Backpacking Lets Your Children Bond with Nature, with Their Imaginations, and with You
Tim Hauserman with his daughter Sarah in the Desolation
Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.
With the first crackle of thunder we stepped up the pace, quickly glancing at the imposing visage of Freel Peak before ducking into the grove of ancient whitebark pines. We crossed tiny Cold Creek on our way to Star Lake near Lake Tahoe, California. At Star Lake’s shore we felt the first spits of rain, followed swiftly by hail, which set my 12-year-old daughter and me to work. In perfect, silent synchronicity we set up the tent, filled it with necessities, covered our packs in plastic, and in less than two minutes were inside. Outside the temperature dropped and the hail piled up like freshly fallen snow, but we lay snug in our sleeping bags.
Soon the storm cleared and we emerged from our cocoon. As the heavy mist drifted from the still lake, we pondered Job’s Peak, a massive pile of rock rising 1,500 feet above us. With the lake to ourselves, we dove into the chilly waters, and then basked on the warmed granite rocks in the late afternoon sun. At night, an impossibly dark sky held stars uncounted, and we watched brief flashes of shooting stars while meditating on the gentle sparkle of civilization on the shore of Lake Tahoe far below. The next morning we rose with the sun and set out to explore a lush meadow laced with wildflowers that sits placidly between two high, stark ridges. It had taken a few years of trial and error, but we had become a father-daughter backpacking machine.
Joy in the Outdoors
More than a decade has passed since that hike to Star Lake, but it remains as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I recently spoke to my now-20-something daughter about our first backpacking experiences. She fondly remembers the joy of being outdoors with no schedule or technology, just quiet time in nature with her family. She also remembers that having the freedom to follow her imagination made the challenges of hiking worthwhile.
While the backpack trips were a good experience for her, my daughter felt they were even more beneficial for me. She was right. Without a doubt my backpacking trips were the most important bonding experiences I’ve had with my two daughters.
Following Our Imaginations
Those of us who were kids in the ’60s and ’70s would spend our childhood days throwing rocks into lakes, lounging on sandy beaches, or chasing each other through the woods. There was no grand agenda – just going where our imaginations took us.
Giving my kids time that was free from rules and restrictions was an essential part of their learning process. They had time to do nothing but build a sailboat out of a piece of driftwood and a branch of pine needles, create a castle out of a pile of rocks, or present a skit to an imaginary audience. Backpacking gave my children time to explore their natural surroundings – but more importantly, their natural imaginations.
For the parent-child relationship, backpacking means one-on-one time without the distractions of life. It’s an opportunity to get by with what you have and make it work, instead of expecting instant gratification for every need. It’s a lesson in how to appreciate the basics of life: food, water, and shelter. It’s about how to love nature and treat it with respect.
Go at Your Child’s Pace
A word of advice for the serious backpacker. You know who you are. Before you became a parent you went on multi-day hiking adventures covering mega-miles every day. Take heart; I was one of those long-distance hikers, too, but discovered a new appreciation for wilderness when the pace of my kids made me slow down and just enjoy where I was and what I was doing.
Don’t wait around for your kids to be the perfect age or worry about whether they can handle it. Take your child backpacking. Both of you will remember the experience for the rest of your lives.
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