Love of Hiking
There are many things that draw us to the trail: fresh air, nature, being “one” with the mountain, the exhilaration of reaching the peak, and the humility of having to turn back are only a very few. Hikers feel a passion about their “hobby” that they often wish to share with those they care about.
This passion, often, creates in a sense of ecological responsibility. If these spectacular trails are to be with us into the future, there are things that must be considered, “rules” that must be followed. Pack in, Pack out; leave no trace. Both encompass a large set of guidelines that have been put into place to help keep in place all that is so endearing about hiking.
It only seems natural, then, that parents who have been captured by the allure of hiking wish to share this with their children, to teach them young how to respect and preserve nature. It is a well-known fact that the earlier one starts with children, the easier and more engrained it will become. Children love to be out of doors, observing all around them. Taking them along should be a way to bond, to learn, and a joy.
Children love to plan. They love to be part of something, especially when that something is a favorite pass time of mommy/daddy. As we all know, hiking takes some planning. Granted, the more you do it, the less planning is necessary. But there is always the considerations of where, how long, what supplies to bring, and (my kids favorite) what are we going to EAT? The more that a child is allowed to be part of this planning stage, they more they will come to see hiking as something that THEY do, not something that WE do and they just come along for the ride.
As wonderful and rewarding as it can be to bring children with you when hiking, there are quite a few things that must be considered and kept in mind. Obviously, one of the first things to consider is how difficult and long the planned trip will be. Is it very steep? Very long? Exposed? From your experience with your own children (and common sense), you should be able to determine if the trip is even possible for your children to achieve. Many of the “Best Hikes of” books highlight those that are good for children. In this, it isn’t only a matter of enjoyment, but also one of safety.
There is also the issue of who carries what. I am a believer that to teach a child to truly love hiking, they must learn from the beginning hiking at its best; including the backpack. Again, it is obvious that a very little one probably isn’t able to carrying much, if anything. Heck, depending on the age, you may end up carrying them. However, as they get older, they can carry a small day pack. At first, it may only contain some snacks, maybe water, maybe a few items of cloths. As they get older, however, they can carry their emergency supplies and begin to split the rest of the gear. This way, hiking has always included a backpack and it is just part of the fun.
There are other things to consider; what to wear vs. the weather and the mountain to climb, what emergency supplies to bring (all of them, I hope), and the like. It would seem that, with a well-detailed checklist, hiking with children would be pretty simple. This is the part where I expect those readers who have undertaken this adventure to giggle. They understand that it is not these list items that make hiking with children the very special, yet often frustrating, adventure that it can be.
Finally, on the trail. The tail begins its steady ascent. What a beautiful day. The kids should love the views at the top! “I have to go to the bathroom”. Sigh. That’s ok. He’s just a little one after all. Help him off with his pack, off into the woods, convince him it’s ok, you’ll watch the trail. Now it’s back on with the pack. We’re off again. Now we’re getting into the rhythm… “I need a drink”…sigh again. Now the other one needs to go to the bathroom. Blisters, bruises, scrapes, backache, feet aches, look at this flower or bird or tree or rock, ravaging hunger, unquenchable thirst, exhaustion, boredom, hot, cold, wet, sweaty, and the list goes on and on. It seems that just as we get going…we need to stop again, and again, and again. It is never ending. Finally, however, we reach our destination (which, for some hikes was home) and all of the frustration seems to evaporate in the moment of having achieved what we sought to do. And, believe it or not, they can’t wait until it’s time to head off again.
I guess the biggest thing to consider when planning on a hike with children is not so much the checklist items but the purpose of the trip in the first place. Is it to “bag a peak” or get some cardio? Is it to challenge myself to see what I can do? Or is it more simple, more basic? Could it be that the purpose of hiking with children is to share a love of the outdoors with them and for them to share their awe at everything and their vulnerability with you? Regardless of the reason, take time, have patience, and remember. You are teaching your children to live simply.