I’ve been hyping up backpacking to my daughter for over a year. She’s four years old and loves anything outside. She even goes to an entirely outdoor pre-school. In her mind, and I tend to agree, almost everything is better when you’re outside. So the idea of sleeping, eating, and pooping outside was pretty exciting.
At four years old, she’s able to hike a few miles when properly motivated. In the case of her first backpacking trip, the motivation came in the form of sugar – gummy bears.
I found what looked to be the perfect trail near Mt. Rainier. It gently follows a small river for two miles with several creek and bridge crossings along the way. Big adventure for my little lady. Our trail ended at a beautiful alpine lake, full of jumping trout.
We set up camp right next to the lake and slept under the stars. We cooked meals and purified water together. At night, we roasted s’mores over a backpacking stove, due to a burn ban. She fell asleep to the sound of fish jumping and ducks quacking.
I had an inkling that she was going to love backpacking, but I hadn’t thought through the experience from her point of view. I figured she would soak up some one-on-one time with me. She has a little brother at home who’s getting a lot of attention as he’s learning to walk. I thought she would enjoy splashing in the lake and eating trail meals. But what she really loved was a little beyond my grown-up brain.
She loved watching the sunset. How amazing is that?! She’s usually in bed with the curtains drawn long before the sun goes down. In true Pacific Northwest form, sudden clouds rolled in throughout the day and created an orange sherbert-colored evening sky and butterscotch reflections on the water. She was mystified by the colors. I’ve seen hundreds of those sunset colors, but my kid, whose attention span barely lets her finish one bedtime story, sat quietly watching until it was dark.
Another unexpected highlight – pooping outside. I explained the importance of digging a hole away from water and burring everything when she’s done. Pooping at home is just part of a regular day. But pooping on the trail is an adventure. She scouted a good spot away from water, but still with a view of camp and the lake. She used our Deuce UL trowel to dig a hole, and had a grand old time giving me a play-by-play as she did her business.
Before I had kids I would watch my dog on hikes. His nose would take him to things that I overlooked. I always wondered what he was smelling on the trail, and what I was missing. I think backpacking with a four-year-old is similar to that. She paid attention to things I would never notice. She asked questions that I couldn’t answer. Her imagination took over and created a whole world that lives in and between the trees. I’m enamored with the beauty of the forest, but I just see the forest. My daughter sees something else. And I’m jealous that I don’t experience nature the way she does.
We rounded out our trip with burgers and shakes on the way home. She’s already planning our next backpacking trip.
New experiences are tough for my daughter. She has a hard time with the unknown. But I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on her first backpacking trip and I realized that she didn’t hesitate at all. She enthusiastically hit the trail, drank water from a river, ate funny camp meals, and happily pooped in the woods. It was almost as if she had done it all before. Like she was supposed to be there.
I think she’s happiest when she’s on the trail exploring the world around her. I led the way on her first trip. But I think I’ll follow her lead on the next one.