehow they seem to like the idea that we are as committed to climbing as they are…

After some reassurance that the families were fine and would reunite with us half-way should things get out of control, we decided to stick to our plan.

After a hearty breakfast at our quiet campsite, we strapped our backpacks on and set out on foot for Banff’s scenic Hoodoo trail toward Tunnel Mountain and our objective for the day: Le Soulier (5.7, 4 pitches). This route was first established a long time ago but the spaced-out rusty pitons have been replaced by shiny bolts in recent years. The route originally owes to a single climbing boot nailed with a piton but has since been replaced   by a pair of high heel pumps. A funny nudge to our female climbing party of which neither of us ever wear heels.

Yes, there is a lovely view from where we stand. The Banff Spring hotel in a total haze.

A little over an hour after leaving the campsite, we found the start of the route and got all set up for our climb. While the first pitch had some loose rock and was more of a succession of ledges, the remaining 3 pitches were surprisingly solid and fairly well protected. The climbing was straightforward, easy and enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to rehearse our system of swinging leads efficiently and building bombproof belay stations. Unfortunately, due to the raging wildfires in BC, we didn’t get the picturesque views of the Bow River and Banff Springs hotel below nor the majestic Rundle Mountain across from us. We topped out a couple hours later and had a nice “summit” picnic before the ten-minute back down via a nice trail.

Shenoa leading the pitch with le Soulier
Halfway through our climb, the smoke cleared out a bit and allowed us a glimpse at Rundle mountain

Adventuring with other women is really something I appreciate, especially since becoming a mom. Like Jan Redford in her personal tale about mountains, marriage and motherhood, my will and courage levels seem much higher when I don’t have a male partner to rely on. In the presence of males, often stronger climbers, skiers or adventurer (even if I am more experienced than them), I tend to second-guess myself more.

I also find women tend to be more attentive to each other and therefore we are more likely to pause more often and check in. We also eat and hydrate better, hence I usually feel less tired after a day out with my girls. I also pay more attention when selecting the objectives and ensure I am going to maximize my enjoyment as opposed to just blindly going for it.

With the 12 km walk both ways from the campsite, that day felt like a well-rounded mountain adventure and the perfect warm-up for our goal the following day: Plutonian Shores (5.9, 7 pitches).

plutonian shores guidebook

Giving up $27 on a campsite ended up being a great decision of ours and after a gourmet camp dinner and finally a great nights’ sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready for our day.

Gourmet camp dinner climbers style

We drove to the Cave and Basin area and followed a good but steep trail toward the north face of Sulphur mountain and our  chosen route. Thanks to a very detailed topo, we had no problem finding the route which appeared to have four climbing parties already on.

We left them plenty of time before we started climbing and apart from a small rock or two falling in our direction, having other climbers above our head wasn’t too much of an issue. The smoke was worse than the day before but the temperature  cooler, which we didn’t mind at all.

Shenoa leading pitch 1 of Plutonian Shores
At the start of the climb with 200 vertical metres left to go

We linked the fun and long pitches (up to 55m!) one after the other, swinging leads, cheering each other and enjoying ourselves very much. We were quite pleased with our idea to only take a small pack for the two of us. We also ate and drank prior to getting on the wall. The limestone was quite solid with plenty of positive holds and the challenge was well within our skills and climbing level. We even caught up to the male party ahead of us and had to pause to give them some space and avoid being crammed up at the anchor with them.

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Shenoa confidently leading one of the pitches
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The smoke and wind brought some serious ambiance to the climb

The walk-off was steep and loose but short and well marked with cairns. With a large smile on our faces, we walked back to the truck, chatting and joking, feeling so happy and proud of our accomplishments.

By dinner time, we drove into Banff and sat at a small table in a busy vegetarian restaurant for our post-climbing reward. We had after all been such dirtbags that we thought we deserved a yummy over-priced meal and drinks to round up our fantastic girls weekend.

While the routes we climbed that weekend weren’t the hardest nor the longest nor the most prestigious I have done in my fifteen years of climbing, I have seldom felt as stoked on the drive home. Not a single time when I was moving upward on the rock did I think about dinner time at home nor felt the tinge of guilt from being away from my family.

I felt alive, I felt relaxed, I felt empowered and more importantly I felt myself.

 

P.S.: Many thanks to my rock warrior friend Shenoa for making this trip extra special and for being such a great climbing partner. xox

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Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

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A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

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Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

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Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
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Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

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The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

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Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
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Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

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Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

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Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

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our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge