raising little ones in the great outdoors

Trip Report: Sawtooth Wild Part I

Serrated granite ridges, punctuated by impossibly thin spires. Snowmelt cascading over polished slabs toward sapphire lakes. The Sawtooth mountains in central Idaho define alpine beauty. My most precious memory from our recent backpacking trip has nothing to do with any of that. No, watching one of my children transform from “client” to “guide” tops all the wilderness beauty.

Jennie and I believe that our children need to be challenged, both mentally and physically, in order to grow. Each summer we plan a three-day backpacking trip, and this year we chose the Alice Lake – Toxaway Lake loop. It’s an Idaho classic – 18 miles, reasonable elevation gain, multiple lakes. Even its popularity was a plus to me, a father hiking with three kids. After a couple of early-summer hikes, I knew the kids were ready.

But was I ready? That was the question I asked myself at 11 p.m. the night before our departure. I had a mountain of food spread out on the table and gear in semi-organized piles across the floor. Was it enough? Too much? Would the kids actually eat the food? Was I forgetting something small but essential like bug head nets or toilet paper? Once I was sure I had it all, I still had to divide and pack an age-appropriate weight into four backpacks. After all the dreaming and planning, the actual implementation felt overwhelming.

A little worked after a long day's trudge

A little worked after a long day's trudge

Once on the trail, we fell into a routine of hiking for 30 minutes and resting 10. As much as I would like to leave the rigid schedule behind, this kind of mini-goal-setting seems to keep everyone motivated and moving. Otherwise the breaks get longer and the walking times get shorter. We’d planned to cover 6 miles each day. This turned out to be the perfect distance. The last mile of each day was rough for the boys, but they were back up and running almost immediately after getting to camp.

Abby enjoying the natural granite water slide.

Abby enjoying the natural granite water slide.

One low-tech device that is guaranteed to keep my kids occupied is the old-fashioned book. Jennie has done a wonderful job of nurturing a love of books and reading in our children. This summer Abby discovered Agatha Christie novels and she brought one along on this trip. At nearly every break, the boys begged her to read to them. In the evenings Abby and I took turns reading by headlamp in the tent until the tiredness of our voices matched the tiredness of our muscles.

Midway through our second day on the trail we stopped for a break near a series of waterfalls. Seth asked if we could scramble over to get a closer look. He seemed totally surprised when I said yes. It made me wonder if I sometimes get so caught up in reaching a goal that I miss the great stuff along the way. This little detour turned out to be the undisputed highlight of the trip. Abby observed that the icy snowmelt coursing over the polished granite slabs looked like a series of water-slides. After a bit of exploration, she discovered a good spot to see if they also functioned like water-slides. Upon closer inspection it seemed “safe” to me – no cliffs or sharp rocks and there was a small deceleration pool at the bottom. Soon the kids were running laps on our backcountry water-slide….

Look for Part II coming soon.

–Steve Bohrer

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