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Hiking strenuous, difficult and even sometimes moderate trails have you noticed that there more hikers with dogs (at least where dogs are allowed) than with children younger than 8. Does is mean that among serious hikers parents are dramatically outnumbered by dog owners? Alternatively does it mean that dog owners are statistically more dog lovers than parents are children lovers? Could the dog owners care about the health and well being of their dogs more than the parents care about the development of character, fitness, appreciation and connection to nature among their children?
Hiking with children especially children as small as 3 or 4 years requires a lot from their parents.
Time. sometimes twice as much as for adult hiking. Readiness to sacrifice some personal pleasure and pride of climbing achievement for the sake of the whole family experience that may be mush less impressive and less elevated ;
Patience . Self control. Tenacity Discipline. those things are essential for success in adult climbing and top level hiking. But with small children it is even more important. You are taking responsibility not only for yourself but for your children that may be harder to do than it sounds.
Family coherence. You should have a good rapport with you spouse if you are not a single parent family.
Courage to trust yourself, your spouse and your children. Courage to take responsibility and assume leadership.
Also hiking perants need to be in a good shape, having extra energy and coordination to carry extra stuff ( water, food, plenty of worm dress ), including a possibility of caring your small ( up to 3 years) children for some time on a descend.
Many of those qualities are not inherited but may be developed. They may be developed not only for adults but for children too, including very young children. The building of a character I consider as a development of most of those and some other qualities.
Character makes a difference between failure and success, between happiness and despair of too many people to be neglected even now in US. Weather your kid would go to a good college, get the job or a spouse that she or he really loves and will be happy for the rest of his/her life, may be as much or even more defined by a person’s character than his/her intelligence, good looks or even income of his/her perents. Perhaps in contemporary US it is very seldom that character makes a difference between life and death, beyond the life of people who have to fight some serious progressing illnesses like cancer. . But there used to be a time when character was often needed for survival almost everywhere in the world.
Personally I don’t know the better or at least more harmonious and natural way to build the child character at the very early age than hiking, scrambling and climbing with them.
Not every hiker that has small children would easily find all or most of above mentioned qualities in his or her family. But many can . .
Usually children start walking much earlier than they can be taught how to swim, ride bicycle or serf. As soon as they started to walk it may be the right time to start hiking with them if you have a plenty of time and patience for this . My younger daughter Alice Bukasov was 15 month of age when she walked with hand support 3 miles up the trail to Dog Lake with 2000 ft elevation gain. She fall asleep and was carried down in a child carrier. For about two years she was not given another chance to hike for more than a mile or two. she was carried for up to 14 miles a day instead. The reason for this was that her 22 month older sister Yunona was far from sleepy after hiking 3 or even 6 miles up. In fact for a couple of years Yunona was a hiking star of our family. Or may be Alice was just light enough to be carried.
Yunona Bukasov got sleepy after 8 miles hiking on Timpanagos, but only after walking to the summit 11750 ft with some hand support in 4500 ft elevation gain hike and descending about 0.5 miles from the summit at the age of 3 years 2 month. She walked 18 miles ( 3-4 miles on snow) at the age of 3 year 4 month. At the age of 4 she day hiked 12 miles round trip to Mt. Elbert 14433 ft from a lower trailhead (4800 ft elevation gain )and walked about 25 miles in 13.5 hours on a paved road mostly in Big cottonwood canyon near Salt Lake City. At the age of 4 and 10 month Yunona day hiked to the bottom of Grand Canyon and up to the South Rim (17 miles).
At the age of 5 she day hiked Mt. Whitney 22 miles 6000 ft elevation gain and in 18 hours.
Our family including Alice and my 5.5 month pregnant wife got united in a hike to Grinnell Glaicier (11.5 miles , Glaicier NP) on the next day after Yunona and I hiked Highland Trail and Swiftcurrent pass, descending to Many Glaciers ( about 15 miles or more) . Alice and my 5.5 month pregnant wife did really well on it.
Certainly I do not consider Yunona genetically uniquely gifted for hiking if her sister can do about the same hikes at about the same age. This year my 4 and 6 year girls Yunona and Alice Bukasov day hiked 16 miles to the bottom of Grand Canyon and back to Bright Angel Trailhead r, to the Cabels of Half Dome from Happy Isles in Yosemite (15 or 16 mies) They hiked to Mt. Cameron and Mt Lincoln in Colorado with no acclimatization starting the hike at 2.15 pm .
Recently Yunona and Alice hiked Mt Timpanogos (14.5 miles, 4500 ft elevation gain to 11750 ft) in 10 hour 30 min on a windy day with absolutely no hand support or complains. They did it about as fast as an average adult.
Yunona hiked Little Matterhorn or Pffiferhorn in Wasatch
and Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain in Colorado (14256ft) with absolutely no hand support.
Yunona Bukasov is doing very well in terms of her mental development as well. How many 6 year old children do 6 and 7 grade math? She could square 14, 15, 16 (not memorizing the table but calculating in mind ) at the age of 5 years and 3.5 month, just after 80 days of being introduced to multiplication Yunona knows about 100 countries in the world and their capitals at the age of 6. Alice to the contrary is not yet shinning intellectually. She does not read at the age 4 years 5 month when Yunona was reading in 2 languages (Russian and English). But the explanation for this may be simple: Alice did not get nearly as much as attention as her sister from her parents, who are both pretty busy as Phd students in science than her older sister.
For those who are not even trying to hike with children I would say
"Those who want to do something that is not easy, will do it, those who really don’t want, will find excuses for not doing it. "
We had a plenty of strong excuses not to start hiking with their children.
Have your ever seen a parent pushing up a steep canyon road a bycicle with one 3 year old child sitting in seat, while carring another 15 month child in child carrier for 6 or 7 miles up a steep canyon road just to get to a trailhead, exluding 2 -3 hour of biking with those children. Just living bellow poverty line even in Salt Lake City and having no car for a family of 4 might be enough for almost everyone to keep family hiking of Matterhorn or Timpanogos out of imagination.
Just unleash your imagination.
In the next article that I am planning to write, I will bring a more detailed account of how our family hiking story started. I plan to write another article with some chronology of our kids hiking development and some advices that might be helpful for a hiking perents.
Good luck , persistence and joy for those who already are or getting on this track.