Kids and Hiking

daughter in the OlympicsOver the years I've had a lot of people ask about how I got my kids to go outside, especially my daughter. This is actually a complicated scenario. Of course it's easy when they're young, you simply take them whereever you want to go and they follow in tow, the good prisoners that they are to their parent's every whim. We've always told our kids that when they were really young, we made 100% of their decisions for them. As they get older, the percentages start to shift to them, finally arriving at the stage where they make 100% of their own decisions. Hopefully this is accompanied by them being financially independent and successfully domiciled in the place of their choosing which doesn't include our house, but I digress. Anyway, my method was fairly typical of any family. Start small and work up.

Small is exactly that. We used to live near a river and I would take my son and pack my daughter on my back and we would make an outing down the trail to the river, watching salmon in the fall, flooding in the spring, and generally dink around at the fairly placid water's edge. Packing treats certainly helps. Every year I would take them to Mt. Rainier and we would truck camp at the recently departed (washed away) Sunshine Point. Truck camping is great, since we could pack firewood for making smores, pack a stove for making chocolate chip pancakes in the morning, pack a nice comfy pad and heavy cheap flannel lined sleeping bag for sleeping. The rest of the time was spent exploring the rocks and environs of the Nisqually River. Notice that a common theme here is "nice comfy" and something that usually involves chocolate. Other outings included trips to the local training grounds, Cougar, Tiger and Squak Mountain Regional parks and "summiting" peaks like West Tiger 3 and Wilderness Peak. Many times I would end up carrying my daughter on my shoulders where she would promptly fall asleep and snore in my ear as she used my head as a pillow.

kids exploring on a beach hikeLater it gets trickier, and here's where the individual personalities come in. When both kids were around 7, that's when I started taking them on overnight backpacks (not together). Of course I was the mule, carrying most of the stuff for the outing, allowing the kids to carry just enough but not too much. The rule in this phase, AVOID SUFFERFESTS AT ALL COSTS. Secretly you are grooming them to suffer, but they don't need to know that. This phase is merely the "hook" phase where they get to enjoy the great outdoors and all it has to offer while you bear the burden of all the logistics. It was during this phase that my kids showed their different personalities. My son did some cool stuff: backpacks, Camp Muir, St. Helens, Mt. Adams; but he just didn't like the other parts of the outdoors, like rain, bugs, sweat, etc. His last trip with me was when he was 15, and it was after that that he had control over whether he wanted to go out or not. Teenage boys in High School have other things on their minds in summer, and backpacking or climbing with Dad wasn't high on his list.

daughter's cracked feetMy daughter, however, seemed to inherit the outdoors bug from me and we continue to this day to plan trips during her window between swim teams in August. Plus, she has the gift of suffering...she can motor with the best of them and can tolerate the little "discomforts" that come with being outside. You know, things like cracked feet, driving rain, 16 hour days, unplanned bivies, bugs, sweaty old guy (Dad), bad jokes, etc. Indeed, most teenage girls probably don't want to hang out with their Dads in the summer, so I realize how lucky I am. I look forward to at least one more summer doing stuff with her before she's off to college and interning or working, doing those adult things that don't include smores and counting marmots.

If I had to sum up what's worked for us, I would say:

1. Start early, take them out on little excursions when they're young and captive. Feed them treats. Do all the work for them. Make the travel to and from fun also. Stop for hot chocolate, make sure they have books, pillows to rest on, etc.

2. Never worry about distance. It's all about a cool destination, or just a cool hike that maybe has some views.

son and friend on St Helens 12 Y/O3. Take a friend. I always took my son and a friend of his to help mitigate his complaining. I knew it would be a lot worse if he were alone with me, but he had to be on better behavior with his buddy along. Plus, he really had more fun with his friend in tow.

4. Work up to overnight backpacking, according to the child. Be prepared to be the mule (ultralight? Not a chance). You are the logistics master; cook, set up the tent, make sure they are comfortable, take time to just chill in the setting, look at the macro world around you (not just the views). Let the kids guide the activities according to their interests at the moment.

5. As they get older you can incorporate tougher outings, according to the child. There is always reward when finishing something tough, but the danger is in the timing....a sufferfest too soon could result in an experience that turns the child off.

6. Finally, reap the rewards of having a hiking partner, able to make decisions with you, able to keep up with you (or surpass you), able to help you, able to share the experience with you.

daughter at peace outsideI've had some incredible experiences in the outdoors with my kids, but one of the greatest benefits is the communication. Talks about all sorts of things happen at unplanned times. I remember sitting on a log in the forest with my daughter, taking a snack break as nightfall was creeping in. We sat there and chatted about stuff while at the same time being totally immersed in the darkness taking over the forest with all it's attendant sounds, breezes and smells. You can't plan for these moments, they just come from spending time outdoors with your kids.