Kids Can Go Too!


Perhaps the first time I realized that little kids could backpack was a long time before I even had kids of my own. I was in fact, still in high school and just a sixteen year old kid myself.


Ever since I had gone on my first backpack trip a few weeks prior with a group of kids over Easter vacation (see my story “The Learning Curve” ), I had been wanting to go backpacking more and more! Knowing noone else besides those first five friends I had journeyed with over spring break that even knew what backpacking was, I had no idea how to hit the trail again.   Fortuitously though, my biology teacher, Mr Smith, talked to me about joining the Sierra Club and offered to sponsor me.   I suddenly had the ticket to all the backpack trips I could ever wish for! So, I lined up a few trips to join.   The first of such trips was called a “knapsack” outing in the club’s catalog. Calling the leader for permission to join the trip, I was concerned I would not be able to go on this trip as I was still a kid myself and not chaperoned.   But the leader surprised me by saying I was totally welcome to join the outing. The leader then asked if I was able to bring along another teen from a neighboring city who did not have a car to which I gratefully said yes.


So, at the crack of dawn on the morning of the trip, I drove over and picked up “Steve” and two other girlfriends of mine who had been approved. One of those girlfriends I had hiked with on that earlier trip a few weeks prior, but the other girlfriend had never strapped on a pack before.   Once together, we joined the rest of the club at the appointed trailhead that prearranged Saturday morning bright and early.


Before my boots even hit the dirt, I was surprised to notice the makeup of the group I was to hike with included toddlers and little kids!   So this was what he meant when he said this was going to be a “family” outing! This trip would include everyone from teens to toddlers to seniors! Well this would certainly be interesting.



Our trip was five and a half miles car to camp. Not a lot of mileage, but certainly a full day’s hike for all the little kids. Funny thing though is I still had the perspective of a kid myself, and didn’t really have any considerations that they couldn’t make it.   So, my girlfriends and I, and our new friend, Steve, strapped on our packs and headed up the trail unconcerned about the mixed group.


I don’t remember this being a typical group trip with a leader in front and another in back to catch the stragglers, but more likely, due to my age I just didn’t notice the care given by the leaders .   In any case, everyone just seemed to be hiking their own pace. Some had obviously beat us in getting ready and had started out some time ago, because as we started hiking, we began to pass the moms and dads with kids meandering along as fast as mom and pop could move them along.


There were several families with kids on the trail, but I never did see one single kid cry or fuss. I saw several playing in the dirt and leaves as we passed, probably finding all kinds of treats like fascinating bugs. We passed them all one by one as they  happily played while their parents watched patiently and moved them along as they could.   And we also saw a couple of smaller kids walking contentedly along enjoying the countryside as much as we were. Maybe it was the pace, or the trail which was not really that demanding, but everyone big and little seemed to be doing just fine that day.


We got to camp before most of the others, but not before the “oldies but goodies.” The seniors proved to be excellent hikers and I figured that they did this on a regular basis.


We set up our camp, then set about “conquering” the local “mountains.” The area we were in had numerous rock formations ranging from 20-100 feet high.   With gusto we found every nook and crevice that would allow us to scale those rock formations, until finally we reached the top of even the highest. There we lay, looking down on the camp below and all the camp preparations being made.   The campers below looked like ants, and we were the eagles nested high above! While perched high above the others, we couldn’t resist calling out to all those below. We yelled “hallo to the camp,” and other more typical teenage adages. But true to the form of the type of trip we were on, we were treated as patiently as the smaller hikers, and not one person scolded us for interrupting the peace and quiet of the wilderness.


The highlight of the trip though, was not the climbing, the hiking or the exploring. The most memorable event of the whole trip came later that night as we teens sat about the campfire listening to the “elders” tell their tall tales of trips past. The parents with younger kids were at their individual camps nestling their kids into their bags for the night, while we teens sat around the campfire with the seniors. There was a group of five or six of them that vied to tell the tallest tale. Or were they tall tales? To this day I could not tell you for certain, but they had us enthralled for hours as we hung upon their every word.   We heard tales of hiking in deep snow and over high passes, tales of hiking in places I had only dreamed about, and of some I had not yet even heard of.   And one tale in particular captivated me so much so that to this day I can see myself leaning forward to hear every word our story teller uttered as he talked and chuckled with his friends while weaving out his adventure for us minute by minute.  It seems he got caught in a high country snow storm unprepared. He then made a fire in a pit he dug, which he then lightly covered after it reduced to embers. He then slept over the top of it keeping warm thru the night. One of the other storytellers at our campfire that night had been with him and chimed in his own enchanting embellishments. I don’t know now whether I believe all that they told us that magical night, but to this day I can feel the snowflakes falling around me as I imagine myself in their place caught in that high mountain storm lying over a warm pile of embers.


With images of being in the high mountains like those storytellers, we went to bed under the stars with no tents, and enjoyed a peaceful night in the clean fresh night air with a silky black sky full of twinkling stars as our ceiling that night.


In the morning, that once motley group of assorted ages of hikers hiked back out now joined together like a coat of many colors, joined by the shared enjoyment of the wilderness and each other that beautiful spring weekend.


That trip with the Sierra Club in the 60’s, was when I first realized that little kids could hike too. I was to forget that realization for many years.   But much later when I had little ones of my own and a desire to stretch my legs in the wilderness, I would remember that early trip and know that my kids were surely old enough to come along too!

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