By Joseph Robertia
On paper, the idea sounded like an exercise in masochism — my wife and I taking two dogs and three kids ages 12 and 10 years and one 6-month-old baby, on a four-day, three-night, 40-mile backpacking/hunting trip along the entire Resurrection Pass Trail, which runs about 33 miles from Hope to Cooper Landing.
As if this wasn’t crazy enough, we weren’t thinking of doing the trip in June or July when the weather is mild. We did it in October, last weekend, leaving our daily lives and all modern luxuries for a long weekend in what was predicted to be four days of freezing rain and possibly snow at the higher elevations.
Despite that the mountain tops along the way were already white as we were making the drive to be dropped off in Hope, I held faith in my belief that Alaska weather reports are about as dependable as a politician’s promise. Prepare for the worst, and you’ll generally experience far less than that.
Sure enough, we were ready for the worst, with food, clothing and gear suitable for a wintery pursuit, because preparation often is the difference between success and failure in any outdoors endeavor. But we did get lucky and enjoyed weather that was sunny to fair during most of the trip.
The two older kids, my nephew, Billy, and niece, Grace, I wasn’t too worried about. They’re two of the most rugged troopers I know and had already done most of this trip with us the year before without any complaints — which is good because not only do I have a strict no-whining policy, but the point of the trip isn’t to force them through it, but to have them enjoy it with us. They had done just that in 2012.
The difference this year, though, was that unlike last time when we helped them carry some of the heavier gear and food, this year my wife and I were packing our 17-pound baby and carrying all her clothing and cleaning needs. The kids were going to have to pack all their own stuff this time, and lug a share of the food.
We’d all spent the summer getting in shape with smaller hikes. For the little one, we had tried out several types of gear for a 6-month-old, such as compostable diapers, various fleece and windproof body suits, and all kinds of carriers and slings. We ultimately took the gear that worked the best on the smaller endeavors.
Most importantly, I held a screening of “Jeremiah Johnson” for my niece and nephew, so they’d finally get why, after bagging a grouse, I thump my chest and say, “Am I a great hunter? YES!” This ended up being more fun than I imagined, since then they, too, got into jokingly saying, “Am I ready for some beef jerky? YES!” Or at the end of the day, “Am I ready to take this pack off? YES!”
Not all of the trip was easy with three kids. The older kids, like most preteens, were tough to roust from their warm sleeping bags on a cold morning, when the woodstove in the cabin had long ago burned out. There were also occasional squabbles over who had eaten more macaroni and cheese while sharing one pot.
My daughter, Lynx, has always been a good baby, only fussing when she wants to eat or needs to be changed, so we have gotten really in tune with her needs. Still, when she needs to be changed, she wants to be clean immediately, so there were a few tricky moments — such as a diaper change above tree line, which involved shielding her from sideways-blowing sleet and balancing her on my backpack to keep her off the wet ground.
But even the parts that were made tougher by having kids in tow have forged indelibly good memories. For those who have only known family life as cohabitating indoors, with family activity being watching a movie together, it is tough to explain the intrinsic joy that comes from cabin life with no TV, computers, phones or other electronics.
We all had a share in the chores — getting water, starting a fire or starting the camp stove. We all cooked and ate together. For fun we’d take turns reading the trail register, playing cards we’d packed in, and telling spooky ghost stories at night before we went to sleep. Even little Lynx seemed to relish rolling around in my down sleeping bag, playing with a headlamp. For sleep, my wife and I have bags that zip together so Lynx was warm and safe between us.
On the trail, it was even more stimulating for her young and rapidly forming brain. Rather than sitting in a crib in the solitary confinement of her own room, she literally lived on us for four days. Facing out in a sling while awake, she could guzzle up all the stimuli that her senses could handle — from the sights of the trees going by to the smell of camp smoke, the feel of a fresh mountain breeze on her cheeks, or the sounds of running water under a bridge, crunching leaves underfoot or her cousins’ voices while they talked and laughed.
I guess that’s why it seemed so odd to me that before I left, and especially after I got home, that people would ask, “Why didn’t you just leave the baby with a sitter?” We didn’t have a baby to leave her behind, nor did we begrudgingly agree to bring the older kids as though they were added baggage. Bringing the kids was the point of the adventure.
It’s about doing these things with, and for, the kids, so they learn the importance of understanding the natural world around them and develop an appreciation for time spent outdoors, away from the comforts and cleanliness of our cushy daily lives.
Lynx has done more outdoors in six months than some lifelong Alaskans I’ve met. She saw her first bear while hiking at 5 weeks old, summited her first mountain at 2 months old, went on her first sled dog run at 5 months old, and now through-hiked Resurrection Pass Trail at 6 months old.
Nature lovers aren’t born knowing the values and skills needed to be competent outdoors. They learn those things, and hopefully, one day, when Lynx is older and loving her time spent in the wilderness, she’ll be able to trace her skills and love for the outdoors to earlier memories being backpacked though the forest and up mountains in a sling worn by myself or my superwoman of a wife.
And the older two, they summed it up best in their own words when we were nearing the car the last day. “I don’t know any of my friends who do stuff like this,” Billy said aloud, but more to himself than any of us. “I don’t know any of my friends who could do this,” Grace added.
It was clear to me that they already have a zest for the outdoors, and take pride in the accomplishment of the distance, elevation and duration spent backpacking, and well they should. They didn’t just make it, they enjoyed it, and we enjoyed it with them.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Redoubt Reporter. He and his wife, Colleen, own and operate Rogues Gallery Kennel in Cohoe.