fredag 3 september 2010

Kids on the mountain

Having three small boys, aged four months, three- and five years can make it difficult and challenging to get out into the wilderness for longer times. Most probably I will not be able to do any longer trips the next few years. Most parents just give up and wait for better times when the kids are older. This is a pity though, and I did not want to give up so easily. A short trip with two kids should be within reach. Preferably I would have liked to go with the entire family, but even an optimist like myself has to realize there is a time and place for everything. The effort - satisfaction ratio is not favorable when also including a 4-month baby in the equation. Luckily some of my good friends wanted to come along and a trip to Hemavan in Lapland was booked.

In order to make a trip more enjoyable and to judge the kids capacities I thought some training close to home should be useful. Since we got kids I have read about everything I've seen on the topic of hiking with small kids. It seems most people do not hike with kids as young as ours, but those who do seem to say that around 3-5 km is a reasonable distance for a day. Consequently I planned an overnight hike with some friends in order to get a feeling for what was possible and enjoyable.

We bushwacked around 3km to a nice location by a lake close to our summer house. All went very well and everyone seemed to enjoy the outing. 

Simon climbing over a fallen log - walking on unbeaten paths worked well, but it can require a lot of extra time

Filip outside the Cloudburst-tent on a shorter field exercise

Later on during our vacation we also got the opportunity to do some high altitude training in the alps. With the right motivation and in good company of their cousins, the kids actually managed to climb no less than 170m of altitude in less than two hours. It was now quite clear that the kids where certainly physically ready for a hike and that the challenges would be mainly psychological.

Filip looking for marmots in the Parc National de Mercantour, Boréon, France

Route planning
Since I wanted to get up on the mountain as fast as possible and avoid long stretches in the forest it suited us perfectly to take the ski lift up to the start of Kungsleden in Hemavan. This would provide an interesting start of the trip as well. Having gone up the mountain we would then just follow the trail a few kilometers towards Viterskalsstugan and then put up our tent right next to the trail. This way I figured it would be easy to get help should any accident occur.

On start of Kungsleden a few kilometers from the ski lift

Out on the mountain
Finally the big day arrived, the weather report looked favorable and we boarded the lift and enjoyed the scenery as we climbed to just above the treeline of Norra Storfjället. We started to walk along what we then thought was Kungsleden. Soon it became apparent though that something was wrong. The kids were feeling tired and where not in a good mood. With the help of some candy we however managed to climb up to to a nice spot for lunch. I learned an important lesson: Don't postpone food! Not even half an hour! In order to have a nice trip with kids (and to a lesser extent adults as well) everybody needs to be well fed and the mountain gives you a big appetite.

The PocketRocket temporarily replaces my Bushbuddy

Luckily, with the help of the efficient MSR PocketRocket canister stove we had hotdogs within just a few minutes. On trips like this with hungry kids my trusty old Bushbuddy simply isn't efficient enough. To have food the kids like is of course also important. It also helps if it is easy to eat.

Simon eating Tortellini - a very practical dish

After the feeding everything seemed easier. We explored a nice snowfield and tobogganed on our rain pants. Quite a nice activity, however the reindeer also like snowfields and later in the tent I discovered a strong smell originating from my rain pants.

The weather was quite OK and we could start to enjoy the walk and there was no rush for anything. At this point we had discovered that we had taken a wrong turn at the trailhead when we got off the lift. The kids and I were really navigating through the wilderness off trail! It felt a bit scary though since I was now completely on my own. If something happened it would be a bit more difficult to get help. The Kungsleden trail was only about two kilometers away however and very easy to find.

After awhile the kids became a bit tired again and we decided to put up the tent for the habitual afternoon siesta. A nice spot with small waterfalls was identified. A perfect place for the kids to explore. It was also a nice place for me to relax while they were sleeping.

Taking a siesta and drying the perfectly lousy cotton pants

Having rested we continued our slow walk towards the trail. The two-three kilometers would in fact take us almost half a day! It was good to know we were sleeping in a tent and there was no big hurry to get anywhere, except reasonably close to the trail.

Filip making his way down to Kungsleden with his sleeping bag protruding from his too small 10L ultralight pack

Waiting for dinner

Finally we arrived at the trail and we were lucky to find a perfect campsite right next to it. It was already time for dinner so wiser from the experience in the morning, we started cooking right away. Two packets of Knorr Spaghetteri Bolognese filled our hungry stomachs. The tent was put up again and I could watch the beautiful play of light when the sun broke through the clouds on the other side of the Syterbäcken ravine. Having done away with dinner and with the tent up there was some time to spare, so I decided to try out using willow as Bushbuddy fuel and prepare some hot drinks. The smaller sticks burned quite well even though they were a bit damp.

All set for sleeping time

But not for the mosquitos!

All now seemed well set for a calm bedtime. This was not to be however. Big-time crying started: "I want muuummyyyy!!" , "I want to go home. Now!". It was a trail for a tired father. In my opinion the children's  complaints were mostly not due to the camping experience, which they are very fond of, but more due to the fact that this was the first time they spent such a long time without mum in an unfamiliar setting. I also believe their longing and bad mood was triggered by their fatigue. Later on during the week when they had got used to the situation they were a lot easier to handle.

Keeping small kids in their sleeping bags is not always easy. Pulling the draw-cord on the hood helped some, but little Houdini Simon managed to crawl out anyway. Some parents therefore use winter overalls instead.

Finally they fell asleep and slept very well until morning. I could not quite say the same for myself. The triple sleeping bag system I had devised seemed to work, but Simon slid out of his sleeping bag a few times and I had to adjust the extra sleeping bag lying on top of both of them several times. It seemed to  me that the kids slept quite warm and the third sleeping bag was not really necessary.

In the morning we had an energizing breakfast consisting of Tortillas and Nutella and set off for the ski lift. The going was a lot easier now that we were on the trail. We saw quite a few families with kids on the trail. However, none of them were hiking alone as I were and none of the kids were as young as Simon. After last night's bedtime experience I wondered to myself if I'm the only one that is crazy enough. 

The small scale of the streams was most appreciated. Small waterfalls were often the main attraction.

Everyones spirits were higher now however and it was not without a certain sense of accomplishment that I arrived at the skilift. It IS possible to hike even with small children and most of the time it is even fun. I'm also convinced that the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Next time in Sarek?

6 kommentarer:

  1. Hey, congratulations on your trip! It is wonderful to see more families get out into the outdoors together like this. Yes, the more you do it, the easier it will get. Hopefully when your 3rd child gets a little older your wife will be able to join you too.

    Spending time together in the outdoors has become a ritual for our family that everyone loves.

  2. Hej, Gustav! I also go outdoors with our kids (7, 4½, 1½ years old). Just like you I've had the occasional "am I the only one crazy enough doing this!" feeling, but it seems there are more of us :) I've found that when I'm on an overnighter with just one of the children two sleeping bags which can be zipped together help me sleep better. When we are in the same bag, I can check that everything is ok without actually waking up. I recently spent a weekend tenting with the middle one and slept very well! Hälsningar från Finland, -Maria

  3. AdventureInProgress - Thanks for the encouragement! We do in fact go out quite a lot all of the family as well, but it's been almost exclusively daytrips. Next year when the youngest is old enough to be carried we will probably head out again all of us.

    Maria - Nice to know I'm not alone! Good suggestion with the sleeping bag. So far this has only been a problem with my 3-year old. My next move will be to make better sleeping bags out of a used adult down sleeping bag. This way I will reduce bulk and stop worry about the children freezing. It will keep the bank account healthy too.

  4. Fantastic post Gustav. It looks like your trip was a success. Incidently, a lot of the tips you give are applicable to any newbie to backpacking in the mountains, regardless of their age!

  5. Great read, Gustav. Fascinating with the fascination small waterfalls have for kids. A couple of years ago, when I was hiking with my son Daniel, 9 years old at the time, the main interest at every hourly candy-and-water-break was chasing around looking for the perfect 'spout' in the creeks, where he could fill his cup. So for dad the breaks meant stretching out on the ground while for Daniel it meant lots of activity :-)

  6. Gustav, a wonderful report, I have taken my own kids, as well as those of others, into the wilderness of Australia on many occasions in so doing I have hoped that the experiences will help them to develop a sense of wonder and enjoyment in the outdoors, in my view this has been achieved. The other side of the story is the bonding of parents and children that happens when they go away together in a "new environment" free of clutter. Well done, I look forward to more family excursions.