Does every blog begin with some navel-gazing about what on earth the writer has to offer that hasn’t already been said in the world?
Seems like oftentimes when I tell someone about one of my adventures, they say ‘that’s awesome – you should write a blog!’. I guess now we’ll see if they really meant “that’s awesome – if you wrote a blog, I would definitely read it!”. Page views from grandparents will likely keep this site looking popular for a while, anyway…
Carys and I just returned a week ago from a backpacking trip in Colorado; we hiked from Breckenridge to Aspen. It was awesome, but also hard. (And it wasn’t the hiking that was the hard part.) More on the trip to come over the next few posts, but firstly I wanted to talk a bit – actually, a lot – about prep for the trip, which was extensive and took many months.
We stayed in the 10th Mountain Division Huts because, really, could you carry a 14 month-old AND a tent? I’d stayed in huts in Switzerland, France, and Italy and loved them, although there you get to show up in the common space at 7pm and have a three-course (or four-course, in Italy) meal set in front of you while in Colorado you have to carry your own food. The European huts also provide blankets (you bring a cotton or silk sleep sack) and in Colorado you bring your own sleeping bag and it had better be a warm one. But they have propane stoves, pans, crockery, cutlery, mattresses, and pillows – all of which saves a hiker carrying 40lbs of baby, backpack, water, and diapers quite a bit of weight.
Sherpas Hiking Partners
I recruited my friends Sherpa Marian and Sherpa Tom to come along with us; sadly Sherpa Sarah couldn’t take the time off work. Marian and I were sending almost daily emails for months as we planned a route, reserved huts and figured out needed shuttles. The huts were built with ski touring in mind and not all of the winter trails are summer-accessible, so a couple of times we had to devise a route and shuttle around some gnarly bushwhacks.
Diapers aren’t a problem in Europe as the huts have trash service, but in Colorado you have to pack out everything that doesn’t go down the toilet. The newer huts have nice indoor composting toilets, while the older ones were of the rather smellier vault variety. We briefly considered carrying disposable diapers and burning them on days when we couldn’t get to a dustbin but I did some research and found good advice on compostable diapers from Erin at Ground Truth Trekking, who does actual hard-core wilderness hiking – in Alaska – with kids. I hadn’t heard of GDiapers before but they were duly ordered and tested and it seemed like they worked OK. The diapers themselves were heavier than disposables but we could collect the wet ones up over the course of the day in a compostable bag and then just dump the whole lot in the toilet in the evening. We planned to carry about 10 per day which I thought we might actually get through, but it turned out that we usually used fewer and we had quite a surplus at the end. It turned out that they were great for pee, but a sudden addiction to raisins ended up not being a great fit with Gdiapers and we had several sloppy blow-outs.
In Ireland I carried a thick emergency fleece onesie for Carys in case of very cold weather but to save weight in Colorado I carried two sets of pajamas in different sizes. She wore the 12 month ones most nights and on a couple of cold nights I layered the 18 month ones on top. Luckily we never needed to use these during the day for emergencies.
I came up with the Arm Warmer Thermo-Regulation System before our Tour du Mont Blanc trip last year; it’s too hard for me to unload the backpack – especially with sleeping cargo – to take a long-sleeved layer on and off, and my core is almost always warm enough anyway. So I use my cycling arm warmers as I can wear them up when it’s cold and push them down to my wrists if we start going uphill and I’m overheating. I have an old case for a pack cover that clips on to the waist belt of my pack and I used that to stuff arm warmers into while on the move, as well as to store a stash of nuts for on-the-go snacking.
We didn’t carry rain clothes for Carys mainly because I couldn’t find any small enough. I figured she wouldn’t actually be walking around in the rain very much anyway; if we were out in it it would be because we needed to hike. So I made sure all her clothing was layerable for warmth – leggings, fleece pants, and a quick-drying pair of polyester pants for the bottoms, and swimming t-shirts, long-sleeved tops from REI and a knock-off Patagucci Nanopuff for the top. We have a sun/rain shelter for our backpack, and while I now see that commercially available rain covers exist I didn’t know it at the time so I made one out of an old pack cover and a couple of clips before we went to Ireland. I decided Carys would be warm enough in that little envelope of air and wouldn’t need a hat (which she wouldn’t tolerate anyway).
We considered using iodine to purify water as the tablets weigh next to nothing, but Carys’ pediatrician said that if she had a thyroid problem that was currently asymptomatic then the residual iodine in the water could spell big trouble. Marian and Tom already had a Steripen so we took that instead, although in retrospect Tom might have preferred to spend the half-hour each afternoon after we arrived at the huts doing something other than shaking water in a bottle.
Carys weaned right around her first birthday; I was mentally very invested in getting to that point and the milk dried up within a few days afterward. Luckily the shift to cow’s milk did not result in the bottle strike I’d feared – and neither did the shift to powdered whole milk right before the trip. Now she switches back and forth between powdered and fresh milk with no trouble.
I was a bit concerned about the sleeping situation; the huts have mattresses but how would I keep Carys contained? I had no idea whether there would be doors between her and stairs, and I doubted her ability to get to sleep at all with a new place to explore every night. I thought about trying to rig some kind of lightweight tent using a mosquito net and a closed-cell foam mattress, but I didn’t think it would really hold her. I briefly considered getting a portable dog kennel, but a friend reminded me that rip-stop nylon isn’t so breathable and that’s what the manufacturers put around the bottom of dog kennels as protection from scratching with sharp claws. Finally we found the KidCo Peapod Plus tent, which worked like a charm. Luckily we thought ahead and got Carys sleeping in it while we were still at home because the first three nap attempts ended with miserable crying and a transfer to the crib. But on the fourth try she rolled right over and went to sleep – and continued to do so most of the time we were away. At 3 1/2 lbs it’s not the lightest thing in the world, but it’s a heck of a lot lighter – and less bulky – than the lightest travel cribs on the market.
8. Getting Carys to Sleep
At the last minute I ordered a BityBean, as Carys was having some trouble getting to sleep at nights right before we left which necessitated a walk around the block (accompanied by a repertoire of Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez, and Donovan songs sung mostly out of tune). She’s too heavy for me to carry in my arms for very long and the BityBean ended up saving our butts on more than one occasion. It only weighs 8oz, and it was also great to have it for days we were in towns as well.
I’ve used P90X for a long time and ordered P90X3 after Carys was born. Initially I thought the whole ‘workout in 30 minutes’ thing was kind of hokey – especially when I found out that warm-ups and cool-downs are often not included – but it ended up being an awesome way to get stronger. I’ve never done the before/after photos and I don’t follow the prescribed pattern of workouts (I just do whatever one I feel like on the day), but I found X3 to be much more focused on whole-body fitness than the original X, which was more for guys who want to look ripped on the beach. I’d come back from Ireland feeling a little under-trained (admittedly I was probably carrying 45lbs there, as I had full rain gear and a day’s worth of food in the pack) and didn’t want to feel the same in Colorado.
While we were hiking I never once wished I’d done more squats before we left, which was great. Alvin and I went for massages not long before the trip and our therapist, the amazing Mary Toscano (who works at Costanoa on the weekends, FYI…), put me on the table and as soon as she touched me she said “Holy moly, lower back!” Well, Mary, it’s even stronger now…
Carys had a training program as well, which mostly consisted of sitting in the pack for long periods of time. We go out for a hike in the late afternoons most days so she’s accustomed to being in the pack on a daily basis and has never once put up any kind of fuss about it. Indeed, it sort of seems to be her ‘happy place.’ We would try to do a longer hike on the weekends while Alvin was out riding, usually heading for the steepest hills we could find and covering around 8 miles. She gets a couple of breaks to eat and run around during that time although most of the time she prefers to sit and play with my hiking poles.
Marian agreed to take on the breakfasts and lunches, while I prepared the dinners and desserts. I planned a menu that had good variety in meats, side dishes, and desserts. The whole lot took about three weeks to pull together, and I was randomly on the Instructables site at some point during the process when I saw they were having a camping food contest! I hadn’t been photographing as I cooked and dehydrated but luckily I had taken some pictures for a friend of ours who lent me a vacuum sealer a few years back and I still had those buried on my hard drive. I pulled together an Instructable and submitted it to the contest, and was just notified this morning that I’m a winner! Well, actually I’m a runner-up who will receive a prize valued at $25, but that’s a winner in America, right?
Part of my hope for this blog is that it inspires parents to take their kids into the backcountry, so if you have questions about our travel system then leave a comment and I’ll try to answer.
I’ve mentioned lots of products in this post but I purchased them all and the unfiltered opinions are my own.
And, if you’re a grandparent – particularly of the New Jersey variety – I know you’re more keen for photos from the trip than a narrative about planning. Alvin and I took a quick spin through them the day we got home and this one cracked us both up. Thanks for the assist, Sherpa Tom. More photos coming soon.