Caroline Ciavaldini has long stood out as one of the most polyvalent female climbers out there. We have seen her tackle sport lines like Mind Control 8c+/5.14c in Oliana, Spain, and we have also seen her take on impressive trad lines in places like Pembrokeshire, UK; being one of the few female climbers to climb trad lines up to E9.
Her climbing life with her husband and fellow pro climber, James Pearson, recently entered into a new life chapter since the birth of their child! In this interview, Caroline delves into the ways her lifestyle and approach to climbing changed (and in many ways didn’t!) throughout her pregnancy and in her life today.
Some people might assume it’s not possible to climb through pregnancy. Can you share how you managed to climb while pregnant?
I tried a pregnancy harness but it didn’t feel comfortable, so I went back to a normal harness in L size, and added a lot of slings to it to transfer some weight onto my legs. I wanted to see if I could do without buying a pregnancy harness. Since you can only use a pregnancy harness for a few months, I find it to be quite expensive for most people.
You had some impressive experiences traveling to Japan trip to climb waterfalls during your pregnancy. How did this new style of climbing feel for you during that time?
It was James’ idea to try sawanobori (it means: climbing up a waterfall)!
We had heard about it from Toru Nakajima, a super-strong Japanese climber who likes to avoid climbing in the hot season. James is always curious and open-minded, and while I had just thought that it seemed mad … he actually wanted to try it. By now, I know that the silly looking ideas of James are often fun, so I was game for it. I really didn’t want to stay back home and miss out on such an original adventure.
But [during pregnancy] we always said that I would do what I felt was fine, and stop whenever it became too much. It was all about the sensations of my changing body. Being an athlete, I am quite used to listening to the little signs from my body, and I was confident that I would know when I could push or when I had to slow down.
I mainly struggled with the approaches. I have always been a bad walker (or at least I dislike it), and while four and a half months pregnant, walking felt wrong. Everyone said it should be okay, but it was rather heavy for me. But as soon as I was climbing again, it was all fine! Even climbing under the water, I wasn’t cold, or scared, I felt perfectly in the right place.
What did you wear to stay warm under the waterfalls?
I used The North Face summit series L3, L4, L5. While designed for high mountaineering, it worked pretty well for us.
What differences did you notice using trad gear underwater?
Under the waterfall, you can’t hear any sounds the rock makes when you knock on it. This means that you don’t know if what you are pulling on or where you are placing your gear is hollow or solid. So, you cross your fingers and place more gear!
The gear works pretty well though. You need to remember to oil it after climbing to keep it working. But I was only top roping [while pregnant and climbing sawanobori], I am not mad, just curious!
You’ve always been one of the most inspirational female climbers out there. How has your new role as a mom changed your climbing challenges?
Ha, as many people have noticed I am much slower at replying to my emails because I’m busy trying to be a good mum, a climber, and a professional athlete at the same time. While all parents know exactly how time-consuming little ones can be … non-parents (including former me) can not begin to imagine!
Coming back to a decent level after a baby has definitely been a very interesting challenge.
After the pregnancy, I was in the worst shape of my life. Not only was I trying to recover from the birth, which is a quite specific challenge with all the pelvic muscles and abdominal muscles having to come back into place, but I also had to handle sleepless nights and a fraction of my brain constantly wired to the baby’s needs … Any trainer would tell you that on paper, the challenge is quite tricky!
And then figuring out what works with a kid in terms of climbing (we are trying to combine him being happy exploring nature and us being happy climbing, so far so good). I am still learning, but I have begun projecting again! By now I am not so far away from my best level in sport climbing, and it seems I still have a good head for runouts!
In fact, James and I have decided to focus on bouldering adventures this year, as it is very easy to do with a baby. The downside is that you rarely have a spotter, as mummy or daddy is busy playing! But when you are keen to climb you still go for it.
Being a mum, in short, has managed to bring me back to the essentials: why do I climb? To be outside, to try hard, and to share it.
Baby has his mini crawling projects, daddy his climbing project, and mum hers … perfect right?
Follow Caroline on Instagram @caro_ciavaldini.