I'd pictured myself writing this blog explaining how easy you can do a camping/climbing trip with a baby, full of useful tips and tricks to lighten the load. Instead I guess you can just learn from our mistakes...
Sandray is a tiny island off the coast of the Isle of Barra, which requires a ferry to Barra and a boat trip to the island itself. It is uninhabited, with beautiful gneiss trad climbing, tropical beaches and a refreshing lack of phone signal. The boat drops you off and picks your up a week later. A pretty idilic spot for a week away. That's if it doesn't rain every. god. damn. day.
I had my reservations about taking 8m/o Bub somewhere so remote. There's no phone reception if she gets ill, I can't quickly dial the health visitor if I get paranoid about something silly, and at worst, how long would it take for us to radio the boat for an emergency helicopter if something bad were to happen. My thinking was that it would be a cool experience for her and us as a family, but in reality scrunching paper is a cool experience for her and I'm not sure she could realistically tell the difference between Sandray and our back garden, plus she mainly saw the inside of a tent anyway. So maybe deep down I was thinking it would be a cool experience for me, to be continuing to doing what I would normally do but with the addition of a baby. Was I trying to prove something to myself or others? Was I being an irresponsible Mumma? Or did I just want to go on a nice family holiday doing what I enjoy? I'm still not sure. But I am sure that next time we will be going somewhere where you can bail into your car and drive for coffee and cake when it gets rainy.
Shit, I really wish we'd practiced camping with Bub like we said we would. Shit, I really wish we'd packed in advance. Shit, I really should have washed those. Que buying clean baby clothes, sleeping mats and desperately trying to find the tent in my Dad's shed while praying it isn't mouldy. Shit, what's Bub got in her mouth?!
There is not one single space in the car that is not filled, I really wish we'd taken a picture. We pile into the car and head to Oban, Bub and I's double thermarest slowly inflating at my feet as I realise it has a hole and Neil (our much appreciated climbing partner!) is covered in bags of stuff in the back. It's early in the morning, I've not had any coffee and I'm already regretting our decision. The 4 hour ferry ride didn't seem to faze Bub in the slightest and surprisingly neither Calum or I get to seasick. There are 9 of us in total, that's 9 peoples worth of food for a week, climbing gear, camping stuff, random crap, plus all the stuff that comes with a baby. We don't seem to be making any headway packing our stuff off of the ferry and onto our boat The Boy James. I say 'we' but I'm merely dancing round the pile trying to make myself look busy, since I'm realistically doing my fair share of the heavy lifting with an over 10kg baby on my back... We arrive damp with sea spray but pitched our tents in high spirits (and high winds!) as the sun was shining, giving us high hopes for the rest of the week.
The first evening is when we realised we had made another mistake along with the punctured sleep mat. No camping chairs, an inconvenience we could deal with, but the main error being that even if we had brought camping chairs, we had no place to put them... It was far too windy to consider cooking (or sitting) outside and our lightweight 3 man tent didn't really have a porch as such, more of a 1ft by 2ft space for mucky shoes. After nursing Bub while Calum sorted our crap out, we managed to cook up a dhal while the rest of the team were asleep, the camping stove nestled between my dirty trainers.
Oh God is she too warm? I think she might be to warm. It's the middle of the night and I'm gently trying to feel Bub's tummy to gauge her temperature without waking her. My recent experiences of camping in Scotland have consisted of being bloody freezing all night, so my Mum paranoia of Bub being too cold has kicked in and she is wearing her normal clothes, a merino wool suit, a heavy duty snow suit, my down jacket with the drawstrings done up like a baby sleeping bag, and a blanket to top it all off. So of course she's too goddamn warm! I strip a few layers off of my baby who is damp with sweat feeling a lot of #MumGuilt.and barely sleep while constantly checking her temperature.
Day 2 + 3
Rain, wind, rain and more rain. We walk into various crags in the brief breaks in the weather, but it always turns into more rain. Not being psyched to stand around with Bub in the rain I carry her back to the tent to demolish another pack of biscuits while the guys attempt to climb something in the wet. Calum comes back a couple hours later trying to pretend he's had a good time and offers to swap in with me, but Bub is wanting to nurse which gives me a good excuse for not getting even more damp.
Thank god someone happens to have brought a spare family tent. Even if it is slightly blackened with mould and quickly has a river running through the middle of it, it gives us space to actually cook dinner in the evening and store all our food. The one man gear storage tent we brought is proving insufficient for storing 3 people and a babies worth of stuff, and I briefly consider pitching the party style gazebo that Neil brought, with my only hope being that I might be able to hitch a lift back to the mainland when it inevitably blows away in the gale force winds. I've forgotten a spare pair of shoes and can't remember when my feet were last dry, even if it has only been 3 days.
We actually get a few hours of freaking sunshine! Okay maybe not sunshine, but brighter skies with no rain. It's still bloody windy though so a lot of the things we want to do are getting battered by the sea.This will be my first time trad climbing in almost 2 years and I'm feeling apprehensive. I take what feels like an age to get off the ground on an E1 while Calum looks after Bub, worrying that I'll never get my trad head back again and questioning whether I'm actually enjoying myself. Neil seconds me up and agrees the start was pokey and hard which makes me feel better.
The climbing on the main wall is beautifully swirled, slightly overhanging gneiss, and I ambitiously had my eye on an E4 that went straight up the middle. Neil having previously done the route, was confident I should at least give it a bash, so I nursed Bub in the hope she wouldn't fuss, and set off.
Whoever said that trad climbing is boring should have seen me climb this route, the guys can concur that it was highly entertaining! Having no time to do any enduro training (I'm looking at you Bub!) I was suitably pumped by 3/4 of the way up, it's starting to spit with rain and feeling a bit run out I slap to a sloper and desperately try and place a cam. Shit! The size I want is on the wrong side of my harness, I scream as I try to reach round to the other side, sure that my hand will peel off. It doesn't and I try to ram the cam in. SHIT! It doesn't fit. I scream while attaching it back to my harness, briefly considering lobbing it into the sea to save a few precious milliseconds. Arm rapidly failing, no time to place anything else. I throw wildly at the next hold which is far away in the next break, fully expecting to be flying through the air. Somehow my hand latches it, luckily it's a bucket and I claw my way to the top through the spitter of rain.
Okay I definitely do still enjoy trad climbing.
It starts full on raining again so we head back to camp. The other guys had chosen the one day where we had a few alright hours, to walk to the furthest possible crag on the island, only to be unable to climb because of the rough sea. I would have felt bad had it not been so funny.
Rain, who would have guessed. I'm sick of holding a wriggly baby that wants to splash in the cold brew coffee where we have accidentally spilt a load of coffee grounds into the pond which is our kitchen tent. I'm sick of trying to find a dry patch on the floor to sit and chop vegetables for dinner. And I'm sick of trying to gauge which way the wind is blowing before going for a wee, just for the wind to inevitably change direction. Everyone at the camp is going a bit stir crazy. A sweet potato has been carved and named Wilson. Part of him is eaten and the other part buried as a gift to the island Gods in hope of better weather.
The boat man contacts us via the radio, the weather is getting even worse and have to either get picked up tomorrow, or risk staying stranded for an extra couple of days. Wilson obviously didn't cut it. I don't try to hide my joy at the thought of going home early.
My parting thoughts were that Bub herself didn't actually make camping that much harder, she doesn't really have a routine anyway, and the tent had lots of toggles which she loved. Regardless of bringing her, the weather still would have been rubbish and we still would have forgotten things, perhaps it's a lesson in better organisation? Although I now understand why families use family tents... On the climbing front, trad climbing as a 3 takes a while at the best of times, never mind in a 3 with a baby, and I haven't made up my mind whether the faff to climbing ratio is worth it. I'm telling myself that the one fantastic route I did made the whole trip worth while, but I'm still not sure!