As a continuation to my first post of this series, here are a couple of reports from backpacking trips we’ve taken the kids on. Looking back on these it reminds me that sometimes things to go plan, and sometimes they don’t, but either way we’ve always come back having had a good time outdoors as a family. I’m always inspired to read the reports of other parents who take their kids on all sorts of adventures (feel free to share your own via the comments form or on our facebook page) and I love to imagine the kinds of things we’ll work up to as the kids grow.
Making Lemonade in the Sierras
It’s not unusual for trips not to go off exactly as planned, and sometimes the plan just completely falls apart. The latter would be the case for Matteo’s first backpacking trip. He was a couple months shy of 3 years old at the time. Originally this was going to be a family trip, the plan being to head to Devil’s Lake in the Sierras. It’s only about 2½ miles of hiking, mostly mellow with a couple of steeper spots. Sandra D ended up coming down with a cold and didn’t feel up to it, Isabelle and her decided to stay home and relax while Matteo and I stuck to the plan.
It was already afternoon by the time we got on the road. The trailhead is not hard to find, but it had been awhile since I’d been there and the network of Forest Service roads in the area can get a little convoluted… especially when some knucklehead busts up all the signs. “Dad, are we lost?” Matteo asks from the back seat… “No, we’re just exploring the area.” I told him, while my thinking to myself “Yep. We’re lost.” I pulled over and gave him trail bar to munch on and showed him some of the giant Sierra ants, which he found pretty amazing; I checked my map and figured out where we were and how to get back on the right path. “Time to get moving!”.
After getting on the right road it was smooth sailing… or not. It had been a heavy snow year and there was snow all over the place. There were also lots of blown down trees, a few of which we had to lash up and tow off the road. Apparently we were the first to venture out there that year. All of this was great fun for Matteo, I was more concerned about how much daylight we had left. All of this was eating up time and it was starting to get late. Then, I got the truck stuck crossing a snow drift. Great. Sandra was going to love this…
“Dad, are we going to be staying here? Is the truck going to sink into the snow?”… “No Bud, We’re going to play in the snow for a while. Let’s dig until we can see the tires!”. I was now very concerned about not only running out of daylight, but possibly having to spend the night stuck there, then hiking several miles the next day in attempt to find some help. Luckily I still have a few tricks up my sleeve and was able to get the truck dug out and free. Now I was feeling confident again that we’d still be able to make it to the lake by night fall. Once again our plan was cut short by a huge pine that had fallen across the road. This had already been a bit of an adventure. We could have just set up camp and called it a day, but I was determined.
Still over a mile from the trailhead, I knew we wouldn’t make the lake without hiking in the dark. I figured I’d just wing it and find an alternate camping spot. We strapped on our backpacks and set off up the road. This was before I had a proper backpack for Matteo, so he carried his Thomas the Train pack. Inside were some spare clothes, his favorite blanket, and some tasty snacks. Just enough for him to carry and have the satisfaction of being a backpacker “like Dad”. The hike was uphill the entire way and he did really well. It reminded me of when I was a kid and indifferent to things like the elevation or a good uphill climb. As we passed the trailhead to the lake I realized it was snowed in still and we would have never made it anyway.
We setup camp at the end of the road, about 2 miles from where we started. It was beginning to get dark. Making some hot cocoa and dinner sounded like a good idea, except all of my matches had somehow gotten damp and refused to light, and my backup lighter was missing from my first aid kit! Thankfully I had brought plenty of no-cook foods as a backup. It’s always good to have backups. We had a cold dinner and watched the Sierra sunset fade from orange to blue, then conked out for the night. In the morning we had cold cereal with dehydrated milk, packed up camp, and got on the trail. I congratulated Matteo on completing his first backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Nothing had gone to plan, but with some patience, persistence, and a bit of luck, we still managed to have a great trip. When life gives you lemons…
Easy Breezy at Coast Camp
Point Reyes National Seashore is a favorite spot of Sandra’s and mine. We’d never spent the night with the kids out there though. Coast Camp sounded like a good option to give that a try. The hike in is less than 3 miles and the up and down is not too steep. Being near (but not on) the beach was an awesome plus for us and the kids. We jammed a bunch of gear into the rucks and hit the road.
Rain was forecasted and we came prepared for that, but by the time we arrived it was sunny and beautiful out. We chose to take the Laguna trail, which was beautiful and green. Along the way we saw squirrels and a small possum which the kids thought was either cute or ugly, their opinion changes rapidly! Sandra D took the point and I brought up the rear, our usual strategy to ensure no stragglers or missing kids when we get to our destination. For the most part, the kids did really well with the hike. There were a few spots we needed to boost them up, and we stayed close to them on the downhill section which had loose footing. No incidents to report… always a good thing! There were plenty of breaks along the way for water and snacks. We let them rest as much as they want to, but we usually recommend “just a little further, then we’ll take a break” to eek out a little more distance between stops. After less than 2 hours we arrived at our campsite.
We were doing to the two-tent plan on this trip. Isabelle and I were sharing the LightHeart SoLong 6, Sandra and Matteo were sharing the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. We got a little help from them pitching the tents but they do lose patience while we get the pads, sleeping bags, etc… all laid out.
After getting set up it was time to “finally” head down to the beach. Along the way we discovered a swing that had been put in a large Eucalyptus tree near the beach. Although not quite our idea of wilderness, it was fun and the kids really enjoyed the surprise.
The beach was great with a small stream running down from the hillside, across the sand and right into the surf. This provided a great place to play. We met another family there who had a son about Isabelle’s age. Despite the fact that he spoke no English (they were visiting from Russia) the three of them played together for a couple of hours. We all had a lot of fun making boats from washed up refuse and driftwood and sailing them down the stream to the dam that the kids had built. There’s something that’s just universal about imaginative play where language barriers don’t exist… although Matteo was a little puzzled “Dad… I asked him to open the main and let the water flow under the viaduct, but he won’t understand me. He just keeps saying Spanish!” I had a good laugh over this; Matteo picks up some interesting vocabulary from Thomas the Tank Engine books and shows; I think most kids who speak English perfectly would have given him the blank stare too.
We had a nice dinner of pasta, followed by hot cocoa and desert. Isabelle and Matteo wanted to visit the swing again, so we swung a little more while the sun started to set. That evening, I noticed the sky was clouding over when we tucked into bead. It rained just about all night.
In the morning the rain dwindled and we caught some breaks to get everything broken down and packed up for the hike out. It had totally clouded over and the mist had rolled in as it tends to do on the coast. Where the day before we were dressed for warm weather, we had the rain jackets and warm clothes on now. Dirty and wet clothes were wrapped up in plastic bags stuffed somewhere deep inside our packs. We all said goodbye to Coast Camp where we had such a great time and hit the trail back out. It was a great trip and a place we’ll definitely take the kids again!