It’s been 4 years since the last time I went backpacking and I’ve been itching to do it again ever since. Three summers ago I had a plan and a permit for a week-long trip to a different piece of the JMT but that year had seen a ton of rainfall and my intended route was still covered in snow late into July. Much as I love sticking with my plan, I recognize that I do not have the skills or experience to navigate without clearly marked trails. The following summer I was deep in the new-to-me experience of parenting a 3 year old and last summer that same small person was only 4 and we did other trips; to Maine for a week and we visited Canada a couple of times.
Now we’re (still! deeply!) buried in Covid, quarantining, and there’s been so much at-home time so going to the mountains with a now-5 year-old is actually one of the lower risk activities available to us. He’s ready for adventure, has strong legs, boundless energy, and has the ability to wear his own hydration pack so it’s on.
This post will outline the (current) plan and preparations for the trip. When we return I’ll share the actual experience as a comparison against what was planned for. I enjoyed thoroughly documenting my big solo trip back in 2016 and I’ll continue to do this for future trips since it might also be helpful to other newbie backpackers and/or parents trying to share the backpacking bug with their kids.
The goal is to have a trip that is a manageable distance for the 5 year old (and anything he can do, the dog can also do) that gets us into the mountains for a taste of what the solitude and beauty found up there can feel like. Bringing a dog already limits the locations and Desolation Wilderness is my go-to for dog friendly backpacking so I looked there to find a good route. When I returned from my bigger trip the Sequoia/Kings Canyon I immediately set out the following weekend to Desolation for a quick overnight as I was missing the mountains desperately. Unfortunately I didn’t plan that trip well and went up a jeep road which turned out to be very actively used by… JEEPS! Me and my low-riding dog ate dust for over 5 miles uphill while continuously crossing paths with the same Trump-loving (there were stickers, I’m not just making assumptions) ATV and 4w drive enthusiasts throughout the day. They’d get stuck, I’d walk past, they’d drive past and get stuck a little further up. The only good news was that once I reached the end of the Jeep trail there was a quick trail past the rambunctious camp to a quieter lake which could only be hiked in to. I got to rest peacefully and I booted it home the next morning bright and early to avoid crowds on the path. One of the many things I learned about on that trip was that Wrights Lake has a great campground that I’d love to return to just to car-camp, and there are better trails along Rockbound Pass that are hiking-only and end up at beautiful mountain lakes.
For this first kid’s trip I have waffled between doing a 1 night or a 2 night trip. If it wasn’t Labour Day weekend we could have done a night at Wrights Lake and a night out in the wilderness but the campground is completely packed so I’ve had to come up with a plan that gives us some flexibility. We’re going to hike from Wrights to Maud Lake on day 1 and, as long as things are going smoothly the next day, we’ll go in a little further to a second location for night 2. If for any reason there’s a need to bail after that first night, we’re less than 4 miles from the car. If things are going great, we do about 2 miles more and have maybe 6 miles max to come back out to the car on day 3. That will be a long walk but I feel confident that I am bringing enough gummy frogs and chocolate drops to encourage a steady pace as well as the promise of getting home to play some Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
First of all, I’m carrying EVERYTHING* for two people and one dog. My pack for what I thought was going to be a 10 day trip back in 2016 was 55lbs. This time I’m aiming for 40lbs which will get lighter as we eat our meals. I have to carry two sleeping bags and that takes up a lot more space than I imagined it would. The kid sleeping bag is not ultralight, it’s not even light! It’s a Kindercone and it weighs 3lbs. I have compressed the shit out of it in a compression stuff sack to make it smaller. For comparison, my sleeping bag for a full grown person is only 2.2lbs. If we do this often enough I guess I should just get him a grownup bag.
Weight: LighterPack is still around (yay!) so I made a duplicate of my previous trip list and am updating that to track my pack’s weight. I haven’t input all our food items yet but I get a sense of where I’m at and also it offers an excellent checklist for making sure I’ve packed everything. Tomorrow I’ll finalize the food, make sure it fits in the bear canister, and do a final weight tally.
Shelter: We did a practice run with all three of us lying in the 2 person tent – this was also an opportunity to test the air mattresses after not being used for 4 years – and it went well. The kid wants me to set up the tent every day now just to chill out in. Shortstack also seems to enjoy tent life.
Food: I’m bringing my Jetboil Flash, dried food, and a bunch of snacks. While it can look like fun on other people’s blog posts to bring more ‘regular’ or even ‘fancy’ food on a trip, I need the lightness of dehydrated dinners and I’ll keep both of us full of calories with a combo of trail mix, bars, and cheese/meat. On trips like this I’m more interested in what’s around us than what’s going into us. Here’s what the menu looks like:
- Breakfast (2)
- Flax & chocolate chip muffins & berries
- Lunches (3)
- no real ‘meal’ but a mix of cheese/salami/crackers and then bars/trail mix and apples
- Dinners (2)
- Night 1: lasagna with meat sauce (Mountain House)
- Night 2: mac n cheese (Mountain House)
I’ll also bring miso soup packets for me as a warm option, hot chocolate for the kid and then electrolyte tablets, assorted gummies, chocolate drops, and astronaut ice cream for dessert and just the delight of eating real ‘space food’. Finally I need to carry kibble for the dog – 3 days worth. Thank goodness he’s a small dog and we’re talking less than a pound!
Clothing: Not much to say here – we’re going to be wearing the same clothes each day with only an extra set of underwear for me and a few pairs for him in case he has an accident during the day (unlikely, but I’d regret not being prepared). Both of us have wool thermal underwear to sleep in as well as beanies and puffy jackets for warmth at night. We’ll each have a light pair of shoes to slip into at the end of the day and also hats for sun protection.
Gadgets: First, one big ticket item — I invested in my own Garmin inReach Mini for the safety of having satellite communication. Previously I had borrowed a similar but larger unit from a coworker, only had to pay for the activation fee and a month of service, then returned it. Now that I’m a parent and plan to do this more often over the years it makes sense to have one of my own as well as the peace of mind. It’s half the weight, at 3.5oz, and a solid investment. For pictures I’ll use my phone’s camera (airplane mode) and we have a little digital camera with a waterproof protective housing for the kid to capture his own experience. I also have downloaded tons of bedtime stories onto my phone thanks to the library and Hoopla. Because I don’t know the impact on my phone’s battery of reading stories I will carry a battery charging pack with me just to be safe.
Activities: Mostly walking, taking pictures, and enjoying our surroundings but this trip will also introduce the kid’s FIRST POCKETKNIFE. I got him an Opinel as I love mine to bits and the one for kids has a rounded end which reduces the risks of *stabs* and leaves only the risk of *cuts*. I’ll take that 50% reduction in risk and to try and further reduce we watched some kid knife safety videos today. Based on YouTube’s current offerings I plan to make a few videos with him on our trip to increase what’s available since there wasn’t anything with this Opinel knife or with kids his age. I’m torn about whether or not to bring this magnetic chess set I got for us. When I was ordering I didn’t notice how big it was – weight and space are at a premium and we just started playing a few weeks ago. Perhaps we’ll fashion our own pieces from sticks at camp instead. Stay tuned for the report when we return!
* The kid is carrying a hydration pack and his air mattress for a total weight of 5.6lbs