Ever since moving back to Montana, our family has gone on an annual backpacking trip. The first year we went, the girls were ages 3 and 9. And this year at age 3, it was Eli’s third trip. Since he was born, for some reason, everyone else heads out a few days before I do, so I end up backpacking by myself with with just him and our aging Boxer, Roo. It is only a three mile hike one way, but when you are carrying or hiking with a toddler, it can be a challenge. Add the old dog, and you might even have your hands full. In the six years we have been doing this, we have never seen other families, until this year and I counted four! We backpacked into Coquina Lake, located in the Selway Wilderness on the Montana/ Idaho border.
I was too chicken to backpack with him when he was three months old, but in retrospect, there really is no reason why I couldn’t have. With him being as small and lightweight as he was, it would have been so easy. I guess I was scared that if something would have happened, I would be too far away for help. What I have realized, is that it is well worth it, to haul a toddler up a mountain. I have learned so many things from these experiences with him. For something that I absolutely dreaded until I did it, I am so grateful that I did it, all by myself, for three years in a row. I have enjoyed all of my trips with the girls, but I have learned more from him than I have with them, and truly understand why people should backpack with their kids.
Spend Quality Time Together– When it is just you, your child and nature, there are no distractions like you have in every-day life. No emails or phone ringing, no rushing off to work. In these moments you can truly focus on your experiences and interactions with each other. The memories we have made are priceless. We can chat while we hike or just be silent, but those moments are perfection. One of my favorite memories was when he was a year old. Eli wasn’t even walking at that age, he had decided he wasn’t going to walk until he could run. He didn’t want to stay in the backpack, so I put him down and he crawled around in the dirt. A younger couple was coming down the mountain and Eli had crawled into a bush. He popped out right in front of them and growled like a bear. The look on their faces… it still makes me laugh.
Everything Is Awesome– My son had to examine everything. I think we stopped every ten feet to look at something: a bug, a leaf, a rock. I got to see things through his eyes: a naive wonder at what is out in the world. The joy on his face as he explored made my heart happy. Things that I take for granted and don’t even notice, were things he thought were the best things in the world. I can’t remember the last time I examined a rock or watched ants or sniffed dirt.
Take Your Time – Because it has been just him and I, we can go as fast or as slow as we want to. I know when I get to our camping spot, I won’t have to worry about making dinner or getting to bed on time. We stop as often as we need to, and go with the flow. I think if we had rushed, both of us would have missed some great moments and memories. Because we took our time this year, Eli and I made it to the lake right at sunset and we got to see the most epic sunset ever.
Children Can Climb Mountains– There is that moment when you reach the top of a peak or ridge, that makes you feel invincible. For children, it is the same way. As short as their legs are, they can go just as far as adults and just as high. Watching him this year at the top of a summit, giggling with arms spread way and yelling “Woohoo!” will always be something I treasure. When kids are that small, they don’t have the fear of trying to things or of failing that we have learned, unfortunately, as adults. Goals are more attainable for them because they haven’t learned those negative mindsets.
Love The Outdoors– Children are never too young to learn about the beauty of nature. It’s fun to stop and check out animal poop or peer down at animals tracks. We saw bear, deer, bird and fox tracks, which was really cool. Even when kids are that young, they can appreciate the beauty and awe of mountain vistas. Now that he is talking more, he kept exclaiming “How Beautiful”, after every bend of the trail. Eli enjoyed every rock and every stick and every animal that we saw. He especially enjoyed the very frequent stops, so he could look around and absorb it. My little guy loves to be outside more than my other two kids.
Respect Nature– Backpacking with him has been a great way to teach him the Leave No Trace Principles. Eli loves to hike with a granola bar in one hand, the whole way. He was very careful about sticking the wrappers in his pocket. This last trip was also a great opportunity to remind him to not pick the flowers or yell at the chipmunks or squirrels. He also learned trail etiquette when another family hiked past us and to not wander off of the trail. In the muddy spots, he was particular about staying on rocks instead of making a mess in the mud or going around it. This was a great opportunity to teach him this before he learned bad habits, and a great reminder for me too.
I know that not all of my readers have kids or spend time outside. But, these are things adults can learn and experience too. It doesn’t take backpacking up a mountain to experience these things, maybe just a different perspective. A great way to do this, is to check out the guided activities in the book Put On Your Owl Eyes, especially if you aren’t fortunate to have the mountains and forests in your backyard. What are some other reasons that parents should backpack with kids? And if you can’t backpack, what other activities can you do to have similar experiences? o on adventures with your children, or without, and be outside with no limits. Love, Pauline