As first-time parents, Valerie and I have had to work out as we go along how to continue to rock climb while also being Mum and Dad to Leo. Last year we had a fun and successful trip to the legendary bouldering venue of Fontainebleau with a teething baby. This year we went back with an energetic (and teething) toddler. Here’s what we learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
Bouldering at Fontainebleau can be really accessible. The two sectors we climbed at on this trip – Buthiers Piscine and Rocher des Potets – were only 3 minutes and 10-15 minutes walk from a car park respectively. Leo was perfectly happy doing a lot of this walking (slowly) himself as both sectors are reached by broad tracks. For the times when Leo was tired or wanted to be carried, we used an ErgoBaby (a soft structure carrier, suitable from about 9 months for back carries). This is because using a buggy on sand or boulder-strewn woodland is a bad idea.
Take a bucket and spade
Some parts of Fontainebleau are so sandy that there are inland beaches among the boulders that are a great place to set up camp for the day if you have a toddler. We would throw a picnic blanket down under some trees next to one of these sandy clearings and Leo would contentedly play in the sand with a bucket and spade.
When playing in the sand stopped keeping his attention, Leo loved running around among the boulders and trees. Fontainebleau is a great natural playground for kids and I imagine that in a few years Leo will be making dens, scrambling around on boulders, playing tag and having stick sword fights. It was possibly the most relaxed and happy we’ve ever seen him, although as one of us had to follow him around to make sure he didn’t fall off anything or stand underneath a climber, it wasn’t stress free for us.
The big downside to taking turns looking after Leo was that there was no one spotting us when we were climbing. Ideally, we would have been part of a larger group so that there were several people climbing and available for spotter duty. As it was, we had to be careful in how we climbed and try not to fall off.
Leo was the one climber in our little group who did always climb with an attentive spotter. He has always been interested in climbing the furniture and he definitely enjoyed trying to climb up rocks. I’m hoping that if we go next year he will be big enough for the dedicated children’s bouldering circuits. The children’s circuit at Buthiers Piscine looked lovely – a tight collection of small boulders on the top of a gentle, wooded ridge.
All this climbing, running about and digging in the sand meant that Leo’s lunchtime nap was even more essential if he wasn’t to become overly tired and get unhappy. Working out how to take a toddler to a bouldering venue for most of the day and find an opportunity for him to have his afternoon nap is challenging. Valerie curling up with Leo on the picnic blanket so that he can have his nap worked on the one day we that did it, but I think that was only successful because there weren’t many people about. A better alternative was to put Leo in the ErgoBaby and walk gently around with him until he fell asleep. This meant that someone had to wear Leo until he awoke from his nap, but we approached this like a long turn of taking care of Leo and followed it up with a long turn climbing.
Changing nappies was straightforward. Using the picnic blanket or bouldering mat as a changing station meant that we avoided sand getting in places it shouldn’t and kept Leo comfortable. We put waste nappies in bags and carried them until we reached the nearest bin or got back to the hotel.
Staying in a hotel just felt like less effort than trying to camp with a toddler and even staying in self-catering accommodation. Although we lost the freedom to choosing how and when to prepare our own meals, we gained the freedom of not having to prepare anything other than a packed lunch. Breakfast was provided and dinner was either a takeaway pizza or eating in the hotel’s bistro. I think that in later years we might try camping or self-catering, but a hotel has worked well so far.
We stayed at the same hotel on this trip as on our previous trip – the Hotel de l’Ecu de France. It’s a good, friendly, quiet, family-run hotel in Malesherbes. If you are with a toddler it’s worth knowing that it has a couple of dogs, fish and a parrot. Leo was fascinated by them, but also gets a scared if the dogs get too close.
Last year was our first foreign trip with Leo and it was daunting and challenging. This year was our second foreign trip and it was still challenging, but more rewarding now that Leo could really have fun playing in the woods. I’m really looking forward to going back to Fonatinebleau next year.
UPDATE: 19 May 2017 – Well, it unfortunately ended up being nearly two years before we headed back to Fontainebleau. On the basis of that trip, I’ve expanded this blog post so that there is more information on bouldering at Fontainebleau with a toddler.