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Supermoms who have (and are) fun — not just on Mother's Day or under lockdown

10 May 2020 - 11:38 By Claire Keeton
Top rock climber Gosia Lipinska does pull-ups with her toddlers under lockdown
Top rock climber Gosia Lipinska does pull-ups with her toddlers under lockdown
Image: Duncan Souchon

When Gosia Lipinska did not pitch up to climb one Saturday morning, her partner was surprised. One of SA’s top climbers, Lipinska was always rock solid on climbing (and other) plans.

Before lunchtime, he got a message that she had just given birth to her second baby, Eva.

Two weeks later Lipinska, who ran trails and climbed throughout both pregnancies, was back on the wall. Not just climbing — but climbing harder than many younger or male climbers will ever do.

“Climbing after pregnancy was like jolling with an old friend. I could climb in a style that was familiar to me and made me feel alive,” says the 36-year-old mother, who has two toddlers.

Black Diamond-sponsored climber Gosia Lipinska in Cromlech, Wales
Black Diamond-sponsored climber Gosia Lipinska in Cromlech, Wales
Image: Julia Wakeling

Her love of climbing goes back to her own childhood. “I was always climbing things, up a tree or on a roof,” she says.

Lipinska isn’t yet climbing the walls during lockdown. For training, this lithe mom does pull-ups with two-year-old Benjamin hanging on her back and one-year-old Eva on her front.

Lockdown isn’t a holiday for her or partner Duncan Souchon. She is working flatout to prepare online courses for students while he works full time for an education NGO — when he’s not playing his piano and making albums.

A neuropsychologist at UCT, Dr Lipinska is one of three female climbers I’ve met in Cape Town who have not been slowed down by motherhood.

They have as much fun as when they were freewheeling and kid-free, often dragging their children along for the ride, with the support of their athletic climber partners.

Ecologist Amrei von Hase with her son Manú on Lion's Head
Ecologist Amrei von Hase with her son Manú on Lion's Head
Image: Malcolm Gowes

Take UCT ecologist 45-year-old Amrei von Hase. When she is not advising companies and governments on best practice in managing and conserving biodiversity in remote parts of the planet, Von Hase is usually on Table Mountain.

On weekends she hikes and climbs with her partner Malcolm Gowans and their four-year-old Manú, who has done trails on which adults struggle.

At three years old Manú walked to the top of Lion’s Head and, when he had just turned four, he walked the whole 3.6km up Table Mountain’s steep India Venster route which has chains and staples.

Amrei von Hase rock climbing on Table Mountain
Amrei von Hase rock climbing on Table Mountain
Image: Anton van Zyl

“We broke the route down into stages and made it fun with games, songs and Gummy Bears,” she says.

A good-natured kid, the only time I’ve seen him furious was when his parents took him away from a climbing crag before he was ready. “I want to climb,” he howled the whole way home.

Von Hase, who climbed until seven months pregnant and hiked until two weeks before Manú was born, is a formidable trail leader.

In 2012 she joined a Wednesday night hiking group and by 2016 she was leading it at pace, along demanding and sometimes risky hikes, sun or rain.

Her partner Malcolm Gowans is a personal trainer, who owns a functional-training gym, so he is fit and agile enough to keep up with her.

Niki Stilwell surfing in Indonesia
Niki Stilwell surfing in Indonesia
Image: Supplied

Niki Stilwell and her husband Bryant Roux are both anaesthetists — a medical speciality that could put them on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before lockdown they would camp, climb and surf with friends, often joined by their two 20-something-year-old daughters and boyfriends. From infancy their girls were out with them.

Stilwell, 52, grew up with adventure. When she was 10, her father packed her, her twin brother and her mother on a yacht to circumnavigate the world, despite zero navigational experience.

At 16, Niki left her family sailing and joined school to do matric, because she wanted to be a doctor. Despite virtually no schooling, she excelled and was accepted into medicine at Wits University.

As a doctor, she then travelled the world. “I ended up in Churchill, the ‘polar bear capital’ of the world on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, delivering Inuit babies and going on walrus hunts,” she says.

Alice and Ruby with their mother, Niki Stilwell at Rooiberg in the Western Cape
Alice and Ruby with their mother, Niki Stilwell at Rooiberg in the Western Cape
Image: Max Vos

Her unconventional childhood — grippingly told in the memoir Thinking Up a Hurricane — has prepared her well for lockdown.

“On a yacht, and during a blizzard in the north, your day centres on food. Preparing and eating interesting meals with limited ingredients becomes a fine-honed skill,” says Stilwell, who has cooked everything from tropical fish to moose.

The couple and their daughters — applied maths and physics student Alice, and Ruby, who got 8 distinctions for matric — are cooking their way through lockdown.

No longer able to meet for beer and burgers after indoor climbing with our friends on Tuesday nights, we are now doing virtual burgers. Minus the beers.

This year we can’t climb on Mother’s Day — my son’s Mother’s Day present to me when he was 10 was rock climbing with me on Table Mountain — but when lockdown is lifted, that’s where we’ll be again.

The trio of non-climbers I want to pay tribute to on Mother’s Day for the love they give my son are his much-loved godmothers — my sister Lynne Semple and friend Lynn Morris — and fairy-stepmother Jami Johnson-Darkoh.