Considering the benefits of getting out, without needing to use a tent.
Considering the benefits of getting out, without needing to use a tent.
This Christmas we did something new and unexpected. We took an invitation from family to join them with friends at a backcountry lodge, accessible only by helicopter.
It wasn’t a given. We enjoy Christmas at home generally, the time with extended family, our church services, our family traditions. And we worried about being in the backcountry if there was a medical problem. We were concerned about the safety of backcountry skiing after two years of skiing with avalanches, and worried about the mountain flight in a small helicopter. We talked about it a lot before we committed. Then we signed up.
And we are glad we did.
We flew in to Powdercreek Lodge in the Purcell mountains of British Columbia on December 21st and stayed until the day after Christmas. Lodge owner Guus was there with his wife Ramune, my brother and his wife, and a couple not only inspiring, but truly epic in their outdoor pursuits with their two kids, a 3 year old and a 10 month old. So our showing up with only one kid seemed downright doable.
Though Guus noted that the snow was old, we took turns skiing old powder (still powder by any description!) and watching our little guy, taking him out for sleds to snowy hikes and wondrous snowy adventures, sometimes long sometimes short, always followed by sips of hot chocolate. It was a week of a different kind of adventure than our previous childless years in the backcountry. I felt out of shape for the skins back uphill and quickly felt my legs on even short runs. Taking turns, we each had only an hour or two (occasionally more) on our skis. But we were doing it. We were in the wilderness. Ridge lines and powder surrounded us. No hint of the outside world came along. There is no internet connection, and satellite phones only for emergencies.
Inside the lodge our 2 year old played with the three year old, and we all watched the baby. Scrabble games completed every day. We took turns trying our hands at culinary delights starting with appetizers at 4 and dinner at 6. Christmas dinner brought contributions from all and high spirits and cheer, and Christmas eve we sat around to sing all the Christmas carols we knew. Carol showed me a thing or two about knitting. Ramune serenaded us on her guitar.
Powdercreek Lodge blew us away not only in its mountain beauty, but in the thorough integrity of its design, its systems and safety. Guus build the lodge with friends almost twenty years ago after integrating best practices from remote mountain retreats. On the second floor are well constructed mesh racks and boot hangars to dry gear, just above the wood stove below. The common area is perfectly designed for the flow of people. A sauna and shower house help salve post-ski muscles and clean up for dinner. Incinerating toilets outside manage waste. Well labeled and positioned emergency gear is stationed around the lodge, and we were given a brief on arrival. We’ve been places we didn’t feel as good about operations. Powdercreek sold us on how things should be.
We love our traditional Christmases. But this one will remain strong in our memories as backcountry bliss. And we are already scheming for how to include Powdercreek in our annual plans one day. I’m pretty sure our 2 year old will ski circles around us in another ten years. Maybe then we’ll be the ones slowing him down, going in early for hot chocolate. But time in the mountains together, focusing only on the wild and our pounding hearts and throbbing legs and the people around us, is an experience we will never forget.
The annual trip to Scottish LakesÂ in the North Cascades was a huge success this year. Our group took over most of High Camp with families and one cabin with singles or those without kids for the weekend, and let the festivities begin.
Our little guy who had loved the snow machine ride at age 1 didn’t like it at all this year on the way up, so I mashed his squirming body between mine and the driver’s and we made the four miles with no problem. (on the way down, he was excited and kept saying “vroom, vroom!”- all about continuing the exposure to new things, and trying, and trying again!) Then there was the snow. We don’t live in it day to day, and he wasn’t sure what to think. Now he was almost two, and things had changed. He didn’t even want to walk on it!Â We had brought our backpack for snowshoes, but the snow was crunchy and he weights 37 pounds in just a diaper. Didn’t sound fun. He didn’t want to sit still either. With all we were hoping for, time outside, snow, sun, fresh air, were we doomed for the lodge?
Despite remembering that success is getting packed and on the way to the destination- new definitions- I was a little bit worried. Sister-in-law to the rescue! Having done all of this with twins who are almost 8, she knew the answers, and swooped in with kitchen implements, two yogurt containers and a few large kitchen spoons. She and Sam sat on the snow and started to dig, just like at the beach, and soon he couldn’t get enough.
The other kids, aged almost 2 through 8, sledded to their hearts content, with and without parents, skied and snowshoed, and we all reveled in letting the kids run free, not something easy to do in the city (or even possible.) After reading an article in Boston Magazine about overparenting, it was nice to be able to let go. Our nephew spent his first night winter camping, sleeping in a tent with his dad one night!
One family with two kids spent the first night with one girl throwing up- no fun. They headed down the next morning. But we all agreed success was just getting there, and knowing when to call it quits. They’ll be there next year. The key: show up, and if it doesn’t work, show up again!
Sleeping- always a challenge. We brought a pack n play, and the first night was horrible (it had worked so well at 8-weeks old and one year!) We brought a sleeping bag in addition to his sleep sack, and hat and mittens and fleece for slewing, and P got up to keep the fire going all night. Still, we ended up just pulling Sam into our bed where we all were able to sleep, thankfully. Remember- a weekend away, changing things up is just fine. You just do what works! (thanks again to my sister-in-law for reminding me of this)
In the lodge, great meals and caroling, and a couple of forward thinking parents bringing play-doh for the kids providing hours of entertainment. Â And of course story books and a few other toys to chase around so the parents could enjoy Manny’s and good wine and a few minutes of adult conversation.
Another memorable year, another wonderful time with family and friends in the outdoors.
You might have heard of this couple already- they’ve written a book about travel to Alaska before baby, and were featured in the NYT about living in a yurt on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska…now they are traveling with not one (which they did across Canada) but TWO kids in tow, including glaciers!
If you need a little motivation, read this article and see how another family makes it work.
This may seem like a strange post for the summer, but Trea Diament pulled it off!
The 2010-11 ski season almost didnâ€™t happen for me. I was pregnant with my second kid and couldnâ€™t safely make it up to the slopes. This was kind of a big deal for me as it was going to be my first missed ski season. I made it up when I was 6 weeks old, zipped inside my momâ€™s jacket. I made it when I went on a military deployment starting in November because the area had an unusually early snow fall. And I made it all the 32 other years. So when the ski season lasted until 4th of July I was thrilled to keep the streak going!
My mom and I recruited an adventurous babysitter and headed up to Crystal Mountain with my 2 kids â€“ Toby is 19 months and Nettie is 10 weeks. We left our babysitter in the lodge with Nettie and instructions to meet us at the top of the gondola for lunch. Then Mom, Toby and I headed off. After taking the gondola up to the top, we strapped Toby into the Ergo and took off down the slopes.
I thought the day was going to be called early when a gentleman from the ski patrol started chatting with me half way down the first run. Nervous that skiing with a toddler on your back was against the rules, I was super friendly. Luckily he was only concerned that the next generation of skiers was well introduced to all that the mountain had to offer and gave me the inside tips on which double blacks were open. We decided to stick with the blues and headed down.
All in all, we had a fun, adventurous day with the kids. Here are a few tips for anyone else headed out for a skiing or gondola adventure:
- The Gondola is BEAUTIFUL. Well worth the ride on a sunny day. Beautiful views from the top, a fun ride up and down, and very easy and safe. I highly recommend it as a day outing for any family. There isnâ€™t much shade at the top. We ended up eating in the restaurant so as not to expose Nettie to too much sun.
- If you want to ski with a kid on your back, the Ergo is the way to go. I put Toby on my back for skiing then scooted him around to my front for a safe chairlift ride. His feet never hit the ground in the transition either way. It was easily accomplished while in the lift line. And no need to be nervous about a squirmy kid on the chairlift.
- Make sure your bindings are nice and tight. An extra 30+ pounds can make a difference on the quick release.
- Toby got a little nervous when we were skiing so we sang lots of songs and kept him entertained by searching the other skiers for Grandma.
As everyone who goes outside knows, the gear makes a big difference, and it isn’t any different for your wee one- arguably it’s even more important. Â Little bodies don’t regulate heat and cold as well, so paying attention to what you use to dress them in is critical.
We have loved the Patagonia Baby Capilene Â and Patagonia fleece for our little guy, birth through toddler years and beyond (Patagonia also gives back to the environment, so you can feel good about lots of it). When our son was small, we had the Patagonia snowsuit as well, though his aunt and uncle gave him a great Columbia snowsuit recently which has been great.
Feet are as important as ever. There are some great options, including Kamik Snowbug 2 Cold Weather Boot (Toddler)
and we love the SmartWool Baby Sock Sampler , or for older kids, the Kid’s Hiker Street Socks by Smartwool.
For rain there are a number of options, including Tuffo Muddy Buddy OverallsÂ and Columbia Sportswear Baby Castle Climber Suit. TheÂ Kid’s Polly Woggs Rain SuitÂ provides a great alternative for older kids.
Whatever you choose, remember to avoid cotton, like you would for yourselves, unless it’s for sleeping. Synthetics breathe and allow moisture to escape, critical for maintaining warmth and comfort. Always remember to dress your child a layer warmer than you dress yourselves, and if carrying them in a sled or pack, check their temperatures often- while you are working harder, they don’t have the benefit of activity-induced warmth!
Memorial Day weekend 2011 (Night time temperature, high thirties/low forties F)
We needed to get outside, but kept it simple this time, and opted for car camping, something we might have scoffed at in the past. Our little guy is getting less interested in spending long periods in the pack though, so this seemed like a good option. Â We loaded up and headed back out to the Olympic peninsula.
Last year Sam was only five months old, and we put him in between us in our sleeping bag. Â This time, though, we figured he could (and should) have his own spot. Â We brought a small sleeping bag for him, and, because we were car camping, his pack-n-play, which we set up under our tarp. Â We still use our backpacking gear- we aren’t really outfitted for luxury. Â So we cooked black bean burritos by submerging the can of beans in a pot of boiling water on a whisperlite, and stretched out sleeping bags on the ground underneath a tarp. Â Experienced car campers know you can bring a giant Walmart tent and sleep on an air mattress (take note, in case car camping is your thing), but never mind.
Sam did go down; we did our normal bedtime routine with books and bottles and sleep sacks. Â The waking began, though, only an hour or so after we finally went to sleep. He was cold I think, so we pulled him into our sleeping bag, and then he was hot an hour later, so we stripped him down. Â Needless to say, none of us slept much.
We put the pack-n-play away, and put him into his fleece suit but put a real hat on his head, loaded him into his sleep sack and his (thirty year old lightweight) sleeping bag. He slept until a little after midnight. When he woke, my best guess is that he was a little scared bout having woken up in a sleeping bag which is a new sight, sound and feel- slipper nylon, puffy red stuff…he was distressed enough we pulled him into our bag again. Â I should point out that we have a double sleeping bag…the Feathered Friend’s Penguin 20, which is the size and weight of a single bag, since the down covers a nylon sheet into which sleeping pads fit so that they stay in place and insulate from the bottom. Â We love it, and it’s made it much easier to pull Sam into bed with us since it has more space, too.
July 4th weekend (night time temperature, about 50 degrees)
Night 1: This was a backpacking trip, so we didn’t even try the pack-n-play. We brought the same set up: footed fleece pajamas (nothing special: Carter’s finest), Sam’s sleepsack (the heavier version of Merino Kids) and his sleeping bag. Â Because he’s mobile now, it does take one of us a while to snuggle in with him until he’s sleeping, so that we don’t have him coming out of the bag again and again.
We slept under the tarp again, but with high tide and a weather system, we had light rain and a lot of blowing mist. Â This required us to wake up to adjust our bag out of the moisture, but Sam also woke up, his hair wet from the sea spray and his bag wet too. Â We pulled him into our sleeping bag (yes, a trend seems to be developing, but I don’t have much resilience when it comes to night time decisions).
Night 2: The weather cleared the next morning, and we had a wonderful day on the beach, tiring all of us out. Â While it took a little while to get Sam down, he slept through until about six in the morning- at which point something told me to open my eyes, and I looked up to see him standing up in his sleep sack grinning down at us! Â We’re calling this success though, the first full night of sleep in his own bag (even though we all snuggled for another hour or so before getting up).
1. You don’t need a fanct tent or a fancy set up. Â Just make sure you keep everyone dry, and have enough layers to keep everyone warm too.
2. Â Be flexible. Â Be flexible. Â Be flexible.
3. Â If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! Â It’s different, and a little challenging, to get the sleep piece to work, but it is certainly possible. And in the process, we have had two wonderful trips along the coast with our family, playing in the sun and soaking in the sea, listening to eagles and oceans and shorebirds. Â It’s worth the little bit of planning involved!
Is it possible? YES!
Without spoiling the fun, stay tuned for an article in an upcoming issue of Seattle’s ChildÂ Â (linked for you!). Â And in the meantime, check out the inspiration for said upcoming article, the Bune family at www.thefamilypaddles.com.
Kaj Bune likes to redefine Patagonia founder Yvon Chounard’s definition of adventure by saying that an adventure is anything where the outcome is unknown.
You already know that qualifies as pretty much anything with kids, but certainly getting outdoors, too.
And check out Outside Magazine’s article on whitewater rafting with a baby, too:Â http://www.outsideonline.com/blog/top-10-tips-for-whitewater-rafting-with-kids.html
One thing our little guy does not have a problem doing is eating. Even so, convenience is important for snacks, but I wonder just how many Annie’s Homegrown Whole Wheat Bunnies Baked Snack Crackers and raisins (great staples for sure) he really needs to eat.
We’ve been impacted by all the talk lately about sugar, too, and try to reduce sugar and processed foods for all of us, kids included. With this in mind, what to do?
Older kids are a little bit easier since they have all their molars, and packing carrot sticks and a small container of hummus or apple slices is a great start to accompany the inevitable gorp. Â Bananas are good all around, though be careful how you pack it…and then you have the skin. Â There are times though, that fruit and veggies aren’t enough.
We love granola bars (watching all the sugar there of course) and so I figured there must be a way to make these and avoid the packaging and HFCS and whatever other long-worded ingredients there are in things you buy. I found a great recipe at Epicuriousand used some of the alterations recommended in the reviews (the keys to success with this site). Â It’s fabulous, even cutting the sugar and butter down significantly. Â And while they didn’t stay together well, it was good granola, too! Â (A second attempt did work out better, though I added a little extra honey)
Another friend recommended a cookie recipe where she cuts the sugar to taste (easy to do!). Another likes to make these zucchini muffins in mini-muffin tins and freeze them to pull out over the month (she says it’s the only way she can get her little guy to eat vegetables!). Â For any baking, no one will notice the difference if you use half white-whole wheat flour. Another friend recommended this recipe for bars, though the marshmallows have a lot of sugar. Homemade still beats processed foods!
For packaged foods there are good options too. Larabar Bars are a great snack for toddlers through adults.
Should be a good start for the trail. Â And of course it accompanies good old fashioned GORP. Here’s our family recipe for that:
m n ms
Mix in whatever amount you desire and pack away!
Urs Koenig of Redpoint Coaching in Seattle (via Switzerland) writes about taking his two boys Luc (5) and Liam (3) camping on the foot of Mt. Rainier in April this year.
This was a bit of a stretch assignment due to the very wet and cold weather we have had in the Pacific NW this spring. As we tried to drive up to our usual camping spot (next to White River), the access road was covered in a foot of snow. Luc assured me that he could shovel it all away and that I would be able to drive through. I politely declined his generous offer .
We drove down to lower elevation and found a great spot next to a forest service airstrip. We kept ourselves busy with roaming around and even witnessed a light aircraft practicing a touch and go,THE highlight of the trip for the boys! Evening came and it became very cold. The three of us snuggled up around the fire in our ski clothes watching the stars. Priceless moment for dad! Thanks to several sleeping bags, the night was not too bad with the exception of pee breaks the boys needed at 3 am (Temperature in the high 20sâ€¦.).