It’s taken me nearly two months, but here I am, with proof of the mythical winter backpacking trip with both kids. I knew you wouldn’t believe me without pictures. If these look a little weird, it’s because they were taken on prototype smart glasses currently in development by my husband. I wasn’t about to pack in my DSLR camera, but, you know, the proof.
Against all odds, it was a very successful trip. We bought warm layers for the kids and a new sleeping bag for Corin at REI, but the real key, I believe, is to start with very low expectations. I went into the weekend assuming I would not sleep for two nights, everyone would be freezing cold, the kids would wail, and it would hopefully all be part of the adventure. Imagine my surprise when all four of us slept well and warmly both nights. Turns out cramming two adults and two children into a two-man tent is a good way to keep everyone toasty. We car camped (our term for pulling into a camping spot rather than hiking in) at Cedars of Lebanon State Park the first night and then drove the next morning to the Virgin Falls trailhead in the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness. We hiked about 1 1/2 miles in to an awesome campsite beside a small waterfall (not the actual Virgin Falls), one of the prettiest backpacking spots I’ve experienced. Thanks to dear friends and fellow adventurers David and Kelli for suggesting the location. (The waist belt buckle on my trusty Mountainsmith pack broke on the hike in, but with a little help jury rigging with knots, it wasn’t too bad.) Corin was a champ on the trail with his little Lightning McQueen backpack and one of daddy’s hiking poles, and as long as we kept moving, Lina was content with her spot in the carrier on daddy’s back.
Temperatures the first night got down to the upper 20s, and the second night it was right around freezing. That night, Corin stepped in the creek in pursuit of a run-away hiking pole and got soaking wet to his knees, which necessitated a strip-down. He ate his dinner cuddled up in his sleeping bag inside the tent while his brand new long underwear and SmartWool socks, along with his pants and shoes, dried by the fire. Unfortunately, we at some point stoked the fire without moving his clothes and realized shortly thereafter that we had incinerated a rather pricey collection of winter clothing. The hiking boots thankfully survived unscathed.
I suppose to some people, this would have equaled a disastrous trip. David and Kelli worried about us, but remember, we started with very low expectations. The kids were sleeping warmly in the tent, we were freezing but enjoying good conversation around the fire, and we were outdoors, under the stars, with a waterfall roaring its soundtrack.
Jon had to leave town on a business trip the next day, meaning we had to break camp and hustle back out very early the next morning. The promise of a rare McDonald’s breakfast moved Corin down the trail at an impressive pace, and we made the trailhead in great time. We stopped at a truck stop for Jon to shower (yes, really) and made it to the airport right on schedule. I ferried two very tired and grubby kids home and scrubbed us all clean. We spent the rest of the day lazing about in a perfect post-adventure lethargy.
I’ve said before that the secret to having adventures with your kids is to just do it. Yes, it’s going to be exhausting and complicated, and yes, it might be easier to stay home. Sometimes, it’s okay to make that call. (Notice we don’t take these trips very often.) But sometimes, we marshall our strength and opt for the messy adventure. I want my kids to remember backpacking weekends. I want them to know what it feels like to wake up in the outdoors. I want them to know what the woods smell like in winter, and how food tastes after you’ve hiked long enough to earn it. I don’t have any research to back this up, but I’m betting families who backpack together fare better than average.
So, there you have it: our first backpacking trip as a family of four. It won’t be our last.