Reflections From a Very Different Hiking Season

On introducing a little one to the mountains

Cailynn and her new hiking partner on the Forgetmenot Ridge Trail

With fresh snow on those mountain peaks, the summer hiking season is coming to a close. And what a summer it has been! Between the intense heat, heavy smoke — and, for Cailynn, a new baby — this year’s hiking season was very different from past years.

Luckily, there were some not-too-hot, smoke-free days where Cailynn got outside and introduced her baby boy to the mountains. Along the way, she learned a few lessons that we think are useful to all hikers, baby in tow or not. Here’s more from Cailynn:

Have Low Expectations

A view from the Baldy Pass Trail

The first time my partner and I took our baby hiking was in May, when he was six-weeks-old. We had no idea what to expect. Sure, he had been in an Ergobaby carrier in the city and seemed to enjoy it as much as a newborn enjoys anything, but would he like the colder mountain air? Would we feel comfortable carrying him on an unpaved trail? Even the trip out to Kananaskis held uncertainty, as this was the longest drive the three of us had been on.

Rather than let all those unknowns stop us from heading out, we completely lowered our expectations. If we didn’t even make it out to Kananaskis, that was fine. If we started the hike and turned back five minutes in, also fine. Afterall, the baby wasn’t going to remember this first mountain trip. We left next to no room for disappointment, because we had such low expectations of what this first family hike would be like. So, how did it go? Great! We hiked Baldy Pass Trail, a short and easy hike with minimal elevation gain. The baby slept through the whole thing.

Whether you’re new to hiking or heading out for the hundredth time, lowering your expectations can take off the pressure and lead to a much more enjoyable trip.

Be Prepared

Shifting skies at Sparrowhawk Tarns

On a July hike to Sparrowhawk Tarns in Kananaskis, my baby and I were joined by my parents. Mid-week hikes with these new grandparents have been a real treat this summer!

Now, I have never hiked with someone who takes being prepared more seriously than my father. In fact, his pack for day hiking is often mistaken for an overnight backpacking bag. Such preparation, though, is a very good thing! It’s also wisdom he’s passed on to me, and I plan to pass on to my son.

On this particular hike, the day started out sunny and beautiful. The forecast was for these conditions to persist. And they did, until we reached our destination — the tarns — and the sky quickly grew darker and darker. Then came rain, and next was hail. It could have been a very uncomfortable (and even dangerous) situation, had we not all been prepared with lots of extra clothing in our packs, even though rain was not in the forecast.

Among the layers I packed was my partner’s raincoat, so I would have something to fit over the baby and carrier I was wearing. Somehow, the baby slept through this whole ordeal.

Ready for the unexpected rain

Slow Down

A view from Forgetmenot Ridge

One of the unexpected pleasures of hiking with a baby has been how it has forced me to slow down. The above photo was taken on the Forgetmenot Ridge Trail, while sitting in the shade, nursing a hungry baby. It’s a beautiful view fairly early on in the hike, but it’s one I would have spent less time admiring had I not had to stop and sit for awhile.

Plus usually when I stop on the trail, it’s to take a photo or eat a snack or put on a layer… there’s always a task at hand. My many nursing stops on different hiking trails this summer have forced me to simply sit in nature and take it all in, with all my senses. It’s so glorious out there.

Slowing down has also led to exploring new places. On a summer roadtrip to Vancouver Island, we stopped to feed the baby at the Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail in Mount Revelstoke National Park, just east of Revelstoke. We’ve driven by this spot many times before over the years, but this was our first time stopping. It ended up being a wonderful spot, where we followed a half-kilometre boardwalk through a gorgeous old-growth forest with cedar trees more than 500 years old.

Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail

In the end, this first hiking season with a baby has been a special one. I’ve been told by more experienced parents that it only gets harder from here, as a baby gets heavier and less likely to sleep so well on the go. And amid this summer’s wildfire smoke and heatwaves, I’ve felt an intense urgency to get out when I can and share these wild places. Sure, my little one has spent most of our time on trails this summer sleeping, but I hope this is the start of a lifetime of adventure and a deep appreciation for the great outdoors.

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