After staving off hypothermia the previous night, we were on our way the third day with wet socks and jackets flapping from our packs. Again the Northern Loop presented us with a challenge…after Yellowstone Cliffs is perhaps the steepest part of the trail. We now had to descend 3000 feet in 2.8 miles…my poor knees. We forged on down endless switchbacks. It was truly beautiful forest, although I had to walk slowly (and often sideways).
Last summer while visiting the Pacific Coast with my kids, I found the Pacific Northwest so beautiful that I decided to go back and do some backpacking. So early September a year later my 15 year old son and I flew to Seattle to hike the Northern Loop Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park. The Northern Loop covers nearly 40 miles in the northern and most remote section of the park and is considered strenuous with an elevation gain of ~9000 feet.
It is a steeply up, steeply down trail with little in the way of flat. So I spent the summer exercising and lightening my backpacking gear to prepare for the trip. I also frequented the weather report leading up to the trip. The last report predicted cool temps with some chance of rain the first two days of the hike and sunny and warmer the last two days. I was happy and felt prepared. And yet…Mount Rainier is a mammoth mountain sitting near the Pacific coast. They say the mountain makes it’s own weather.
Turns out, they are right.
My Eritrean friend looked at me for a long time and then said, “Only white people do crazy things.” Well, that’s up for debate, but I had just told him that in addition to going backpacking the coming weekend with my 12 year old daughter, my 14 year old son would be backpacking by himself. To my friend who had grown up in war torn Eritrea, doing anything “dangerous” by choice was crazy. Rock climbing, backpacking, sky diving…these things that “white people” do for no reason and yet endanger us were beyond his understanding.
Backpacking with kids is immensely rewarding. For me and for them. I encourage anyone with kids to try it. Start them young, start them slow. And know their limitations.
But don’t be scared. They can do so much more than you think. So can you.
I have backpacked with my kids more than a dozen times, and never once with another adult, or a man, or a gun, or cell service. Sure things go wrong. But no one is going to get eaten by a bear or fall off a cliff. Overcoming the inevitable mishaps is part of the journey. And the confidence gained by accomplishing, conquering, and persevering is lifelong.
To wander. To explore, travel, experience. It brings me life. I wander through forest, down ravines, across meadows, along beaches, over rocks and logs, scramble up bluffs. If I’m outside, I’m happy. So naturally my kids were going to love the outdoors as well. But with a wonderful husband that doesn’t particularly enjoy being outside I wasn’t sure how much I could accomplish.