How-To: A Family Hike

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Every year, our little family’s stamina increases just a little: little legs, a little longer than last year’s, are encouraged – by every means possible  (encouragement; bribery; begging) – to plunge into the natural world, and walk with us just a little bit further.

On Saturday those little legs – four pairs of them, not including those snuggled up inside a baby backpack – attempted one of their most strenuous hikes yet, an 11km round-trip (the first half uphill; the second, back down) taking in three alpine lakes, the third a vast azure puddle, its water refulgent with “rockflour” or glacial silt, beneath the towering Matier Glacier, north of Whistler, British Columbia.

Departing at 2.30pm – after stopping, en route, for bathrooms, lunch, coffee, snacks, a car-toy for a fractious baby, water, bathrooms again (au naturel, roadside), and a third time for good measure – it took two hours of hiking through mosquito-filled forest, clambering across boulder fields, observing waterfalls-without-barriers and stopping, only occasionally, for some energy-boosting snacks (Candy. There’s the bribery.), before we reached the top and sat, contemplating the cool, cool waters. Except for those who were eating pretzels. Or begging for the camera. Or telling us they were tired. Or itchy (see mosquito-filled forest, above).  Or didn’t like pretzels.

Save for a few small tents on the far side, huddled beneath the toe of the behemoth glacier, and a lone robin perched atop a twig, we were entirely alone. And – in the fleeting moment when pretzels filled all mouths  (even those who didn’t like them) – silent.

Probably the best thing about hiking with children is the conversation. Things that might get lost in the everyday rush bubble to the surface, and have the opportunity to be said. New songs from our own childhoods are taught (“I dreamt I was dead and to Heaven did go; ‘Where do you come from?’ they wanted to know. ‘I come from West Bromwich,’ and how they did stare – ‘Oh, please step inside, you’re the first one from there.’”), to help aching feet forget they’re aching.  The natural world brims full of possibilities. A fallen branch becomes a walking stick, and a sword for battling goblins, and a poking device for making a baby brother laugh. Dinosaurs are found, resurrected, chased off, and, with the precision of four-foot paleontologists, taxonomically categorised. And lo – before everyone knows it (and in two-thirds of the time it took to get to the top) it’s 6pm and the trailhead appears again. “That was easy, mummy.” “Let’s do it again next weekend.” “Can my next birthday party be a hiking party?” “I was the best walker of all, wasn’t I?”

Probably, my darling. But not, I fear, without the candy. Or the pretzels.

Top Tips for Hiking with Children
  • Take compulsory bathroom breaks beforehand
  • Bring treats for energy and bribery
  • Pack plenty of water, and snacks or a picnic for somewhere along the way
  • Use the opportunity to talk, sing and play together
  • Choose slightly more challenging routes slowly, as your little ones get accustomed to distance and incline
  • Take sunscreen, hats and mosquito repellent in summer
  • Pack a plaster (Band-Aid) or two, a length of toilet roll, and a plastic bag…just in case.
  • Leave in plenty of time for the hike you’re tackling, so there’s lots of time for rest-stops and extra exploration

contemplation aug5th

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