This article was originally written for Tiny Big Adventure.  You can check out all the cool things they are doing here

We live in an era of helicopter parenting, and it can be hard to let our kids grovel through difficult challenges.  It can feel like the most loving choice to hover around, and rescue them from the things that are uncomfortable for them or they are less competent at.  The truth is, jumping in and rescuing our kids can rob them of the growth and maturity that happens when they conquer hard things.

Virtues like faithfulness and perseverance are sadly lacking in our society. Our kids don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves or have the ‘grit’ required for a successful life. We as parent’s need to help them develop it.

GRIT doesn’t relate to our social importance, how intelligent we are, or even how physically capable we are.  We can all learn to have more grit.  It’s about having stamina, sticking to the commitment, and persevering over the long haul.  I can’t think of a better place to help our kids develop grit than in the outdoors where they have the support of their families to hone this super-valuable skill.

It is a parental mindset that begins the moment our child is born and will continue until we have raised our babies to adulthood.  All along the journey we can impart age-appropriate strategies to help our kids learn the art of grit and determination

The following ramblings are things that we are working on with our kids that seem to be going well.

SPEAKING WORDS OF LIFE

Our kids need to know that their negative feelings and the desire to give up when its hard are normal human emotions.  We can validate those feelings, but we don’t want to stop there.  We can give them tools to help them be overcomers. One of our kids really hates doing hard things.  Life is about play, choosing the way of least resistance and having fun.  When it’s hot, the trail is steep, and the backpack is heavy, the desire to give up is really strong.  For this child, these feelings are not ones that stay inside.  We have frustration, bad attitude and super turned-off body language hangin out all over the place.  It gives us a chance to talk about the parallels to real life; all the bumps and lumps that are a part of it, and the choices we get to make about how we are going to walk through it. We talk about how easy it can be to give up, but how rich the rewards are when we struggle through.

We can work on these virtues of grit at home too.  Find books about hero’s and read them aloud to your kids.  Discuss with them the character traits that these stories highlight and what they might do in a similar situation.  Relate your own personal stories of perseverance.  Stories are such a powerful tool for motivation!

LEADERSHIP STYLES

Leading groups in the outdoors in a professional capacity requires us to utilize different leadership styles. It is a dynamic and ever-changing environment and our management style needs to be adapted to accommodate this. I believe it is no different parenting our kids in the outdoors.  I see many parent’s giving kids a tonne of options.  Lots of times, that is not a workable style in the outdoors.  Kids need to trust that you have their best interests at heart, and they don’t get to dictate the final decision. Some situations demand that we take a kind but firm authoritarian approach, and occasionally we can be democratic or laissez faire.  Intentionality is the name of the game.  Try not to let your kids off the hook or ‘rescue’ them from their hard emotions. Coach them and see them grow!!

PREPARE & SUPPORT

The best strategy we have employed this last year is to write our adventure plans on the calendar.  We have tended to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants family but had been noticing that it was too easy to fill our time with other things, or to not feel like following through on a loosely talked about idea.  It means that our plans are more part of our conversation, and the kids know what we are up to.

As part of the planning we might show them on a map our intended route and where we might camp.  We talk about what it might be like, and may let them know the parts that could be challenging and what some strategies for tackling it could be.  Know your kids though – for some, too much information just leads to anxiety and they might do better with the challenge being ‘sprung’ on them.

When we are adventuring we are generous in sharing the benefits and are positive in our conversation. We are a family that wants to focus on being grateful and counting our blessings. We tell them that they can do hard things, that they are strong and capable, and their bodies can take them to amazing places. And then, we let them be.  Sometimes they need some space to work through the challenges.  We don’t continue to pepper them with suggestions, or give hollow praise.  When the going is tough we ask them what letter they are at: G-R-I- or T.  It works better than a 1-10 scale because it validates the challenge yet at the same time keeps us focused on overcoming the challenge. At the end of the day it can be good to debrief, talking about what worked and didn’t work, and reinforcing how good it is for us to extend our body and mind.  We share memories and laugh.

It is our strong belief, that if we can help our kids develop their grit when they are young through our shared memories in outdoor adventures, that it will set them on a trajectory in life for tackling hard stuff and doing amazing things!

Oh!  And when the adventure is all said and done, create a slideshow of the pictures and watch it together.  Make a photobook too.  It is such a fabulous way to continue to celebrate the success! The memories always get sweeter with time.

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What a year 2017 has been!  We have had more amazing adventures than we could shake a stick at.  We have been backcountry as a family more than we ever have and that has been pure bliss.  In terms of narrowing it down to 17 pictures? That felt near impossible.  Some of these photos I am proud of because I think they are technically sound, and some of them I love because they just capture who we are.  Thanks so much for following along on our journey of our first year of Born to Adventure.  Your support has been truly appreciated and we have had a blast 🙂

Pouakai Tarn Egmont National Park

valley of the six glaciers

Fernie fixing bike tire

lake tahoe

precipice lake sequoia national park

kids swimming at lower elk lake

petain basin elk lakes provincial park

family portaging a canoe playing at an alpine lake kids cliff jumping Mountain Biking with kids in Fernie mud bath Kids playing in canoe Kids lighting a fire Canoeing North Fork Flathead River Canoeing Elk River Fernie Lake Koocanusa sand jumping

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  • January 22, 2018 - 10:19 am

    Liana Norheim - I am in awe of your photography! Every photo is gorgeous and makes me feel refreshed like I have been out in nature myself. Thank you for adventuring and sharing!ReplyCancel

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BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0053Sequoia National Park conjours up images of majestic, awe-inspiring trees, famed as the largest in the world.  What is perhaps lesser known about the park, but equally impressive, is backpacking in the High Sierra’s amongst pristine alpine lakes and towering fins of granite. This trip had been on our radar for a couple of years, after our oldest daughter asked if we could make it happen for her 13th birthday.

Preparations have been going on for the last 12 months; this was to be our 9th family backpacking trip in that time, and the jewel in our crown.  The circuit that we planned was 40 miles, taking in 3 high passes over 6 days.  The highest was nearly 12,000ft, with significant elevation gain and loss in the process.  All our prior backpacking trips we have done as a family, but because of the distances and potential difficulty of the trip, we made the decision to hike with our three older kids (aged 13, 11 and 9) and leave our younger two (aged 4 & 7) with their grandparents in their RV at lower elevations.

This post is primarily an information resource and jam packed with pictures.  Lessons we learned on the trail?  They will pop up sometime in future writings!

NB:  We navigate with a paper map and compass, therefore distances and elevations are not going to perfectly match a digital navigation device.

DAY 1: MINERAL KING TO CLIFF CREEK

Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2km)

Elevation gain: 1700ft (510m)

Elevation loss: 2500ft (760m)

Departed trailhead: 9:30am

Arrived at camp: 1:45pm

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 4hrs 15mins

After picking up our pre-booked permit at the Mineral King Ranger Station, we drove to the trail-head a mile further up the road.  The terrain here is open, and though the climb is steady, we didn’t find it difficult thanks to well placed switchbacks.  I was hoping for clear skies for photography purposes, but unfortunately the previous evening, a lightning strike had ignited a forest fire about 30 miles to the south.  It was smokey and overcast, and threatening rain.

BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0017

Timber Gap (9,511ft) is everything its name suggests.  The trail enters into a patch of forest and through the big, impressive trees in the saddle, we gained glimpses into the type of topgraphy we would be travelling into. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0018The 5km+ downhill trek to Cliff Creek felt like a long way on the first day on the trail. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0019Crossing over Cliff Creek was the first of many stream crossings on this trip.
BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0020Cliff Creek Campsite among giant trees, was just on the other side. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0022 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0021 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0023DAY 2: CLIFF CREEK TO BEARPAW MEADOW

Distance: 7.6 miles (12.2km)

Elevation gain: 1800ft (550m)  Elevation loss: 1100ft (335m)

Departed camp: 6:00am

Arrived at camp: 1:00pm

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 7 hrs

Our rhythm on the trail was one of early starts and early bedtimes.  We got up at 5am (in the dark), packed up camp, and were walking between 5:45am and 6:00am each day.  We would have a snack after 1½ hours of walking, and then take a longer break after 3 hours to have breakfast.

The trail between Cliff Creek Camp and Redwood Meadow was mostly a gentle descent.  Just under 2km of walking bought us back to a spot by the river that would have made a nice alternative place to camp.  After hiking a further 2km we came to the first part of the Redwood Meadow grove of Sequoia trees.  Naively, we had thought we were camping under Sequoia’s at Cliff Creek, but when we saw these majestic beauties we knew we had been mistaken. UNBELIEVABLE.  That is all I have to say.

BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0024This particular Sequoia, had three trunks all coming from the same base.  Destroyed internally by fire, yet still growing strong. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0025 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0026We had our breakfast stop at the main part of the grove.  We wanted to see the big trees just like everyone else who comes to Sequoia National Park.  But we didn’t want to see them for the first time with crowds of other tourists.  We wanted to work for this experience, which is was a big part of the motivation of this trip.  The underlying thing that fueled this motivation was a desire to honour our oldest daughter.  When she was born I had written her a letter that paralleled metaphorically the life of a Sequoia tree.  It expressed the hopes and dreams that we had for her.  Things like resilience under fire, growing in a grove (community) and growing straight and tall, and trusting in God’s plan for her.  It was in this solitary place, with no other people around, that we got to speak these words of life into our new-to-teenagehood daughter.  It was amazing and sentimental, and couldn’t have been done in a more perfect location.  It is something that I will never forget and hope that the same is true for her too. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0027 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0029Hiking on from Redwood Meadow, we crossed 3 more streams.  Granite Creek (bridged & with camping opportunities here for one or two tents), Eagle Scout Creek, and the Kaweah River (camping here too). From the Kaweah we climbed 1.4 miles up to Bearpaw Meadow.  It was hot and hard work, but because of our early start, we arrived at Bearpaw for a late lunch.  First at camp meant we got first dibbs on a campsite and had plenty of time to explore.

We had completed two days hiking and had seen very few people. Just up the hill, we discovered was the junction for the very popular High Sierra Trail.  There was a fixed camp that tourists could hike to, carrying in only a day pack while all their overnight stuff was transported.  For them, hot showers were included, as were meals.  Honestly, I am kinda turned off by these sorts of places, especially when I am camped nearby. But the bonus?!  There was a shop there. Yep, a shop. Miles worth of hiking from anywhere. It was basic, but they had giant $5 camp-made brownies that we could split into 5 pieces, and potato chips.  And well, that brownie made it all OK.

The views from the front of the cafe were amazing too.   BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0030DAY 3: BEARPAW MEADOW TO NINE LAKES BASIN

Distance: 8.3 miles (13.3km)

Elevation gain: 3300ft (1000m) Elevation loss: 400ft (120m)

Departed camp: 5:45am

Arrived at camp: 2:45pm

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 9 hrs

Day 3 was our longest and hardest.  But oh so AMAZING.

From Bearpaw meadow it was a 1.8 mile walk, sidling around the mountain to the bridge crossing over a deep rift in the granite, with the creek flowing fierce, far below. There is a small (1 tent) campsite upsteam that would be possible to snag if you were arriving earlier in the afternoon.

BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0031 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0032The trail then switchbacks up towards Hamilton Lake. In some places, it’s a little exposed but it wasn’t difficult. After 2 or 3 km we crossed over Hamilton Creek.  The crossing is right above a cliff and waterfall, which made for a pretty spectacular setting just as we were getting a little bit of alpenglow at sunrise.
BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0033 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0034Breakfast today was at Hamilton Lake.  From what I read, I was expecting there to be quite a few people camped here. This year, due to its popularity, the NPS has implemented a one-night-only stay. But guess what? No-one!  No campers and no other hikers on the trail yet because it was still pretty early in the morning.  We enjoyed an extended hang out time while we cooked and ate breakfast and did a little exploring. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0035 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0036 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0037 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0038 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0039 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0040Up, up, up we go.  The measures that were taken to construct this trail in completely inhospitable terrain were staggering to us.  We learned that back in the depression in the 1930’s, young men that were out of work, were put on these government ’employment’ schemes and these crews were responsible for building this amazing trail.  There would be no way to enjoy this beautiful terrain if it wasn’t for them.

BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0041 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0042 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0043 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0044 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0045 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0046The stretch between Hamilton Lake and Precipice Lake was taxing with lots of elevation gain, but look at this place!  Simply stunning.  Sequoia National park had a 180% snowpack this year so even in September the snow hadn’t completed melted off Precipice Lake. The combination of snow and the streaky cliffs reflecting in the background made for a surreal environment. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0049We had lunch here, and three of our party went for a swim with the icebergs.  I was not one of them! BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0104After a much needed rest, and a belly full of food we continued up to Kaweah Gap.
BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0054 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0052The going was a little easier; less steep.  And the views!!  How many more adjectives can I use? Mind blowing. Gorgeous. Out-of-this-world amazing.  Every turn in the trail yielded a different breath taking vista.  So much variety.  So grateful to be in this place. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0101We made it to Kaweah Gap at 10,700ft (3220m) BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0057And then new views down into Nine Lake Basin and the Big Arroyo Valley BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0056 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0058 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0059We camped on a cool little knoll where the trail first meets the creek and the rain that had been brewing for the afternoon hit us. Thankfully it was after we had set up camp so we could dash into the tent.  The near-by creek was cascading with numerous waterfalls and pools.  It was my favourite campsite of the trip. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0061 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0060 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0062 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0063DAY 4: NINE LAKES BASIN TO BIG FIVE LAKES

Distance: 9.3 miles (15km)

Elevation gain: 1500ft (460m)  Elevation loss: 1600ft (490m)

Departed camp: 5:45am

Arrived at camp: 1:00pm

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 7 hrs 15 mins

Clear, star-filled skies greeted us when we got out of the tent. The walk down the valley in the pre-dawn was peaceful and still.  With the open terrain we could enjoy 360° views in a valley that was unique from everything we had hiked through so far. Though the going was easy and downhill, it was chilly.  A couple of the kids struggled. They were tired and cold. It took us quite a bit longer to make it to where we wanted to stop for breakfast. We had to cross the creek twice and spent quite a bit of time trying to find somewhere we could rock hop so we didn’t have to take off our footwear.  We cooked breakfast, and warmed ourselves in the sun just as it was peeking over the mountains near the Big Arroyo campsite. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0064 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0065As the morning progressed, the sun was warm on our backs, and there was another change in scenery as we veered off the High Sierra Trail and headed towards Big Five Lakes. We switchbacked up onto a plateau, and passed a couple of pretty little lakes that had camping opportunities. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0066The Little Five Lakes area is a popular spot to overnight,  but we were there at morning snack time!  This was one of my favourite places on the whole trip. A-MAZING. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0067 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0068 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0069We pressed on to Big Five Lakes, through undulating terrain.  After travelling 1.7 miles from Little Five Lakes there is a trail junction that goes to the upper lakes.  The photographer in me really wanted to go there but it would have been nearly 3 miles to go in and out, and was out of our way.  The kids were tired and were looking forward to playing and swimming at camp. On we travelled, and we enjoyed lounging and doing very little for the whole afternoon and evening at Lower Big Five Lake.
BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0071DAY 5: BIG FIVE LAKES TO MONARCH LAKE

Distance: 8.2 miles (13.5km)

Elevation gain: 2900ft (900m)  Elevation loss: 1900ft (580m)

Departed camp: 6:00am

Arrived at camp: 1:00pm

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 7 hrs

The air was filled with smoke, creating a hazy, eerie glow as we walked.  It was so great to be hiking when the sun came up! We walked for 2 miles, making our way around the top end of a very broad ridge and then dropped down steeply into the Lost Canyon Creek campsite and watershed.

BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0102We had our early morning snack by the creek, and then followed the meandering trail for 4km.  It was upward bound, but gentle in its approach, travelling through the open forest and  coming and going from the creek.  Higher up in the valley the trail still had some snow, and a small section had sustained some avalanche damage from the unusually large winter snowpack.  There were little area’s that would have been perfect to camp in. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0074 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0075We broke out of the trees into yet another beautiful landscape.  The smoke had cleared and it was a gorgeous bluebird day.  We reveled in it, enjoying breakfast, and being able to look ahead on our intended route. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0076 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0077The climb from the valley floor up to the Columbine Lake Basin was yet another highlight of the trip BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0078 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0079Columbine lake was so pristine and perfect, held in place all around by the granite peaks that this area is famous for.  John Muir said it right in his quote “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul”.  This place is the epitome of just that. I was truly in my happy place.  BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0080 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0081 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0082 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0083 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0084 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0085Our original plan was to camp at Columbine Lake (11.000ft).  As a team (but mostly lead by the kids) we decided to push on over Sawtooth Pass and down to Monarch Lake so that our final day we could sleep in and not have very far to walk to complete our trip. The trail from Columbine Lake up to the pass was the least defined part of the circuit.  There were rock cairns everywhere marking the way, but because a lot of the trail was over rock, it wasn’t always obvious were it was.   BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0086 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0087 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0088We did it!! 11,630ft (3550m).  That is the highest any of us have climbed.  My New Zealand homeland’s highest mountain is only a couple hundred metres taller, so it was a pretty proud moment.  Our celebrations were short though.  The clouds had moved in and it had threatened rain since we had left Columbine Lake.  As we were summiting, there was the first distant clap of thunder and we needed to high tail it to camp.  We didn’t want to be stuck in an electrical storm. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0089This stretch of the trail was through fine, broken-down granite.  I wouldn’t say it was sand, but more like very small scree-gravel.  Some spots were slippery with the gravel over solid rock, and other parts were the most divine scree running.  It looked and felt like a long way down to Monarch Lake. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0090 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0091 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0092 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0093100m before we got to camp, the rain struck, and right in front of us was the perfect overhanging rock for us to shelter from the deluge. Afterwards, we set up camp, and like usual had the afternoon to hang out in another beautiful part of God’s handiwork. BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0094 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0095 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0096DAY 6: MONARCH LAKE TO MINERAL KING

Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Elevation loss: 2500ft (760m)

Departed camp: 7:00am

Arrived at Trailhead: 9:00am

Time on the trail (total travel time, breaks included): 2 hrs

Our intended sleep-in never worked out.  It howled a gale all night long and I spend a good chunk of it holding the tent up so the poles didn’t bend.  No-one had slept that great and it was cold.  So we decided to start hiking.  We got down to the trailhead for breakfast! BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0097 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0099 BTA Sequoia National Park Hike_0100

OTHER BITS AND BOBS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW TO PLAN YOUR OWN TRIP

PERMITS

A backcountry permit is required year round to overnight in Sequoia National Park. A quota system is in effect from approximately May 25 – Sept 22. Permit applications open on March 1st at 12:01am.  We put our application in right on the dot; we didn’t want to miss out.  You can find out what you need to know at this link

SEASON & CLOTHING

The road from Three Rivers to Mineral King is not clear of snow and open until May. June to September is the main backpacking season.  Early season there will be more snow, more water in the creeks and more biting bugs.  Drowning while crossing creeks is the number one cause of death in Sequoia National Park and I can see why.  We crossed a lot of creeks, and there was still a lot of water in them even though it was late in the season.  As mentioned previously there was 180% snowpack.  Most years the creeks run much lower. Our trip was from August 30th to September 4th.  We carried full thermal underwear, fleece and down jackets, beanie, gloves, raincoat and we used it all. A lot of the trip you are camping around 10,000ft and night time temperatures can get below freezing even in the summer.  Beware of afternoon thunderstorms and educate yourself for your own protection. There are parts of the trail that the sun would beat down hot in the middle of summer.  Sun protection, and travelling earlier or later in the day would be necessary

BEAR SAFETY

Bear-proof food storage containers are a mandatory requirement to travel in the backcountry in Sequoia.  The ranger who issues your permit will check you have them.  We bought two large ones because I am sure we will use them again.  They are also available to rent from the Mineral King Ranger Station.  Most of the more established campgrounds also had bear cache’s for food.  California has a different way of dealing with bears than we are used to in Canada.  We always carry bear spray; in California (or at least in Sequoia) it is considered a weapon and isn’t allowed.  All usual bear precautions apply.  Make noise.  Cook away from your tent.  Remove all scented items from your tent and store overnight with your food.

CAMPING

Campsites were a lot more numerous than we expected.  If we were to do the trip again I would opt for some different places to camp.  Every 2 or 3 km it seemed there was somewhere to pitch a tent. Because you have to take bear canisters you don’t need to camp some place with lockup boxes.  I would skip Bearpaw Meadow for sure (just make sure you buy a brownie before moving on 🙂  It was really dusty at that campsite with no undergrowth.  There were no views either. I would add another day to the trip simply so we would take advantage of camping in some different places than we did.  We took a 4 person tent and the 5 of us crammed in it.  Lots of the tent sites fit a 2 person tent perfectly but with the 4 person we were often on a bit of a slant.  Some of the more quaint spots to camp only held one, maybe two tents. Remember to practice all parts of no-trace camping.  Fires are only allowed in area’s below 10,000ft. Treat all water.

NAVIGATING

We used the National Geographic trail map for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  The visitor centre at Mineral King also had larger scale topo maps that we would have preferred had we not already purchased a map.  Like usual, I made 3 or 4 copies of the section of map that we needed and put each in a ziplock.  This works great for kids learning to navigate.  We have the master map that we pull out if we need the bigger picture or more clarity than our copy.  The trail was very well defined for the most part, and was signed at all intersections.  The only part that the route was more fuzzy was from Columbine Lake up to Sawtooth Pass, and then down the other side to Monarch Lake.  If you are experienced, neither of those areas should pose any problems.

GETTING THERE

It was an epic drive for us to get to California – a full 24 hours of driving which we spread over 3 days, stopping at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, and then finally Three Rivers, California.  The heat was extreme – 115°F or 45°C and we honestly thought we might melt.  Thankfully, Mineral King at 7,800ft yielded much cooler temperatures.  There are plenty of warnings about how windy the road is from Three Rivers to Mineral King.  It is narrow; not suitable for trailers, or people who don’t know how to drive around sharp bends and steep dropoffs, while sharing the road with others.  We are used to driving roads like this so it didn’t feel like that big of a deal but if freeways and two laned roads are your life, it would be intimidating for sure.  The area is very rugged and remote and the drive in gives a sense of isolation and vulnerability.

PARKING & MARMOTS

During June and July there is a problem with marmots chewing on lines and cables on the underside of vehicles at the trailhead.  The result is an immobilized vehicle and a long, complicated and expensive procedure to get help.  The National Parks Service recommends taking a large tarp that you can drive onto, and then pulling it up and tying it over the vehicle; kind of like a diaper.  The other way to protect yourself is to park at the Ranger Station/Visitor Centre and walk the mile up the road to the trailhead.  Apparently the marmots aren’t a problem down there, or in other months outside of June and July.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

No other hikers that we met on the trail were doing the circuit we were. That would indicate this wasn’t a ‘typical’ route.   It therefore comes with a very high recommendation from us!  Many seem to start on the High Sierra Trail at the Crescent Meadows trailhead in the ‘main’ part of Sequoia National Park.  This would avoid driving the crazy road into Mineral King, but is also a more populated option.  We loved that we saw less people the way we went.  In fact, we really didn’t see many people at all. The trail was challenging (I don’t want to downplay it) but it was also so well graded and maintained that even broken-kneed hubby didn’t have any knee issues.  There were no giant steps; just more gradual slopes, switchbacks and nicely formed rock steps, and as I mentioned, we were super impressed with the construction of the trail.  The scenery is second to none.  Varied and always changing.  For our family it provided the perfect amount of challenge. ‘Digging deep’ was necessary, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly hard.  Our 7 year old, who is an excellent little hiker, would have been fine coming with us. It would have been nice to add an extra day, making it a 7 day trip.  If you would like more info please feel free to contact me!

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Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0001.jpg

The headwaters of the Flathead River drain the SE corner of British Columbia in Canada.  This is a special area that conservationists have been trying for many years to get incorporated into a National Park.

Because the international border between Canada and the U.S is now closed at this location, the only option is to start on the U.S side, literally right on the cut-line that divides the two countries.

We camped at the put-in while the Dads completed our shuttle.  The kids had tonnes of fun exploring, playing camouflage and hanging out with their friends who were joining us for the trip.

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The next morning after breaking camp, we launched our three canoes into the cold, clear water; a stunning azure blue and running with a swiftness that didn’t let up for the duration of the journey southward.

We were expecting riffles and rapids up to grade 2 in difficulty.  The scenery was amazing right from the beginning.  It was everything you would expect from a river designated as Wild and Scenic, and running along the eastern boundary of the famous Glacier National Park in Montana. We scouted a couple of rapids from shore, but could easily boat scout most, looking to miss the occasional rock or choose the least splashy line to avoid swamping. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0004.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0006.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0007.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0009.jpg

We were on the lookout for the Kintla rapids as they were both marked as grade 2.  It was very easy to skirt the white-water of Upper Kintla (Mile 48.5). At Lower Kintla (Mile 47.5) we pulled over river left and scouted from shore.  It was a class 3 with no chicken chute, and we opted to portage, lining the canoes down river left.

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A couple of rapids below Kintla, there is a drop with a decent wave train that we were looking to avoid.

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Our friends boat didn’t quite make their line and they had a roller-coaster good time!  They did a super job of paddling their swamped boat to shore.

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The rapids mellowed out to riffles / grade 1 from Wurtz (Mile 47) and we floated down hoping to find good camping. Canoeing North Fork Flathead River Montana

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Home for the night was just upstream of Sondreson Meadow (Mile 40).  The kids had fun playing and swimming in the side channel, and we were grateful for plentiful wood for a fire.

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The brilliant weather continued for our 2nd day on the water.  We had glorious views of the mountains in Glacier, and the white-water was straight forward and fun.

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At mile 26, the gradient eases, and the channels braid.  In a couple of places, the main channel was completely blocked by log jams. Our only choice was to paddle the narrower side channels.  Thankfully it was clear of wood, but caution and skill was needed.

Canoeing North Fork Flathead River MontanaThe un-designated camping was a little difficult to find, because river left is off bounds unless you have secured a backcountry permit for Glacier National Park prior to departure. In addition, quite large chunks of land are private property on river right.  We didn’t want to camp in vehicle accessible sites so other options weren’t very numerous. We did find great spots to camp though, and our general motto is to land a campsite early in the day. That way, the kids have plenty of time to play and hang out, and therefore not feel like we are just pounding out miles on the river. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0034.jpg

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Canada Day didn’t go un-celebrated!

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On the 3rd day, there were more route choices to be made with the river braiding again, and then the landscape became broader as we neared Camas Bridge.

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We pulled in at Big Creek to re-assess our plan. We had shuttled a vehicle to Glacier Rim, 11 miles further downstream.  Between Big River and Glacier Rim, we knew there were grade 3 rapids.  We were going to see how our trip went, then make a choice about if/who, would paddle that section.

The executive decision was made not to go on, and we settled into camp at the Big Creek Day area. The campground host had generously let us use it to overnight camp,  so we didn’t have to haul our gear into the actual campground.  The Dad’s also needed to hitch hike to retrieve our vehicle at Glacier Rim. We had lots of time to lounge around on the stony beach or in the hammocks, swim, and play. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0039.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0040.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0041.jpg

This trip was such a great way to kick off our summer.  Our kids really enjoy being on the river, and it was so fun to see how each of their skills are improving.  Our 11 year old daughter was my bow-person and she did fabulous.  And hubby had the other 4 kids, with our 13 year old daughter as his bow-person. It is a river we would happily do again!

SUMMARY

DISCLAIMER: The North Fork of the Flathead is not a typical choice for a family canoe trip.  The water is very cold, and there are plenty of hazards (mainly logjams) for the unaware and inexperienced.

Why did we do this trip with our kids you might ask?  My hubby and I have both been certified white-water kayak & canoe instructors, and white-water raft guides.  We have extensive training and knowledge in risk and crisis management, river rescue techniques, group leadership and are experienced in extended wilderness travel with clients of all ages.  In short, our kids replace what we have done with clients for many years.  I just wanted to be clear up-front.  This is not your average family trip and I don’t recommend it unless you can personally and safely canoe grade 3 and self rescue.

DISTANCES:  The North Fork of the Flathead from the Canadian/U.S Border to Blankenship Bridge is 58 miles.  We completed 43 miles from the Border to Big Creek.

DURATION:  We spent 3 days on the river.  We camped at the put-in and take-out, so we took 5 days and 5 nights overall. Our river trip from June 29th – July 3rd were the last days before the river gets busy for the main summer season.

RIVER FLOW/DIFFICULTY:  6400cfs when we started.  5000cfs when we finished.  You can check flows here.  A lower flow would make the overall trip easier.  Many things I read prior to the trip said it was grade 2.  At the above flows it was class 2+ with Lower Kintla flowing at class 3.

OUR BOATS: Esquif Mirimichi and Esquif Prospecteur

PERMITS:  No permits are required to float the river.  If you want to camp on river left in Glacier National Park you will need to get a backcountry permit, available from the Backcountry Permit Centre in Agpar.

REGULATIONS:  If you plan to have a fire, a metal fire pan is required.  All solid waste (poo) must be carried off the river.

LEAVE NO TRACE:  It is an extremely popular river, with people floating it with various motivations, and often not with the respect and care that this river needs. Please do your part so further enforcement (more rules, mandatory permits etc.) don’t become necessary.  It is so important that we leave no trace. Take out your poo and your garbage.  Protect the water quality by keeping all soap and food out of the river.  Disperse grey water on land.

WILDLIFE:  This is prime grizzly bear habitat.  Secure your food and scented items overnight. Take bear spray.

MAPS:  We used this map and guide, in conjunction with our National Geographic Map for Glacier National Park.

SHUTTLE:  We were two families, with 2 vehicles, so we did our own shuttle.  It took 3 hours to complete, each direction.  There are companies that will do the shuttle for you.  Glacier Raft Company is one I found.

RAFTING: Most of the parties on the river were rafting.  This is a great family option if you have rafting skills.

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Solitude. It is a big part of what attracts our family to the outdoors. LeanneNanninga-2-1.jpg

Relying, on each other and creating fun memories is more effective without hoards of people.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,My hubby, kids and I recently spent 5 weeks in New Zealand.  It is the land I was born and raised in, and the country our family called home for 12 years.  We have lived in Canada for the last 5 years without a visit back, so our goals were to re-connect with family and friends, and adventure!

We had a plan to hike to the Whakapapaiti backcountry hut in Tongariro National Park.  Our strategic plan was to have it to ourselves! But when we got to the trailhead, we realized that was not going to be the case if the vehicles that were parked there were any indication.  We recognized the logos on the side of the vans – a school that would have unloaded about 20 fourteen year old boys out its doors.  We didn’t really want to share the hut with them!  After a quick change of pan, we threw our tents and thermarest into our packs so we could camp.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

The hike over into the Whakapapaiti valley wasn’t very far – about 3km.  The volcanic nature of the terrain made it difficult to decide where to pitch our tents, but we eventually settled on a spot on a knoll, with a creek down below us, and amazing views over the valley.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,The kids could play to their hearts content,

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,while Dad was on dinner duty and Mum was taking pictures.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

Off in the distance was a series of waterfalls going down through a lava cliff band, that looked reasonable accessible, though a little far as a side excursion for some of our crew.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The next day, we decided that there was plenty to explore close to where we camped for Dad and the kids, and that I would run off-trail to the waterfalls. What a feeling to be all alone, with the spray against my face, knowing that no-one else was going to show up.  No bears (like there is at home in Canada!). No people.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The day was bluebird. Once we had united again as a family we hiked out with Mt Ruapehu beside us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaruhoe were ahead of us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

As people, we often follow the crowds.  We can end up doing what everyone else is doing, especially when visiting another country or area that we aren’t familiar with.  Most often, my family plans trips where we will see few other people, and I wanted to share how we achieve that.

  1. Study a map. Ask a friend. Look online

A lot of our inspiration comes from studying a real paper map. My favourites are Backroads Mapbook’s & Gemtrek Maps (Canada), as well as regular topographical maps.  Teach yourself to read a topo map if you don’t know already – it is an invaluable tool in the backcountry.

Talking to others about their adventures allows me to come up with new trip concepts and I will also use online resources (blogs, trailforks etc) and trail/river guides.  Combining all of the above, we can come up with some pretty cool ideas.

  1. Timing and choice of route is everything

We find that there can be a super popular trail/cave/river or location that EVERYONE goes to. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular one-day walk in New Zealand.  It traverses between two active volcanoes, blackened lava flows, funky-shaped red scoria, deep craters and amazing aquamarine alpine lakes. The area is made more famous by it’s feature in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It deserves every bit of it’s acclaim.  And that means its busy.  There are times of year and times of day when it isn’t.  We choose those instead.  Or we get that topo map out and study it to see if there could be a variation on the route.  Our other trick is to find something nearby that is just as neat and less known. That was our strategy for this hike. We only saw one other couple and just across the valley is the fore mentioned busiest-hike-in-New-Zealand.

  1. Upskill to get off the beaten track

Something that is concerning about people being inspired to adventure through social media or other online avenues is that everyone thinks that they can do ‘epic’. The truth is there is a lot of skill and risk management that goes into staying safe in the outdoors. Make it a goal to always be learning.  I highly recommend taking courses in your area of interest.  Maybe an avalanche course, learn how to canoe properly or participate in a river rescue course.  A wilderness first aid qualification is essential. Both my hubby and I are formally trained in Outdoor leadership and Risk Management (we worked in it for 16 years), but even so, I am regularly taking courses to upskill and learn new things.  Over the last couple of years, I have taken block courses for mountain biking and skiing and I have plans to find a course for backcountry skiing/mountaineering.  Don’t be blissfully ignorant.  You can’t afford to when you have kids!

There you have it…..some idea’s for finding solitude.  Play safe out there, know your limits and leave no trace of your visit!!

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