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‘My son’s first backpacking adventure’ by DreamingOutdoors

With my son having just turned seven, I thought this was a good time to take him on his first overnight backpacking trip to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. The wilderness offers so many learning opportunities, challenges, and joys, to which I have been keen to introduce him. I thought I’d write a little about our experience for those interested in doing the same.

The first item of business was to reserve a backcountry site. In Banff National Park, reservations can be made online HERE. You pay a small fee for the reservation and for a wilderness permit online, just remember you must carry the confirmation with you. You must also purchase a pass upon entry to the National Park for the days you’ll be inside the park. The good news is that kids are free!

It’s important to be prepared for both weather and wildlife. There is a good resource on staying safe in bear country HERE. Much of this information is based on the excellent work of Stephen Herrero in his brilliant book HERE.

We chose to hike to Mosquito Creek backcountry site, the trailhead to which is located opposite the road from the frontcountry campground bearing the same name. It’s a few kilometres south of Bow Lake, just over 30 minutes’ drive north of Lake Louise on the famously scenic “Icefields Parkway” / Highway 93. Mosquito Creek turned out to be aptly named, the mosquitoes hatch in early August every year, so there is just no avoiding them in the moisture-rich meadows of the subalpine. 

I chose this site because it is only around 5 km and the trail is quite flat and well-maintained. It’s interesting what things children notice that adults don’t. This is one of the beautiful things about being a parent, experiencing the world again through your child’s eyes. While I was imagining climbing above treeline to appreciate the alpine wildflowers and vistas, he was commenting about the myopic things I rarely notice. One of the greatest thrills for him was spotting springs and drinking the fresh water directly from the source. Of course, crossing streams was a big adventure too. He talked about the “great viewpoints” which to me which were partially obscured views towards the river through the trees.

It took us 2 hours to reach the campground and after setting up camp we made lunch. The mosquitoes tormented us quite relentlessly, so we chose to hike beyond, towards Molar Pass. My son powered out right at the alpine and I really didn’t want to push him (nor carry him). So I reluctantly turned around and we made it back to camp on “M&M power.” Baiting kids with treats is by far the best way to keep them hiking without complaints! He carried a small backpack with his spare clothes and a water bottle, I didn’t make him pack any other gear, which all felt really light on my back.

I didn’t take any photos on this trip, but I’m including these photos from the same area (North Molar Pass), on the same weekend 8 years ago.

My son enjoyed watching me make supper with a cat can stove and after eating was soon ready for bed. Everything went well until 4 am, when he woke up absolutely shivering and crying. This leads me to my biggest piece of advice. you can never pack warm enough, even in mid-summer at low mountain elevations. I should have brought his winter down jacket and gloves and possibly a second sleeping bag as an over-bag. But we survived the night by cuddling in my bag and in the end he doesn’t seem to be scarred by the experience. I won’t make the same mistake again.

The morning sun was mercifully warm and we slept in until the chill was out of the air a bit. After a nice breakfast and experiencing the magic of the early sun’s rays sweeping into the valley floor, we packed up and made our uneventful exit. On the way out, we spotted a mountain goat navigating the cliffs above us. Again, my son was far more interested in the squirrels than the majestic and somewhat rare sighting of the goat! In total, he hiked 10 km the first day and 5 km the second. I would say that 10 km, broken in two segments, was quite manageable for his age, but I wouldn’t want to test any more than that. Significant elevation gain over shorter distances would also subtract from the total mileage I’d try with him.

I thought about compiling a packing list, but chose to film a little video upon my return that demonstrates my gear. The only thing I didn’t include was my food, which is a whole different topic on it’s own. It’s so unique to your and your child’s tastes, cooking system, etc. That any advice here wouldn’t necessarily apply. However, I will add that I carry it in a scent-proof bag and always have a light drawstring bag to hoist it up a bear-proof storage line/pole/tree. If camping in the alpine, I use a bear-proof canister. For a pillow, I use a stuff sack with day clothes or my folded up down jacket. I really try not to pack unnecessary items as I’ve learned over the years what is essential and what isn’t. The joy of hiking with a lighter pack makes leaving a few extras at home really worthwhile. Everything fit easily in my 75L pack. I hope you find the video helpful!

And finally, here is a little 5 minute summary video of our adventure together.

I do hope you enjoyed reading about our trip. You can follow along with me on my social media channels below!

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