Ethan’s Guide to Adventuring with Kids

IMG_1583Outdoor adventures were a big part of my childhood.  My parents were taking me on hikes as a very young child.  My dad keeps a photo of him and I in his office; I’m all of a few months old, asleep in a child pack on his back.  I’ve attempted to give the same types of experiences to my children.  Eli has turned into quite the little hiker/adventurer, and we have every hope that Ezra will as well.

I’ve had a few folks over the past several years ask how best to get their families engaged with the outdoors.  So, I’ve decided to put together my suggestions into a blog post.  Take them with a grain of salt, as they are by no means definitive, but I hope the reader can find them useful.

1.  Start them young.  Kids that grow up having outdoor adventures tend to keep enjoying and seeking out adventures outside.  My siblings and I were going with my parents on hikes before we could walk, and Mel and I had Eli out in the mountains and wild spaces before he turned one.  Being outside won’t hurt them, as long as you use some common sense.  If your kids are older, it’s not too late!  In that case…

2.  Just get them outside, and go as a family!  The actual place is not as important as just being outside.  Richmond, where we live, is hours from the mountains.  However, as a family we have excellent outdoor adventures without even driving beyond the city limits by utilizing the city park system.  Most areas have fairly easy access to outdoor recreation areas with trails and woods/nature to explore, even if they do not have national or state parks and forests.

One of Eli's first hikes.  Nicholson Hollow, Shenandoah National Park

One of Eli’s first hikes. Nicholson Hollow, Shenandoah National Park

When you go, go as a family!  Make this a family adventure.  Its more meaningful that way, and more likely that the kids will have fun.  Plus, its good for you and your significant other too.  Take lots of pictures.  Take in a ranger or a naturalist program as a family, or let your kids do the Jr. Ranger program, if you find yourself in a national park.

Family hikes are awesome!  Barefence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park with Mel, Eli, Aunt Bonnie, and Grandma Zook

Family hikes are awesome! Barefence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park with Mel, Eli, Aunt Bonnie, and Grandma Zook

3.  Control your goal-oriented mindset.  This is perhaps the most important thing to think about when taking kids into the outdoors.  As adults, we tend to be goal oriented.  When we think about hiking, we think about it as a means to an end.  In other words, we focus on hiking a certain number of miles, climbing a certain amount of elevation, or reaching a certain point or peak.  In other words, we set a goal, and if we don’t attain the goal we generally view the hike as a failure.

Kids are very different.  Kids are generally not goal oriented to the same extent as adults, and tend to be more interested in what is going around them “right now.”  For kids, the joy is in the journey, and in exploring their surroundings as they discover them.  For a kid, a successful hike is one in which they had the most fun possible.

Dirt is important.

Dirt is important.

Practically speaking, this means that you may go hiking with your toddler and only cover 400 yards in an hour, because the toddler is spending so much time looking under rocks, playing in the dirt, exploring hollow trees, and watching squirrels.  And this is OK!  The hike is for them!

As you plan family hikes with young children, don’t feel the need to shoot for significant objectives like peaks, mileage, or altitude.  Save hiking to objectives for your own hikes, and remember you’ll have plenty of time when your kid(s) get older to take them on hikes like this.  With young children, shoot for quality time outdoors, and leave the goal-oriented mindset at home.

4.  Encourage exploration and getting dirty.  This is a sort of “part B” to the last post.  Encourage your little hikers to explore the world around them.  Look under rocks, check out the hollow tree, look at the different shapes that leaves come in, watch animals.  I spent hours trying to catch tadpoles, minnows, and salamanders in streams as a child, and it led to a life-long interest in nature and science.  It’s incredible for me to watch Eli as he crouches down and investigates beetles along the trail.  I don’t take him on hikes just to watch bugs, but right then he’s have a great time and that’s really what we’re out there for.

Cold weather hikes take a little more preparation to ensure that little hikers have a good time.

Cold weather hikes take a little more preparation to ensure that little hikers have a good time.

If it is safe to do so, allow your little hiker some independence.  I often allow Eli to explore without being directly behind or with him.  I choose the areas in which I allow him to explore very carefully, I keep him in sight, and am always ready to intervene, of course.  However, I want him to feel comfortable enough in the outdoors that he does not feel the need for me to be guiding his every move.  Additionally, don’t stress over dirty clothing and hands; this is not a time to worry about the kid messing up his new shoes.  Exploration can be messy.  When I was a child, I could not explore a creek without stepping in it eventually.

Hiking with Grandma.

Hiking with Grandma.

5.  Make your hikes kid friendly.  I wrote earlier about how you should check goal-oriented thinking at the door when hiking with kids.  This does not mean, however, that you can’t choose where you are going based on what it offers your children.  Eli loves the water, so we frequently include some time to play in water as part of our hiking trips.  This offers several advantages; first, it’s a fun experience that can be looked forward to and adds a great deal to the hiking trip.  Second, it allows us to stop walking, drop our packs, and create a place we can use as a “base camp” as we play in the water and explore the surrounding area.  Finally, it also gives us a chance to wash any poison ivy oils off which we may have gotten involved in.

In colder weather, my dad used to include a stop for hot chocolate at some point in the hike.  We would stop, make a “base,” my dad would boil water on a camp stove, and we’d drink instant hot chocolate.  This served the same purposes as swimming.  Additionally, on cold days it allowed us to hydrate and consume some calories, both of which are helped keep us warm.

Other ideas include taking some snacks along, stopping for a picnic at some point, or (if the area allows it) making a campfire and roasting marshmallows.

Ready with his backpack!

Ready with his backpack!

6.  Give them ownership and responsibilities.  Allowing little hikers some responsibility, and some ownership of the experience, is important.  It makes kids really buy in to the experience.  As a young child, my dad made me my own backpack so that I could carry my own equipment.  We gave Eli his own backpack when he started walking.  We also let Eli carry his own water bottle (a fairly small one) and his own flashlight.  Not only does the water bottle encourage hydration (very important) and the flashlight make the dark woods a lot less scary (also important), but they give him some responsibility and make him feel like he is an important parts of the hike rather than just along for the ride.  I also like giving Eli the responsibility of leading the way on the trail.

The Deuter Kid Comfort in action.

The Deuter Kid Comfort in action.

7.  Logistics, logistics, logistics.  The boy scout motto is “Be Prepared.”  I never was a boy scout, but its a motto I resonate with.  Make sure you have enough food/snacks and water for everyone, and make sure you have some extra in the car.  Little hikers get hungry and thirsty, and its important to keep blood sugar up and little bodies hydrated.  Since you’re beyond worrying about kids getting dirty, make sure you have extra clothing and shoes in the car.  Also, make sure you have the right equipment.  If your child is young and you plan to carry them, a good-quality child carrier backpack is a life and back saver.  I recommend the Deuter Kid Comfort, but there are some other excellent ones out there.  Bring a flashlight or a headlamp.  You never know when havoc will intervene, and when/if it does, you don’t want to be benighted without light.  Rain gear for everyone is also important, unless you can say unequivocally that there will be no rain (I’ve never managed that yet).  Research, and become an expert in, layering clothing.  Additionally…

8.  Do your research.  In the age of the Internet, there is no reason to go hiking blind.  Research the area you intend to go hiking in.  What’s the weather supposed to be like this time of year?  How hot or cold will it be?  Where is there gas, food, or other necessary items?  Personally, I prefer books and paper to the internet.  The Falcon Guides are a great series; you can find one about most national parks.  I also like looking at the topo map of the area before I go, just to get an idea of what the lay of the land is.

Have resources, will travel!

Have resources, will travel!

9.  Prepare for the inevitable scrapes, bruises, and cuts.  It will happen.  There is no way it can’t.  We’re talking about kids, remember?  They will fall, they will jump for rocks and miss, they will hit each other with sticks, and they will be stung/bit by insects.  Make sure you’re ready for it.  Buy a small first aid kit, or assemble it yourself.  Make sure you have any necessary prescribed or over-the-counter meds you may need.  Is little Johnny allergic to bee stings?  Then you should take his epi-pen.

Additionally, make sure you have the knowledge and training to use the first aid kit.  A wilderness first aid course is geared for outdoor enthusiasts rather than hard-core medical personnel, lasts two days, and is usually about $150.  I believe everyone that spends time in the outdoors should take one; I took WFA for the first time as an 18-year-old, and the increase in confidence I felt on completing it was significant.  I felt like I could handle almost anything that was thrown at me.

Hiking with mommy!

Hiking with mommy!

10.  Finally, shoes.  Young kids generally don’t need dedicated hiking boots.  For hiking, a good pair of sneakers with a closed toe and heel are sufficient.  Hinge boots really become useful when the amount of weight being carried increases, and additional foot and ankle support become important.  For swimming in non-domesticated water (that is to say, anything that isn’t a swimming pool), I recommend wearing either water shoes or sandals with a heel strap.  In our family, we wear sandals (not flip-flops, as they easily float off) overtime we swim in water other than swimming pools.  This is to protect our feet against sharp rocks, sticks, glass, and fishing hooks which may be lurking at the bottom.

If you have any questions or additions, feel free to let me know.  Good luck, and happy hiking!


So…It’s Climbing Season Again…

The jumbled mess...what a heap...

The jumbled mess…what a heap…

Spring has sprung with a vengeance!  As I write this, sitting on post in my (barely air-conditioned) ambulance, the temperature is in the mid-80’s, with clear blue skies and bright sun.  This can only mean one thing.

Climbing season has begun.

Each year, at the beginning of the season, I try to do a little organization/maintenance on my gear.  So, last week, I pulled my climbing pack from hibernation.  I dumped all my climbing gear out onto the living room floor, forming an untidy, but colorful jumble.  The cats were immediately interested and curious.  Milo, the new kitten (dumb as a rock, incidentally) had never seen the process.  He immediately began picking through the gear, sniffing everything.  Oliver, who had seen this foolishness before, sat nearby.  Though he pretended that he wasn’t interested, he kept a close eye on the proceedings.

"Never Stop Exploring."

“Never Stop Exploring.”

My helmet got a wipe down to remove some of the grime and scuffs from the winter.  I haven’t been able to wear my helmet as much in the past year as I’d like, so it had spent a lot of time in my backpack.  In fact, I think the last time I climbed while wearing it was last spring.  My dad and I spent a day at Seneca, and climbed Conn’s West, a (very exposed) 5.4-5.5.  As I cleaned it, I noticed the North Face sticker on the top, and I couldn’t help but think about TNF’s slogan:  “Never Stop Exploring.”  It’s seriously my favorite marketing phrase, from any company, anywhere.  While I try not to be a hyper-consumeristic individual, I have no problem admitting that TNF’s marketing campaign resonates with me.  In fact, I’d probably make it my blog’s slogan, but it’s a trademark and I’d probably get in trouble.

Gear in need of re-taping.

Gear in need of re-taping.

I also spent some time inspecting each piece of hardware, making sure that the gates and locks on the carabiners were functional, and making sure that my ATC isn’t developing sharp edges.  I’ve had this ATC since I was 13, and it actually holds some sentimental value for me (someday I’ll share that  story).  I also replaced tattered marking tape on the pieces that needed it, and put new tape on some recent acquisitions (mostly Black Diamond stoppers and a few pear-shaped ‘bieners).  I spent a good amount of time checking my runners and webbing.  Two years ago, a climber fell to his death after a mis-tied knot in his anchor webbing failed.  I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to me!  So, I spent a few minutes with each runner, making sure there were no rips/damage to the material, and making sure the knot was sound and fully complete.

I re-racked and organized everything so it was easy to use.  No more jumbled mess!

Now I just need a day…

Oh, that's much better!  Milo and Oliver had to make themselves part of the process.

Oh, that’s much better! Milo and Oliver had to make themselves part of the process.

Planning an Epic, Dream Adventure

I have some time on my hands today.  Basically, I’m doing odd jobs, and if they don’t have any odd jobs for me, I wait.  While I’ve been waiting, I’ve been trip planning.

My high school sent us on trips every other year, called Mini-Term.  Basically, it was a week in a small-group environment, led by a teacher, doing something educational outside of school.  Some groups put their study of French and Spanish to use, others focused on the history of tidewater Virginia, some groups dug deeper into choral music, and other groups focused on short-term mission trips.  When I was in 11th grade, I signed up for the mini-term which flew to Oregon, and spent the week learning some basic mountaineering skills.  We spent the first day climbing South Sister, a 10,358′ tall extinct volcano.  I had an amazing time, I learned a lot, and I gained a huge appreciation for big, western mountains.  Now don’t get me wrong; I love the mountains here on the east.  But the scale out west is on a different level.  I’ve dropped some pictures into this post.  Bear in mind; these photos were taken in 2004, digital cameras were not as good as they are now, and I was a dorky (no, seriously, very dorky), 135 pound, pimply 17-year-old.  Be kind.

These are the Three Sisters from a nearby highway.  I took these photo after we finished climbing.  From left to right, South, Middle, and North.

These are the Three Sisters from a nearby highway. I took this photo after we finished climbing. From left to right, South, Middle, and North.

A group photo on summit day.  That's me, last in the line, on the right.

A group photo on summit day. That’s me, last in the line, on the right.

Summit!  I'm down far left, in the maroon fleece jacket and the green/black cap, with the sunglasses.

Summit! I’m down far left, in the maroon fleece jacket and the green/black cap, with the sunglasses.  Middle and North Sisters are behind us.

Ever since that trip I’ve been fascinated by Oregon.  I swore I would make it back out west someday.  I actually went through a period last year where I basically spent my evenings ogling northwestern mountains on Google Earth.  While looking at the Sister’s range, I saw a possibility.  Today, I’ve had a chance to actually consider what it would look like.

It appears that a traverse of all three Sisters is possible; there is even a pretty logical route.  In fact, there is an established trail for most of it.  It doesn’t appear to be “hard-core” mountaineering, though knowledge of moving through glaciated terrain would be needed (there are some crevasses in the area).  I’m positive it’s been done before, but I haven’t found any reports or documentation of it (granted, I haven’t really looked hard).  Still, it would feel pretty epic for me.

I’ve found all my resources online.  In their own words, the Mazamas “[were] founded in 1894 on the summit of Mt. Hood, [and are] a nonprofit mountaineering education organization located in Portland, Oregon.  Mazamas offers over 900 hikes and 350 climbs annually for over 13,000 participants.”  Their website is invaluable, and includes topo maps of many classic climbs in Oregon, Washington, and California.  I’ve been poring over the maps of the Sisters.  I’ve also been using good ol’ GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth.

So, what follows is “Ethan’s Contemplative Three Sister’s Traverse.”  We begin at the beginning.

Day 1:  We’ll start at the red square.  I had to zoom way out so that the entire first bit would be visible, so the resolution is not great (sorry), but the road there is called the Cascade Lakes Highway.  The trail begins at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, right at Devil’s Lake, at an elevation of around 5,600 feet.  We then climb (my route is the red arrows) up through a ravine, following a stream, to a trail junction at 6,680 feet.  That’s an elevation gain of 1,200 feet over around 1.4 miles.  Steepish, but not impossible.  At the trail junction, we take the right and ascend to 7,120′, camping at the moraine lake (for an early morning start the next day).


Day 2, Part 1:  Wakey Wakey!  Bright and early alpine start!  The second day has some serious elevation to tackle.  Starting from Camp 1 at 7,120′, we climb steadily 1,320′ up the flank of South Sister to the 8,440′, in a small saddle.  We then climb the ridge above the Lewis Glacier onto the summit ridge around the volcanic crater.  The summit is at 10,358′.  Time to celebrate the first summit!


Day 2, Part 2:  Enjoy the summit for a bit, then off towards the second summit.  Heading north, we follow the North Ridge Route and drop into the gap filled with rolling hills between South and Middle Sisters.  The route loses about 3,000′, coming to a natural camp/rest spot at Camp Lake.  For argument’s sake, we’ll say we aren’t trying to do this in a day, and we’ll make camp for the night at Camp Lake, at around 6,920′ elevation.




Day 3, Part 1:  Day three will be a loooonnnnggg day.  There aren’t too many good spots to camp between Middle and North Sisters, so both can be done in one push.  So it’s another alpine start, this time for the summit of Middle Sister.  The route ascends 3,000′ to the summit of Middle Sister (at 10,047′) following the Southeast Ridge.


Day 3, Part 2:  Descend Middle Sister via the North Ridge to the Hayden Glacier, a drop of around 800-1000′.  Now, there is a choice to make.  We could follow the blue arrows (and the trail), and head east down the Hayden Glacier, only to catch another trail headed back in the other direction (uphill, making up the pretty much 1000′ we lost while following the Hayden Glacier).  Have you ever noticed how, if you misspell “trail” it becomes “trial,” as in “trial by fire?”  That’s what this option would amount to.  The second (far more appealing) option, in my opinion, is to continue north (following the red arrows) along the source of the glacier, and connecting to the main trail on the other side.    Then, it’s 1,000′ up the southwest ridge of North Sister onto the summit ridge, with the summit (at 10,000′) located nearby.


Day 3, Part 3:  The climb isn’t over until you’re down.  We’ll follow the north ridge of North Sister, descending quickly on exhausted legs.  About halfway down the ride, we’ll face a choice.  We could continue on the North Ridge proper (blue arrows), which would take us around the north edge of smaller peak called Little Brother.  Or, we could follow the Northwest Ridge, which would take us on the south side of Little Brother.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; both trails converge.  Camp 3 would be somewhere below the tree-line.



Day 4:  Easy, downhill cruise out to Old McKenzie Highway, for the pickup.  I should note, it’s possible to make this a loop, but it would take us way down the east side of the maps.

I’m not going to attempt to quantify the elevation gain vs. elevation loss.  Ending elevation is 4,600′, so net elevation would be a 1,000′ loss.  My feeling is that during the summer/”otherwise warm season,” this would be a fairly high elevation, steep, but easy backpacking trip.  During the winter, it looks like it would be a moderately technical mountaineering trip.

So, who would be interested in this?  Anyone wanna go as a partner?  Anyone want to pay a large amount for me to guide them on it (kidding…sort of…)?   I’m going to try to set up a Google Earth flying tour of the route at some point.  Stay tuned for that!


Weekly Video–Yosemite National Park Time Lapse

Last week I posted a video by Anson Fogel called “Cascada.”  Incidentally, Anson Fogel is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.

This week, I’m posting a time-lapse video of Yosemite National Park made by a group called Project Yosemite.  As before, for best results maximise the screen, turn the lights down, and turn of the volume.  Enjoy!

Daddy and Eli Test a Baby Pack! The Deuter Kid Comfort II

360x500_3163_KidComfortII_StormAnthraciteWay back when Melissa and I first found out that Eli was on the way, we started “Bean Updates” on the blog.  In the first one, we talked about the baby carrier we wanted for taking the baby hiking.  We raved about how much we liked the look of the Deuter Kid Comfort II pack.  If you need a reminder, you can read that post here.  And here is an image of said pack, just to remind you.

We finally got Eli’s pack (joined REI’s co-op while we were at it.  More on that later).  As soon as we finished paying, Melissa and I looked at each other, and pretty much simultaneously exclaimed “We need to test it!”  So that afternoon, we pulled on our hiking clothing, loaded our gear, strapped the Tiny Boy into his car seat, and headed for the closest hiking terrain–which happened to be Pocahontas State Park.

Let’s face it, Richmond does not have the hiking resources that Harrisonburg did.  In Harrisonburg, we could have driven 30 minutes in either direction, and had our pick of Shenandoah National Park or the George Washington National Forest.  Richmond pretty much has Pocahontas State Park, located about 20 minutes away.  Despite being comparatively small, there are plenty of hiking trails, it only costs $5 to get in, and turns out to have a very nice campground.  It was the perfect place to put the new pack through it’s paces.  We decided to hike the Beaver Lake Trail, a 2.5 mile loop around a scenic lake.

Just getting started.  So far, so good.  You can see the super-convinenent side opening seat, that allows loading wiggly passengers from the side, rather than trying to "thread the needle" from the top.

Just getting started. So far, so good. You can see the convenient side opening seat, that allows loading wiggley passengers from the side, rather than trying to “thread the needle” from the top.

Eli wasn’t too sure about the pack at first.  This is a kid who hates being strapped down, and would rather be out scooting around under his own power.  Sitting still is not his idea of a good time.  Once we got him in the pack and moving, he loved it.  He was able to be up and get a good view of the area around him (he loves being able to see).  He was also able to be close to mommy and daddy.  Mommy was right there, and could come up beside the pack to talk to him.  He loved it when I would bounce him around, and the steady rocking as we walked eventually (almost) put him to sleep.

On my end, I loved the suspension system.  The hip belt made it easy to care pack and baby.  Honestly, it felt just like carrying my standard climbing pack.  The pack has a clip on the side, which allows easier loading of the occupant.  Instead of having to “thread the needle” and place a wiggling child into the carrier straight down from the top, the side can unclip, and the pack can be loaded from the side.  Much easier.  The shoulder straps inside keep the tiny passenger securely seated in a very comfortable seat.  The trunk length is also adjustable, so 5’4″ Melissa can carry the pack, and 5’11” me can take over easily at any time.  The pack stands on it’s own as well with a retractable stand.  And the small looking pack underneath the child’s seat is actually quite roomy, and can swallow a daypack amount of gear pretty easily.  It’s also hydration system compatible, so I can clip my camelback water bladder into a hidden pocket.

The suspension system is very comfortable, and very easy to adjust.

The suspension system is very comfortable, and very easy to adjust.

I wish it had better carrying pockets for a Nalgene sized water bottle.  While there are mesh pockets, they are better for carrying bottles, baby toys, and sippy cups.  A standard sized water bottle would not fit.

Despite the shortcoming I mentioned above, we already love this pack!  We are anticipating a lot of good use out of it, both with Eli and with future little brothers and sisters.  This pack fulfills everything I’ve come to expect from Deuter!

The pack stands on it's own, but always be nearby when you have stand it up.  A determined, wiggle passenger could turn it over pretty easily.

The pack stands on its own, but always be nearby when you have stood it up. A determined, wiggley passenger could turn it over pretty easily.  That pack under the seat is bigger than it looks.

Eli gives this one his seal of approval!

Eli gives this one his seal of approval!