Climbing in Soleil’s Cragdom

I think when we’re old, Tree and I will look back on our family climbing days as some of the best days of our lives. 

Sure, it’s a lot of effort. I have to get up extra early, make lunches, pack toys and extra clothing. Tree has to study the guidebook to pick a kid-safe crag with a short approach with sun or shade, depending on the temperature outside. Our choices are limited as a family, but the addition of Soleil at the crag is worth it. Her presence — her wonder and engagement in nature, her friendliness with other climbers, her absence of ego and utter silliness — reminds me of why I climb. Climbing, at its best, is a connection to your inner wild by testing your outer limits mentally and physically in nature. But, too often, ego, fear, and vanity get in the way and it becomes another barometer of success, offering or denying self-worth based on achievement and competition. 

But not with the wee ones. Take a kid to the crag, and watch her nature blossom like a rash of wildflowers on a desert hill. Deep down inside, we all just want to jump, explore, play, listen, imagine, connect, create, climb, run, taste, touch, and test our limits outside. As an adult, however, it’s hard to get out of our own way. 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we have long boring drives to the crags so, to kill time, we sing. Sometimes we sing songs we know, like Estrellita or If You’re Happy and You Know It but with 4yr old variations like “If you like poo poo and you know it clap your hands!”), but mostly Soleil just makes them up, like this one here.

My favorite part is at 24 seconds. I’m pretty sure she meant to say “my heart is happy,” but this slip-up is so much more endearing. 

We also tell scary “legends,” round-robin style.  Here’s a minute of one of Soleil’s 15 minute epics. This kid can tell a story. Just when you think it’s over, Bam! Another plot twist!

Soleil calls every crag her reino, or kingdom in English. She likes to wander far amidst the wildflowers, palm fronds, cacti, lavender, sage and asparagus bushes; to poke around the dirt in search of roly-polies, lizards and beetles, and make sopas y tartas (soups and cakes), beyond the reach of mom who’s always worrying she’s going to slip and role-polie herself down the mountain.

Put your helmet on! Safety safety! 

Speaking of mom fears, I’ve made an effort to start lead climbing more this year, and so far I’ve red-pointed an 11b, 11c, 11d, and 12a, and on-sighted a 10d. The truth is I’m terrified of leading, but I’ve been pushing my comfort zone, trying to find presence beyond the fear of falling. It’s so mental. Some days I feel brave —hell yeah I’m manifesting my fuck-it yang energy! AAAAARG! — and some days I feel like a nervous-nelly eat-bon-bons energy mom– like someone who really doesn’t want to make pancakes with a sprained ankle, or become a pancake and orphan her child, or get another unsightly bruise on her shin.  I wish I’d started climbing when I was in my early twenties, back when I was a reckless honey badger who knew no limits. ALL yang, baby. What happened to that girl? 

Soleil has been pushing her limits too. In the photos below, she’s hiking up to Pinares San Anton, the rock wall in the distance. This was Tree and my weekday crag, right in the city of Malaga; we never had any intention of taking Soleil up here. But Soleil started vacation and Outdoorplay’s new site launch got in the way (it’s live, check it out!), leaving one last project to tick (translation: a hard route to finish) with our little one in tow. 

Look who’s ready to climb the mountain! Guess what’ in the backpack! (Hint: nothing useful)

But she made it to the top! No tears! No “upa!” No stopping half way up and refusing to move! She didn’t even complain, which is more than I can say for myself. I hate hiking. Which is funny, because I used to love it (once a year) until I started climbing. Now I think of hiking as the lame part I have to do before the fun begins. Plus I trip and fall a lot. 

See that streak above Tree’s head? That’s Tree’s project, the beasty 13a that has to go down….by tomorrow. Eeek! Please send him all your fuck-it yang energy! AAARRRGH!!!  

When we get to her cragdom, Soleil writes out her legends with pictures and a few words, or we enact them. Daddy’s the King, the wolf, or Flynn Rider (think prince charming meets bad boy); I’m the Queen and/or Itchy Witchy, and Soleil is Rapunzel, Little Lost Girl or just the Warrior Princess who protects her reino. Soleil dictates our lines to us while we’re climbing and belaying, and we do our best to perform them while not falling or dropping our partner. It’s tricky. 

Did I mention she’s bossy? 

And fierce? (Collecting arrows to shoot at pirates, itchy witches and big bad wolves. Shhhh!)

Good thing she’s sweet, too.  

We’re always the first to arrive to the crag, but as soon as the Spaniards show up at the crack of noon, she asks them if they want to be caballeros (knights) in her reino — “pero, buenos, eh?” (but good ones, alright?) I love how disarming she is, how she cuts right through the script to the 4yr old heart of people. Before we know it, everyone is playing their part. 

Of course, we’ve had to pay our dues with ample meltdowns. I apologize to every climber in the reino who has ever been going for the send and had to endure the piercing wails of my tired/angry warrior princess reverberating up the rock face. If you actually managed to send that day, go ahead and add-on a letter grade. You deserve it. 

Other big news, Soleil made her first cairn! I didn’t even know these rock piles had a name until I met Tree and started hiking on faint bunny trails without signage. Whatever.  I bet Tree doesn’t know how to find the map-point to an underground rave or spot a drug dealer in a crowded bar. Touché country boy! City kids have secret codes, too.  And that is why Soleil will not be raised in a big city. Cairns are good, crack is bad. Mmm, kay? 

And, of course, Soleil climbs in her reino, too. I just bought her some new “pies de gato” (“cat feet” is what they call climbing shoes in Spain) so I’m excited to get her on some more vertical routes soon. 

Also, Ari is coming to visit us from Argentina. She arrives in a few days, which means fun is on the horizon, and I’ll actually have awesome pictures to prove it! Maybe I’ll even be able to publish a climbing post with pictures of us climbing! What a concept. In my defense, it’s been kind of hard to capture shots while I’m belaying. Somehow it makes my climber nervous when I’m holding a camera:

“You look great! Don’t let go.” 

That’s all for now. I will leave you with a selfie in front of Soleil’s heart-cave, a lair fit for a warrior princess indeed.




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  1. Nice!!!!!!!

  2. I am totally enjoying watching her grow up and be able to explore this world. You are an awesome mommy and you all so blessed to have each other. Soleil is looking more and more like you Stevie as she grows up, somehow I get the feeling that she has a great deal of your personality as well. Poor Tree!
    Continue to love and explore this world. Continue to smell the roses, but only the ones that Soleil choose. lol

    Love you guys


  3. Gerry Cumming says:

    I love getting your updates.It has been fun watching the family grow.You have all gone a long way in this journey. Mexico was my favorite place in the world until I walked the Camino then I fell in love with Spain.Seeing all your pictures and getting to follow along on a journey that I never had the guts to do (or should I say could never talk anyone to go with me) The best I could do was talk the wife into spending winters in Mexico.But now I have her agreeing to go to Spain next year after she does the. Breast cancer Dragon boat festival in Italy in 2018 Keep the story’s coming It has been fun being a part of it all.And watching Soleil grow.

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