As a Mountain Leader and a mother of three, Carla Imbrenda wanted to put her wealth of knowledge to good use, to advise, support and encourage more women in the outdoors. With that in mind she established Mums on Mountains – which she’ll launch in 2023 – with a course to cover the basics, from finding the right kit needed for hiking with children and babies, to plotting routes and basic navigation skills.
‘Pregnancy and motherhood is a phase of life that can often leave you feeling more vulnerable than ever before,’ says Carla. ‘I wanted to see friendships formed with other women who share their concerns and cravings, and create a safe space for like-minded mums and mums-to-be to stretch their legs and their boundaries.’
Here, she explores what it means to adventure with kids, sharing her own valuable insights to get more mums on mountains.
Staring up at the last section of snowy slope ahead of us, the skies are bright blue and the sun is warm and friendly with a good few hours left in the day, but we are at the very limit of turnaround time.
A huge pair of green eyes look out at me from under her red bobble hat, ‘I think we can do it mummy’. Positive, energised and excited simply from finally reaching fluffy, snowman-worthy-snow, Awen, who has just turned 5, stands with me at 2700m looking at the summit of the Pic Du Bigorre in the French Pyrenees. As much as I would like to push through the last 187m of what has been a fairly straightforward hike, experience tells me this would not be sensible.
With the decision made, we turn and take one last look at the long-awaited summit observatory building and cast our eyes wide across the huge open view of endless mountain peaks around us. We descend to an abandoned refuge a little way back, swig some lukewarm hot chocolate and layer up ready for the long descent, arriving back at our car just as the last light fades from the sky and the ground turns back into a deadly ice rink.
With a thirst for adventure and a love of all things outdoors, finding a way to combine motherhood with spending time in the mountains has made me resourceful, resilient and probably a little selfish too. That’s the thing with becoming a parent: your magical little folk are born and along with them comes a fairly long stretch of ‘parental guilt.’ You’re suddenly very aware that the world feels the right to have an opinion on everything you do!
Keeping your body and mind healthy while it goes through the incredible process of growing your baby can only be good for you
Whether planned or not, pregnancy is really only the beginning of the different challenges that rise up. While physical and hormonal changes are taking place and the body adapts to growing another human being, women can also often feel that the expectation for life to carry on as normal is high. Work, exercise, socialising and all the bits in between. But what is realistic? Is continuing to be adventurous and active in the outdoors even possible?
Extra snacks, a group shelter and the ability to talk about unicorns for seven hours straight have seen me grow my experience and skills in ways I could not have imagined
In my case, hiking until the seventh month of my third pregnancy went a long way to helping me manage my perinatal depression and my body did feel strong enough to carry on. I’m often asked whether you can take up hiking, adventuring and other such activities for the first time during this period.I think you can. Perhaps a night hike to the summit of Ben Nevis in late January might have to wait for another time, but there are endless hikes, walks and even mountains that can be enjoyed safely and give you that fix of nature. Keeping your body and mind healthy while it goes through the incredible process of growing your baby can only be good for you.
There are plenty of rational arguments to support this approach. As mums-to-be and new mums in the West, we are supported by expert medical professionals such as midwives, health visitors and consultants. Help is often within easy reach if a concern arises. Modern tech also means we are contactable wherever we are and nearly all the time, so reassuring worried loved ones or getting help in an emergency is easier. Moreover, awareness of the importance of a healthier work-life balance (despite ever-increasing financial pressures) is higher than ever, we have access to more leisure activities than ever before and both the means to enjoy them and locate them.
That said, and forgive me if this seems obvious, but your choices and decisions no longer only affect you.This is unavoidable and will be a continuing theme in your life from now on. You are now thinking about yourself and your little one but also your loved ones who celebrate this news with you. It’s natural for those people to feel protective so addressing this early on and taking extra precautions to calm the worries of your nearest and dearest will immediately alleviate a little pressure and allow you a lot more room to enjoy your adventures.
One of the biggest barriers to women wanting to step out into the great outdoors for the first time under these circumstances is actually the worry of their families and friends. They can find it pretty crazy that you would want to take up something that, on the surface at least, might appear to them to be dangerous or even reckless.
With that in mind, knowledge is power, so here are some suggestions of how to make this all smoother and easier for you and yours…
Sign yourself up for a navigation course
Get the basics down by learning simple techniques of how to source, plot and enjoy a route of any level will make the whole event better. Paying for a professional course doesn’t cost that much and often you will find that you learn far more than just how to read a map. Any outdoor professional should be able to organise this for you, at Summit Seekers we run a variety of courses suited to all levels of ability throughout the year.
Invest in yourself
Whether you are starting this in the early stages of pregnancy or shortly after having your baby, comfort is key. You want to give yourself the chance to be fully present and remove the chance of accident or injury. This can be achieved simply with a decent pair of hiking shoes or boots, a functional waterproof and comfortable bag or baby carrier. Free yourself to fully focus on the moment you have given yourself.
Stay well within your capabilities
Listen to your body and relax into the mindset that the adventure will be there another day if you have to stop and turn around. Accept that these limits may not be as they were before pregnancy and postpartum.
A fully charged phone, leaving your route with someone who will notice your absence in the case of an emergency and having several contingencies in place – these are all basic but essential things to prepare. On top of that, I have a screenshot on my phone that details who to call in the place of an emergency should something happen to me and Awen is found alone. Now she is older, we also talk about emergency procedures and I make sure she knows where we are and where we’re going so she can relay this information if she needs to. Letting people know when you go and when you expect to be home gives them and you peace of mind.
Go on a mother/baby first aid course
Make sure you ‘re up to speed with the basics of first aid for both of you. Knowing you can deal with issues as they arise is a massive confidence booster.
Join a mother and baby hiking group
And if there isn’t one, start one! Safety in numbers is a good way to reduce the risks.
Book with a guide
Let them worry about all of the above while you find your mountain feet.
There are additional risks to heading into the outdoors with a baby, regardless of whether they have arrived or are still cooking – but ultimately they can all be managed, reduced or completely avoided without having to give up on what you want to do.
While you can suddenly feel more vulnerable, you are still capable and that is something that at times society would have you forget.
After posting about one of the long fell hikes with my girls, Awen (4) and Gabby (now a trainee mountain leader herself but at the time aged 17), I received a number of negative comments on the length of the hike in question – a decent 18km. While to many this seems like a really long day to have your children out, without the full background of information it is impossible to make a fair judgement.
This is where it gets complicated – when is enough ‘enough’ for you and your little ones? How much advice do you take? Who do you listen to?
The truth is you need to trust yourself. You know the difference between pushing for it and sailing past it. This will develop and change as you and your little ones change.
I am happy pushing the limits of my children because I know when they are ‘over it’ and when they have had enough. Extra snacks, a group shelter and the ability to talk about unicorns for seven hours straight have seen me grow my experience and skills in ways I could not have imagined. You could say it has become my niche. Kids will complain, they will drag their feet and they will be ‘over it’ way before you – but keep their little minds active and they will keep going and the reward for you all is happy smiles and a sense of achievement. Trust me, it’s worth it!
Sharing outdoor spaces and making them safer is what it is all about and with an ever increasing reliance on technology and ‘screen time’ addiction seemingly starting younger and younger, it’s important for us parents to keep the magic of nature alive for our little ones. After all, as our mums said before us – we do it for your own good!
This story first featured in issue 08 of BASE magazine. In Motherhood Movement, Hannah Mitchell spoke to Shauna Coxsey about her experiences climbing during pregnancy. You can read that full article here.
Don’t miss a single adventure
Sign up to our free newsletter and get a weekly BASE hit to your inbox