Harry was fascinated with all the gear and items we brought up the mountain for our backcountry camping trip with a toddler. Here he "helps" Dad get ready for a day-hike.
Letters to Harrison,  Travel with Baby

Three Days of Backcountry Camping with a Toddler

I’ve never done any sort of backcountry camping, let alone backcountry camping with a toddler.

Old Glory is a hike I’ve done almost every year since I moved home from university. It’s the highest peak in the Rossland range, with almost 1000 meters of altitude gain from the trailhead. We decided to do this trail for our first backcountry camping trip  since it is an already familiar setting, but still has a bit of challenge. There’s a few routes to the top, and we chose the Plewman Trail since it is the fastest and most scenic, despite also being the steepest.

I’ve always thought it would be a beautiful place to camp up there, and I’m excited we finally made it happen.

Kootenay Columbia Trail Society signs directing hikers to Old Glory Hike or Seven Summits Trail Route

The rain fly and canopy came in very handy on our Deuter pack when the rain started to drizzle.

That Backpack Carrier

Hiking is an activity I’ve always appreciated, and Harry, it’s becoming such for you too. At just shy of three months old, you went on your first hike. It was a short one, you on Dad’s back in the Deuter “Kid-Comfort” pack we bought off the buy-and-sell.

Six weeks later, we took you up Old Glory. It took us eight hours instead of our usual six, and we had to sing rounds of your favourite songs for a lot of the route down to keep you content. We had one diaper blow-out, and one poorly timed nap necessitated 20 minutes from the top. In reflection, it was easy-peasy, since despite all this, you were in no way mobile at the time.

You laugh, bounce, and sleep in that backpack, and when it sits forgotten in a corner the day after an excursion, I sometimes find you’ve dragged it into the centre of the room and are trying to figure out how to climb yourself in.

 

Harry in his favourite seat waves at the camera just after the sun sets from the top of Unnecessary Ridge
Hiking Harry into bedtime while waiting for the fireworks.

On Commitment

Since having a baby, we have sacrificed a lot of activities, and we’ve compromised on many more. Being the glass-half-full kind of gal that I am, I like to focus on the compromise bit:

We still travel, but with fewer excursions.

We still eat out, but more likely brunch than dinner.

I think your Dad and I are pretty good at self care, and having such active family members helps us retain some independence as parents. We  like to  share our interests with you too, with a few modifications, of course.

The things that we do now take a heck of a lot more time to prepare, and when we finally implement, the limiting factor is usually when the next nap is due.

We work harder for experiences.

Forgotten gear now has more significance. The potential for poor weather poses a greater challenge (though it has yet to limit us!).

You want to know a great time to start a new hobby that is physical, requires a ton of planning, time, and a lot of gear? Probably before, or several years after you have a kid to toss into the mix.

 

In “Sports Families or Recreation Families”, I describe my wish that you know joy in your activities, and how we’ll support each other while doing them. We implemented those intentions this weekend.

 

A rare picture caught of Harry awake in his Kid Carrier

Backcountry Camping with a Toddler

We set out Saturday afternoon, ascending the Plewman Basin up to “Unnecessary Ridge”. The littlest of our crew was quickly asleep in the pack, cosy in woolies and rain gear. Light rain kept the adults cool as we hiked, and treated us to a rainbow once we emerged into the sub-alpine.

 

We were treated to a rainbow that arched across the valley behind up while ascending the Plewman Basin.

We took advantage of having a contented napper and quickly descended into the next valley to set up camp. While Dad prepared a dinner of reconstituted Lasagna, Mom prevented Harry’s attempts to “pancake” himself onto the newly pitched tent. Harry, you ate as though you hiked hard on the way up.

The tent, mats, and sleeping bags were a huge hit with the toddler, and I now understand why a Google search on “camping with kids” recommends a “dry run”. We should have trialled sleeping in the living room to get the excitement out of the way.

Our first “hiccup” came after dinner.

It was still bright out, unfamiliar, and way past bedtime. Mom tried for forty-five minutes to accomplish what Dad did in ten.

“You just put him on his tummy and pat his bum and he falls asleep”

Yeah, Right.

Old Glory

Harry and Dad smile from the top of the world. This was taken just before Dad's hat was "removed" for him

 

That bright, fresh atmosphere had the effect of waking Harry at 5:00 am. Thus, all of us woke up at 5:00. We toddled around our site; The sandpit adjacent to us was heavily attended with the shovel, and a small pile of rocks.

The adults took coffee to-go to prevent little hands from spilling things, and by the time we reached our water source and breakfast location, Harry had started his first nap.

 

We took advantage of this nap time by laying Harry down and enjoying a morning coffee
Rather than risk waking him while transferring from the backpack, we give Harry a pillow, and tip him over

We reached the top and enjoyed the views, some glassing with Matt’s scope, and watched some very committed skiers. You further delighted in the activities of one very fat, very healthy-looking squirrel. We were once again limited by the need for a naptime, and thus Harry’s return to the backpack and more hiking.

We were partially successful in transferring a sleepy Harrison from backpack to sleeping-bag back at our site, the ultimate result being a big two-hour-long family nap (You wind up pretty tired when you’re up at the crack of dawn, hey Harry?).

The real treat came that evening. We retraced our steps from the previous day, returning to the top of Plewman. We enjoyed the sunset, and settled Harry into a sleeping bag. I should add that at some point during the day we remembered to wish each other a Happy Canada Day! The celebrations were our reason for making this late-evening hike.

We boiled water for our tea and sat waiting for the show to start…fireworks!

1700 m below us, we watched the tiny, far away explosions. We ultimately got to enjoy two shows from our spot, the first in Trail, the second up the Beaver Valley. We returned to our tent by the light of our headlamps.

 

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Our view of the Canada Day fireworks in Trail -magnified through Matt’s spotting scope.

The Bad

The next morning was bad. It was stressful. If we never do something like this again, it’s because of our last morning.

It started immediately on waking up (again, at 5:00 am). The tears began, ascending in volume and were not resolved by anything.

Oatmeal was eaten between sobs.

A bottle of formula bought us ten minutes.

Ultimately, we just started packing as fast as we could to begin the trek to the car. To be more specific, Harry, Dad packed everything as fast as he could (and to his credit remained admirably composed while I stared daggers at his back for not going even FASTER!). I alternated bouncing, play- and breast-feeding attempts, and finally, aggressive pacing in circles with the backpack to try settling you.

We left our little campsite in a mad rush, and by the time we had reached the trail, you were out-cold (is anyone picking up the pattern? Carriers equal “nap time” -every time).

I am sorry to say this Harry, but I’m grateful you slept until we were practically to the car (and thank god you woke up in a good mood).

Of course you had to come down the trail with one more tooth than you had going up.

 

Harry smiles out from the top of Old Glory. The meteorological cabin was recently fixed up and was a wonderful refuge from the wind.

Conclusion

Aside from pretty much all sedentary bed-times, we had a lot of fun. We got to spend time as a family doing something we enjoy. We met some nice people on the trail, and feel like we accomplished something, even more so because we did it with a toddler.

The cutting of a tooth I will attribute to poor timing. I’ll admit I felt pretty defeated as we left camp. I spent most of the descent considering your perspective, Harry, and blaming myself for your clearly communicated discomfort.

We took you from your routine, away from familiar settings. We replaced it with sunlight, wind, and an array of temperatures. You senses were overloaded, and your freedom was limited for the sake of safety.

On the other hand, you got to ride like a king. You got to spend every moment with parents that were focused entirely on you for two days straight. There was no housework, meal-prep, or visitors to distract your Dad and I from accommodating your every need. All your favourite “junky” snacks were at hand, and we didn’t once make you brush your teeth (don’t Mom-shame me for it either!).

 

You got to ride like a king. You got to spend every moment with parents that were focused entirely on you for two days straight. There was no housework, meal-prep, or visitors to distract your Dad and I from accommodating your every need. All your favourite "junky" snacks were at hand, and we didn't once make you brush your teeth (don't Mom-shame me for it either!)

 

What I learned while Backcountry Camping with a Toddler

  1. Two nights is exhausting once you factor in early mornings and hiking. Next time we go, we plan to commit to one night.
  2. Put infant Tylenol at the top of your packing list
  3. Take the amount of snacks you intend to bring for your child, and double that amount. Always have food within arms-reach.
  4. Knowing that Harry quickly falls asleep in the backpack, we figured out that we could plan hiking times accordingly, and avoid the struggle of initiating a nap in the brightly lit tent
  5. We seem to have diaper blow outs every time we use disposable diapers, and we’ve started bringing “cloth diaper covers” to put over the disposable diapers while travelling. This has saved TWO outfit changes since we got wise to this trick
  6. Find footwear that is both warm and waterproof, but also easy and fast to put on. Diaper changes are a commitment when there are multiple layers of clothing. All Harry wanted was to charge in and out of the tent, and having a less complicated footwear setup would have streamlined both processes.

 

We witnessed your laughs, wonder, fascination with our gear, woodland creatures, and other people on the trail. We got snuggles, and shared meals. It really wasn't so bad.Harry got lots of practice walking on uneven surfaces. Here he is seen practicing beside a spring.

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7 Comments

  • Jen

    My husband and I are new to camping, we started about 3 years ago with our two kids. While we’re not brave enough for backcountry camping (I like my hybrid trailer too much) we love spending time as a family and giving the kids new adventures and opportunities to explore nature. Good on you for sharing our wonderful country with your son!

    Jen – fellow Canadian camper!

  • Kayla

    I love the picture of him sleeping all snug as a bug. We love taking the kids out to wildlife refuge near us. These pictures are beautiful and it looks like everyone had a great time.

  • Mary Echols

    #parentgoals! This is such a great idea-taking your little one with you as you travel. He will grow up with a sense of adventure and travel and know the world waiting him! Do you have any trips planned that involve more hiking ?

    • ThisHarryLife

      We’re hoping so! August is the next weekend we have free and the current plan is to do another overnight trip with friends who have a toddler the same age as ours. I’m pretty pumped we have another couple who’s as enthusiastic as we are!

  • ThisHarryLife

    Thanks! Definitely memories made…the fireworks I’ll carry with me for sure! Holding a sleeping little guy in a sleeping bag while drinking tea and watching the show from a cool place was so enjoyable!

  • Lexi

    This looks amazing! What an amazing experience for all of you, minus the new tooth. That carrier looks amazing too, we’ve been using a smaller one but I definitely think it’s time to upgrade to something like that, especially if it worked through your whole hike!

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