Becca and Tommy Caldwell are a regular, every-day Colorado family. That is, other than the fact that Tommy (with climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson) made headlines last year by accomplishing the first-ever free ascent of a 3,000-foot cliff in Yosemite known as the Dawn Wall. Being athletes and adventurers, this couple is anything but sedentary and didn't slow down when they started a family. They simply adapted their approach to the backcountry, and, with little Fitz in tow and another child on the way, they continue to explore the wilder parts of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park together.
This incredibly down-to-earth couple share their backcountry experiences - both as kids and as parents - with us, as well as on their blog, Life with the Caldwells. Becca and Tommy were the keynote speakers at the Family Mountaineering and Backcountry Weekend at the YMCA of the Rockies,
How long have you been in Estes Park and what makes it 'home'?
Becca: Tommy has lived in Estes Park since he was 3 years old. I have lived in Estes full time for almost 8 years. We love our community here in Estes and the amazing access to the mountains.
What are your go-to winter backcountry family experiences near Estes Park?
Becca: The last two winters we enjoyed backcountry skiing at Hidden Valley with Fitz riding along in the backpack. Fitz loved it, too! On the downhill he would yell "woohoo!" When he was really young we spent a lot of time out on our skis touring around with him in our Chariot trailer on skis. This was also a great way to get out on the super cold and windy days. This winter, since Becca has been pregnant, we've done more touring with Fitz in the Chariot, and we've taken him sledding and skiing at the sledding hill at Hidden Valley. On the warmer winter days we go hiking, climbing and generally exploring around the rocks and trails.
How do you feel Estes Park encourages families to explore together?
Becca: Estes has so much great access to get out. You can pick the size of adventure you and your family is ready for, and there will be something for you.
What was the first backcountry experience that you took your son, Fitz, on and how old was he?
Becca: As soon as I was recovered enough from Fitz's birth we were out hiking with him and accompanying Tommy to climbs and boulders in Rocky Mountain National Park and around Estes. His first summit was Flattop Mountain at 12 weeks and second was Twin Sisters at 13 weeks. He happily rode along in our baby carrier and we were all psyched to be out in the mountains.
Tommy: We started taking him to backcountry areas around the world around the time he was 1 year old. We spent a month living out of our van when he was 6 months old, and spent three weeks together in a national park in Argentina when he was a 10 months old. Then, we went on a three-month trip to Europe where he spent a lot of time outside at climbing areas when he had just turned 1 year old.
What tips do you have for parents wanting to introduce winter backcountry and outdoor experiences to their kids?
Becca: Safety is always number one with kids. Know where you're going and what you're doing. Make sure you have a good knowledge base if you're going somewhere that requires it (you don't want to be playing in an avalanche-prone area, or try to take your kids skiing on your back if you're not proficient at it).
Make sure you have the right gear. Outings get cut short if hands and toes aren't warm enough, so making sure kids are layered well is a good start. Know what you are wanting to do, and don't set your expectations too high. It's good to be adaptable and go with the flow. Some days everything goes so awesome and smoothly, and other days you just have to be psyched you got out for 30 minutes. And, most important, is to have fun yourself! Your kids catch on to your attitude, and if you can't get psyched and enjoy what you're doing, chances are, they won't either.
Tommy: I believe that being easy-going but hardworking about the whole thing is the most important. Kids are tougher and more adaptable than you might imagine. If an idea doesn't work the first time, don't stress, and don't give up. Modern child raising norms train kids out of being adaptable. Backcountry experiences are a great way to keep this from happening. Love of the outdoors is an acquired taste for some kids. So again, don't give up if it doesn't work the first time.
How does your pack list look different for your backcountry adventures when you bring your kids along?
Becca: We definitely bring a lot more than we used to. There are more snacks in the pack, and more gear in general (the chariot trailer, the backpack to carry your child in, etc.).
Tommy: This makes it necessary to limit what you bring for yourself. Try and simplify when possible. It takes practice to figure what is necessary and what is not and continually refining your systems.
What are the top three things parents should remember while out on a winter family adventure?
Tommy: Have fun. Manage your expectations. Be easy going.
What intro-level winter family adventures around Estes Park would you recommend?
Becca: Sledding at Hidden Valley if the conditions are right is a great outing for all ages. Ski touring or snowshoeing on the trails in the park is a great way to get out.
Tommy: Gem Lake is a great place to go with the kids in the winter, lots of little rocks to climb on and it’s fun to slide around on the ice of the lake when it is adequately frozen.
What are some of your childhood backcountry memories?
Tommy: My family was a bit extreme when it came to getting outside in the winter. My first wintertime backcountry camping (in a snowcave) experience was when I was three years old. We did a ton of backcountry skiing, also starting when I was three; we started out skiing to places like Mills Lake and Dream Lake. When I got a little older, we ventured farther from the trail. Places like Black Lake. Mostly we waited for good weather, but occasionally we went when it was pretty windy. I remember getting blown completely across Mills Lake when I was 5-years-old. With each adventure we got a little bolder, more experienced and a little tougher. By the time I was 12, we could pretty much go anywhere and do anything.
What are the rewards families get from adventuring together year-round?
Becca: Getting out with the family is usually an awesome bonding experience. We all feel a little closer together and it's really rewarding sharing in an adventure together. The memories made are ones you don't forget, and you learn a little more about each other.
Tommy: Small epics (adventures) are a great way to grow close. They give your kids stories to tell to their friends and create lasting memories. So don't shy away from pushing it, but don't be afraid to turn around either.
How do you feel backcountry rules and ethics translate to values that you would want your children to have?
Tommy: Backcountry experiences at a young age have a way of creating a sense of awe for our natural world. Children who have these experiences grow to really care about protecting and preserving these special places. If we want to protect our planet we need to foster a love of nature in our kids.
When your children are older, what do you hope will stand out to them when they look back on your family adventures?
Tommy: I hope to provide our kids with experiences that will stick with them for a long time. Experiences that will deeply effect them and hopefully turn them into life-loving adults.