Archive for the ‘Backpacking’ Category

I don’t typically advocate hitchhiking. So we introduced our method of returning to our car at the trailhead now 50K to the south with a disclaimer. Don’t hitchhike, children. Except when you’ve just been backpacking for days and you’re with your parents.

Figuring our family of four would not get picked up together, we split up. Dad & daughter vs. son & mom – let’s see who gets back to the car first. The daughter & dad duo got a ride out of the trail parking lot with some day hikers who had decided to change their starting point and agreed to take them back down the road.

Noah and I started walking from the hike parking lot towards the main road, and in a few minutes I heard a rumble behind us. I turned around and stuck out my thumb. The van pulled over, and we clambered in next to the couple’s dog. They were only going as far as the reservation, but could drop us at the intersection of the main road out of town, and were very sociable all the while.

That ride left us next to the tourist info office (note the whale behind Noah – though it had seen better days, the whale’s tail was not quite connected to the body anymore). We spent a half hour thumbing passing cars with no luck. I turned to Noah and suggested he smile some and look more adoptable. Then an SUV pulled over and it was a father & son duo we’d seen on the trail. Yahoo!

We were grateful they stopped and got to compare notes about our experiences on the trail. After awhile, we looked out to see the other half of our family on the roadside with thumbs out. They looked so darn cute I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t stopped for them. So we piled them into the backseat with Noah & I.  We were dropped at the trailhead turnoff, gave sincere thanks to our driver, and walked to our car.

Despite all of the dire warnings about break-ins at the trailhead, the car was untouched. We happily headed on to a grocery store where we got what looked good (fresh fruit & veggies, sandwiches, chocolate milk), and debriefed our family hitchhiking.

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Our 5-day backpacking trip was a challenging mix of water and trail. Like the more famous West Coast Trail, we got to climb ladders, cross boardwalks, navigate tree and suspension bridges, pick our way through bouldered beaches, and camp on sandy beaches (Mystic Beach, Chin Beach, and Sombio Beach). The last night in the woods at Payzant Creek wasn’t as interesting, although watching the waves crash onto the rock seemed very Hawaii-like.

We learned that the 19K day including the most difficult portion of the trail was a few kilometers too much, that we should pack extra extra food for the teen guy in the group, that the kids are strong hikers, and that our tried and true tenting and camping methods still work well.

We also love our new MSR Hyperflow pump, a recent birthday gift from my in-laws (thanks!).

Highlights included this amazing waterfall. The water has carved smoothly into the rock and the light on the green moss was amazing.

Another highlight was beach engineering and artwork. The sandy beaches were favored for these activities, which involved rerouting streamlets, building castles, and carving into the sand.

The surprise on day 5 was an octopus in the tidepool at Botanical Bay. He or she was quite large, at least 4-5 feet with tentacles extended, and swam right out of the kelp bed and around in front of us. We were amazed, having certainly never seen an octopus in the wild before.

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Spring break has one child heading for urban adventure in Washington DC, and the other headed to outhouse and campfire cooking on an island west of us. Two backpacks, two slightly different packing lists.

Usually we write out a list (4 pairs socks, polypro underlayer top & bottom, warm hat, etc.) and the child collects their choices into a pile on the floor. Then a parent takes a quick look for adjustments (“How about choosing some of your older t-shirts?”), adds equipment, and the child packs it into their backpack. We have been practicing this method since they were pre-school age – though then we helped fit the items into their packs or ours.

Now that they are teen and pre-teen, the packing goes quickly and I can appreciate all those little gear management techniques that have become second nature over the years. They know that the sleeping bag goes in first, to roll up their pants and shirts, to stuff their socks and underwear into the little crevices, and to put their book and journal in a sealable plastic bag for weather protection.

Launching ourselves out the door is becoming easier, but the self-reliant also have a lot more opinions on where they want to pack for. Thus, some different directions for us. Begun by school schedules that don’t have all of us on the same spring break, family adventuring this week means everyone is adventuring, just not in the same places. Wonder what memories everyone will pack to bring back home.

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Weathering the Weather

Whether the weather is “good” – do we get outside anyway?

The morning of our Grand Canyon hike it was snowing. The visibility was not good, and it felt bizarre to know that those amazing striated canyon walls were there, but unseen. I tried to focus more closely on the trail, the near walls we could see, helloing the few people we met, and talking as we hiked.

As we stepped to the side to let the mules pass, I hoped we were doing the right thing to continue on trusting the weather to improve. The snow was wonderful, beautiful, but I knew by the bottom it would be rain since you gain about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature between the rim and the river. Were we doing the right thing to go into a potentially chilly wet night in our tent? I never want to stretch the kids so far that they have a bad experience adventuring.

As we lost elevation, we ended up below the clouds. The rain was light, the visibility much better, and after we set up the tent we warmed up with hot chocolate in the Phantom Ranch cantina. Having brought extra sleeping pads and layers, we slept warm, and then we were lucky.

The next day was beautifully clear.

It doesn’t always work out that way of course. We had calculated we could live with a wet night and a six-hour hike out if it came to that, and chose to go knowing it might be uncomfortable. Whether the weather would have looked good enough to others – maybe not. Sometimes the adventure you plan for is different than the adventure you get. Maybe even often. But that’s also part of the fun of being active outdoors.

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While we welcome good food, a cozy fire, and time with extended family as much as anyone, we also think a break in the kids’ school schedule allows for a little outdoor adventure.

So we added Grand Canyon backpacking to our road trip of visiting friends and family.

We started down the 9.5 mile Bright Angel trail in a snowstorm, camped at the Colorado river, and then were lucky to have a bright and beautiful second day for the 7.5 mile South Kaibab Trail. The kids were amazing backpackers, interested in the layers of rock and the ever-changing terrain, and able to hike for several hours between packs-off rest stops. I was proud of their accomplishment and impressed by their fitness.

We trekked the most utilized trails in the Grand Canyon, but doing so in winter made the experience feel more remote than it was. Three days there wasn’t enough, and I think all of us would welcome more Grand Canyon adventures.

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P9130783Getting outside with my now teenager seems to involve a little more cajoling to interest him in an adventure. The weekend of the Mt. Baker Hillclimb (his sister and his dad tandem bicycled that), I proposed a mother-son overnight on a little mountain above where the hill climb would finish.

He was skeptical. Complained some. But eventually packed his backpack.

I made sure I had cider mix and good breakfast food, back up warm clothes, and enough water since it is a dry camp. But this time I made sure that he was carrying his share of the weight. And I promised him it was a short hike, but a supercool spot.

And it was.P9130789

Due to dropping off the hillclimbers to camp at what would be their start the next morning, we hit the trail after sunset. This turned out to be a highlight. Hiking with a headlamp makes a simple hike into an incredibly different experience. We felt our way, reached the top appreciating the trail with our remaining senses, and searched for a tent site by arcing the headlamp in circles around us. Did I mention I’d only brought one?

We saw millions of stars, I listened to him chatter in the tent while he skimmed Popular Science, and we awoke to a beautiful sunrise the next morning. Headlamp hiking is definitely to be repeated and the mother-son overnight was a success. He thought so too.

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P8290688Late summer and autumn hiking? It’s blueberry heaven out there. We picked cupfuls to have in pancakes or on cereal for breakfast, and everyone participated.

We had blue fingers from picking, and blue tongues from eating, and a certain girl in our party had blue lips from constant blueberry consumption. We wondered how bears eat blackberries. Do they aim for the berries but end up eating a mouthful of leaves most of the time? Do they somehow run their teeth across the plant stem, loosening the berries but not the leaves? Do their mouths turn blue too?


We didn’t see any bears, but we did see some very blueberry-influenced bear scat. There was an abundance of blueberry plants, so maybe the bears were working some other area. Like in the old children’s book Blueberries for Sal. I certainly thought of “kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk” from that book (the sound the berries made dropped into Sal’s pail), even though that wasn’t really the sound of blueberries dropped into my plastic cup.

Mostly we picked while wandering near camp, but of course on the way out people stopped even with their loaded packs on. No one even tipped over. Just touched up the blue on their mouths and fingers.

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The Well Filmed Trip

P8300746Once upon a time, my kids journaled when we went adventuring. We have notebooks of their words and drawings on our shelves, and I love how those can take us back to a trip as the kids experienced it. Nowadays, my son is completely into filmmaking, so it is camera and tripod, not pencil and paper, that travel with us.

On our last weekend-long backpacking trip, his equally into filmmaking friend came along. This led to the rest of us feeling rather well documented, as the boys each had a camera. And they spent a great deal of time with one filming, and the other calling out director notes.

This backpacking trip, on the heels of our 12-day bicycling trip which also included the son’s video camera, are getting me used to adventuring with a film crew. I suppose I need to modify our packing lists now, to include his video equipment. Or maybe I don’t. I doubt he’ll ever forget to pack it.

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The Weighty Truth

P8300759The kids’ backpacks were packed and weighed while I was at work. Then the parents not working on Friday hit the trail first with the girls and the two of us who worked that day came later with the boys.

Thus I did not know until I met up with my husband at camp that my son’s backpack only weighed 16 pounds. Funny that the son did not volunteer this information. Knowing that, I gave him the tent (another 6 pounds) to carry on the way out, bringing him up to 20% of his body weight.  Looks like we need to buy him a bigger backpack so he can take on a share of food and group gear. After all, he weighs 110 and is growing fast.

At age eleven, Dana carried 12 pounds, again lighter than I’d expected. She doesn’t weigh 90 pounds yet, but could still carry 17 pounds, if we stick to the 20% guideline. More important than the numbers however, is the fact that they didn’t seem weighted down. They picked blackberries, moved well on the trail, didn’t seem tired, and hiked for over an hour with water breaks but no pack-off-sit-downs.

Two families plus a friend, weather that held, great swimming, beautiful mountains. What a weekend.

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PB162499We’re planning a little backpacking venture this weekend. We’ll hike 3-4 miles in, set up camp, and then swim in the alpine lake and scramble the ridges above for a day or two.

This is a place we return to almost every summer, so I know the kids are very capable of the trail. But I wonder how much more of our gear those very capable kids can help carry. Of course, I googled it. Looks like there are percentages like 10-15- 20% out there, mainly in regards to carrying backpacks to school. For backpacking specifically, I found 25% of their weight.

I know my kids carried heavy packs in Mexico, walking for short periods as we traveled on and off buses and set up camp in different regions. At that time they carried everything they had: clothes for a week, a book, souvenirs. No way do I want them to carry that much on the trail. I want them to still be smiling even after an hour of hiking.

This week, we’ll watch the weight. And I’ll find a scale and weigh those packs, and report back here.

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