While it can be rather to hectic to travel around the holidays, for me it is totally worth it because that means I get to spend that time with my family. For as long as Jonathon and I have been together, we have travelled to New England to visit my family one year and have travelled internationally often with his family on the other years. This Christmas our plan was to travel with Jonathon’s parents to someplace warm and with climbing (obviously). Our new challenge to this plan, was that we would be bringing along our 16 month old.
Initially, we wanted to go to Cuba for the climbing, food and culture. However, after doing some research it started to seem like a logistically challenging trip especially since we would be lugging climbing gear and toddler gear. So we decided to save that place for when Ari is a bit older. I keep a list of places that I want to visit and Cayman Brac was on this list. It looked like a simple, quiet and beautiful destination to relax for 10 days. And it certainly lived up to this hype and was a perfect spot for winter climbing and family vacationing. Plus the majority of the climbs are bolted with new titanium glue ins to prevent the typical seaside erosion.
Our trip started off a little rough, when Ari developed a fever of 103 twenty four hours prior to our scheduled departure. Then American Airlines changed our 6 am flight to 12:30 am. Things got a little stressful and I started to wonder if these trips are worth it. In the end, we delayed our departure by a day and Ari felt much better by the time we left.
After a long night and morning of travel, we made it to Grand Cayman where we spent the night at the Margaritaville Resort. Obviously, we had margaritas for dinner and got a quick swim in the warm Caribbean water.
The next morning we flew to Cayman Brac where we met up with Jonathon’s parents and settled into our condo at Kings Place. The island itself is a small island (just 12 miles long and 1 mile wide) and has a handful of paved roads and restaurants. There are no major resorts so it is a very quiet and peaceful spot where everyone waves when driving. I loved it immediately. By that afternoon, Jonathon and I snuck off to climb a few pitches on the Orange Wall on the southeast part of the island.
The climbs are short on the orange wall and nothing to write home about but the setting right along the coast is certainly a highlight. Unfortunately, there is quite the collection of trash on the rocky shore. From flip flops to styrofoam to plastic bottles – it is all rather unsightly. I spent a semester studying on South Caicos in 2001 and it was the same scene. Back then I was told it was trash from other countries and cruise ships and brought to the shores by the currents. It is sad to see all that trash and really makes me want to be consciousness with my waste and consumption. On a positive note, we found the blow holes and we returned to the blow holes several more times with Ari and my in-laws.
We climbed at the Dixon wall the next day and that wall is surely the best on the island and home to classic limestone tufa climbing. It was quite good climbing and I sent the 12a classic called buffalo soldier on my second try. I had many goals for the trip but my main climbing goal was to redpoint 12a and I was psyched to complete that goal on my second day of the trip. And its a good thing I did because the other times we climbed at the wall the holds were super slimy, like the rock was sweating from the humidity.
Speaking of goals, I had lots of other goals for this trip ranging from not forgetting anything, not losing all the pacis, staying healthy and uninjured and preventing Ari from toddler death. Climbing trips have changed a bit now that Ari is in the picture. Instead of climbing all day until I can’t lift my arms above my head, I now will climb a half day and spend the other part of the day with Ari (which I find just as fun). And it turns out, my new strategy might actually be good for my climbing, my aging body and sensitive elbows.
My in-laws were super helpful and accommodating and were willing to watch Ari for many half days while we were on the island as the crags were definitely not toddler friendly. Most of the crags have very rocky and sharp bases and it was hard for me to even find a comfortable place to sit. That being said, the island was a super fun place for Ari to explore. He loved the ocean and the one sandy beach (most of the coast is rocky). He liked playing at the pool at our condo and our condo had a nice open kitchen and living room area for him to play as well. There was a playground and we went on lots of short hikes.
We checked out a couple more walls during our visit. Climbing at the Point was unforgettable. I felt like a bit of a rockstar with the waves crashing at my feet, the warm wind blowing in my hair all while climbing overhanging limestone jugs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it out to the Wave Wall as the seas were too rough.
We also spent a little time at the Stargazer Wall so I could try Sirius (12a). I initially tried it in the sun and struggled to maintain the friction and figure out the beta. We decided to come back when the wall was in the shade and that meant climbing around 7 am. The night before we had planned to go back to the Stargazer Wall, Ari was up from 2 – 4 am. Ari is a great sleeper at home but whenever we travel, he struggles and obviously so do we. Hopefully, he will figure it out eventually because we want to keep traveling with him. So we hit snooze when the alarm went off. Eventually we got up and got to the crag with about an hour until the sun hit the wall. Again I struggled to figure out the beta. But just as the sun was hitting the crux, I stuck the move and made it to the chains. And it felt really good! It’s amazing how success on a little piece of rock makes you feel so good.
The biggest bummer about the trip was that Jonathon’s shoulder was injured and he wasn’t able to climb much. But he was a super good sport and was an excellent belayer and coach. It also was a great opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone a little and hang the draws and figure out the beta. Often Jonathon goes first and tells me about the climb but on this trip, I had to rely on my own abilities to suss out the climb and get the draws hung. And while I may have complained about it, I was able to get the job done.
Cayman Brac was a wonderful spot for a family vacation. We got in plenty of quality family time, warm weather activities and lots of relaxation. It was a real bonus that I was able to meet my climbing goals too! Traveling as a family of three requires a lot more gear and logistics and there can be bumps along the way. For me, it is still so worth it. On many levels, it is such a privilege to be able to show this beautiful world to Ari and share these experiences as family. And for that, I am so incredible grateful.