Submitted by: Christian
The backcountry is a bit like an adults-only resort. You can expect that your sleep will not be interrupted by the screams of a toddler – or your meal at a shared-picnic table for that matter. There are lots of really good reasons why parents choose not to hike for 44 kilometres with a two-year-old – but when our friends invited us to join them on the Skyline Trail, one of the classic backcountry hikes of the Rockies, we decided to see for ourselves if family trekking was a good idea.
While we had done short excursions into the backcountry with our son Paul, they were limited to small hikes into easily accessible sites, usually overnight. We didn’t have to worry as much about weight, weather, wildlife or family sleeping patterns, and we could always pull the plug and hike out six or eight kilometres to the car. This hike was different, our exit strategies involved at least 12 kilometres back to a road, and then hitchhiking back to our car. Unsurprisingly, we found that everything that makes the backcountry challenging was amplified with a toddler!
RAIN, MOSQUITOES AND BEARS…
We had rain on our first night, which meant that we spent 4 hours in the tent with a toddler who had spent the day in a backpack for the 12 km hike in. Need I say more? Tantrums in a three foot square wet tent are stressful, especially when other campers are only a few feet away. Oh, and did I mention the clouds of mosquitoes? By 10 pm, we had decided to hike out at first light, and to never stray from car-camping sites with a child again. On the other hand, who needs bearspray when you have a toddler acting as a deterrent?
TODDLERS MAKE FOR HIGH MAINTENANCE CAMPERS
No surprise here either… eating and sleeping are complex in the comfort of your own home, but no amount of lightweight (expensive) backcountry gear and gourmet re-hydrated meals can trump the demands of a toddler. There are more no-nos than usual (no playing in the river, walking in the mud, touching the marmot, running along the cliff…) at a time when Paul is looking for more control than ever before. Protecting him from the elements and keeping him comfortable took most of our attention, and took at least one of us out of commission at any point in time. Oh, and did I mention we’re potty training?
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN?
Luckily, the weather perked up long enough for us to decide to stick with it. While all the discomforts of the backcountry may be amplified with a toddler, the pleasures are as well. The views were spectacular and the 45 pound load of a child meant that our pace allowed us more time to appreciate them. We also found ourselves pointing out wild flowers, rock formations, animals and plants to Paul, sometimes stopping for 10 minutes at a time just to throw rocks in the brook or play in the snow. While he may not have walked to the summit, Paul certainly shared our pride in having climbed it. In fact, he seemed to take ownership of the whole experience, maybe coming close to the feeling I have of conquering the mountains climbed.
DON’T TRY THIS ALONE…
We were lucky to do this trip with such excellent friends. When we were out of patience and burnt out with Paul, they stepped in to entertain and childmind. They made dinner (boiled water and poured it in our pouches) so we could set up camp or deal with poop and other toddler situations. They accepted our snail’s pace, Paul’s screams and sang along for hours as we belted out every song we knew on the trail (including The Wheels on the Bus for approximately four kilometres.) They even trucked Paul 9 kilometres of a fire road in 27 degree heat and made him giggle the whole time. It was great to do the trail as a family, but even better to do it with friends.
WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?
Of course! But not for a few years. Paul will officially be too heavy to carry next year, even if we have a better pack. Which is another important learning – aside from a good child carrier and weather appropriate clothing, no fancy children’s gear is required.