Start 'em young  Babes in Backpacks

Before becoming a mum, a big part of how I identified myself was as a long-distance trail runner and tramper. Not surprisingly, one of my biggest concerns about welcoming a little human into my life was not being able to get out and enjoy the backcountry as much or in the same capacity.

This article is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.

Getting out on the tracks was what I used to do with every bit of free time I could wrangle, which was often limited to early mornings and weekends. I became rather adept at ‘super-tramping’, which is what my husband and I started calling multi-day tramps that we would do in a day, like the Milford, Kepler and Humpridge tracks.

Now that I’m a year into being a full-time mum, it’s true that I’m not getting out and tramping in the same capacity as before, per se. But now that I’m not restricted to just early mornings and weekends, I do find myself spending way more time on the trails than ever before, and my little boy Huxley is with me every step of the way.

Above the tree line on the way up Mount Shrimpton.

I actually find tramping with Huxley one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of parenting, since not only do I get to play on the trails, but I also get to enjoy free hands, beautiful views, endorphins, time with friends, and perhaps best of all—a break from the mundanity of managing, corralling and entertaining little Huxley as intensively as when we’re at home. I think there are two main reasons I find it so easy and enjoyable: 1) Huxley is super content in the carrier and can nap really well in it, and 2) I’m fit enough to enjoy the trails despite carrying the extra baby (and baby paraphernalia) weight. Both of these ‘prerequisites’ are most easily met when you start tramping with your little one from the get-go, since newborns are far more adaptable and lighter than toddlers. It’s still possible to start tramping with older bubs, but it might take a while to get both them and yourself comfortable and happy with it. Perhaps the only other important skill that comes in handy when tramping with little people is patience, which is probably true for all aspects of parenting.

Enjoying a coffee break with Jo Stilwell and David Norton on the Corner Peak route.

Even though I find it easy to put Huxley in a pack and go play on the trails now, I was very intimidated at the beginning. Everything was so new and Huxley seemed so fragile when he was first born. Before we even stepped foot on a trail, I carried him in a frontpack around the house during his naps to get us both used to the idea. He initially only took to the frontpack when he was sleeping, so I always timed walks to coincide with his naps. Over time, I got used to him waking up at inopportune times mid-walk, which usually meant he’d start crying, so I got very comfortable nursing him wherever I was. If he got grizzly when I tried putting him back in the pack, I sometimes just carried him all the way back home or to the car in my arms. I didn’t consider that a reason to stop heading out, since I still enjoyed it even when things didn’t go perfectly smoothly. Things never go perfectly smoothly with babies!

Heading out the Cameron valley in Makarora after an overnight tramp to Cameron Hut.

By the time he was 3 months old, I felt pretty ready to trial an overnight tramp up the Matukituki Valley to Cascade hut. It’s only about 7-8km from the carpark along a very well-formed track, and it’s a New Zealand Alpine Club hut that you can book in advance and know you’ll have to yourself, so we thought it was a perfect trial destination.

Three-month-old Huxley with Dad (Matthew Evans) outside Cascade Hut in the Matukituki Valley.

The real challenge was that it was in the middle of winter and we knew it would fall below zero degrees as soon as the sun set. I carried Huxley in a front pack, and also carried a 40L pack on my back with our lighter and bulkier gear, like our winter sleeping bags, and my husband carried a 70L pack with all of our other stuff. And even though Huxley was layered in warm woollies and getting my body warmth, we also kept him in a snowsuit to ensure he stayed extra warm and, more importantly, dry– it’s easy for them to get wet from your body sweat. Huxley slept most of the way to the hut, which we had planned, so the walk in went really smoothly. It was at the hut that we felt the real challenge of keeping him warm started. We immediately got the fire going, which was pretty drafty and barely emitted heat beyond a meter.

Trying to keep warm by the fire inside Cascade hut.

We did all his nappy changes as close to it as we could, and we pulled the chairs right in front of it to feel as much of its warmth as possible while we lounged and dined. And even though our original sleeping plan was to bundle Huxley up in lots of warm woollies, swaddle him, and then use one of our down jackets as a sleeping bag for him, I ended up co-sleeping with him during the night since once we realized we wouldn’t be able to keep the hungry fire going all night we got worried he’d be too cold otherwise. It felt like a small victory to make it through the night without getting too cold or feeling like I was awake the whole entire time. The morning was pretty rough since everything was frosty and miserably cold, but after a hot breakfast and some coffee we were in better spirits. We packed up our things and timed our walk back to the car during Huxley’s morning nap, which meant everything was still completely in shade and frozen outside.

A frosty morning start back to the car from Cascade hut with sleeping Huxley in the front pack.

When the sun finally made it into the valley, melting the frosted ground and warming our cold-kissed faces, we were all feeling the highs of a successful adventure and decided to embrace a beautiful riverside picnic in the sun at the foot of the snow-capped peaks. Had it not been winter, I don’t think our first tramp with Huxley would have felt nearly as adventurous or challenging or rewarding.

Enjoying the winter sunshine during a riverside nappy change in the Matukituki Valley.

Another big milestone for me was when Huxley was about 4-5 months old and able to face outwards in the frontpack, since that’s when he became as happy as could be whether awake or asleep. I started heading out on all-day adventures with him, flipping him back and forth from front-facing during naps to outward-facing during wakeful bouts, and nursing him in between. Not having to time walks with his naps was such a relief and made everything feel less logistically complicated.

Huxley in front of the Rob Roy glacier.

It was so nice being able to spend the whole day tramping. I carried a normal day pack on my back with everything we needed, like nappies and back-up clothes and food and water. We started climbing bigger and bigger mountains, and covering longer and longer distances.

Crossing the Huxley river on the way to Huxley Forks Hut.

We upgraded to a framed carrier when he was just shy of 7 months old, which was another complete game-changer for us. Once he was on my back and I could use a trekking pole I felt like we could really tackle any route, since it really wasn’t all too different from carrying a heavy overnight pack. Within a month of switching to the backpack, we embraced a 30km mountain traverse, starting up the steep and exposed Breasthill track to Pakituhi hut, and then along the tops to Breast peak and Grandview peak, and then finally back down along the Grandview creek track. We had to stop a few extra times so Huxley could enjoy a romp, and there were moments when I had to give him blueberries or cherry tomatoes to keep him happy towards the end, but overall it was a joyful 10hr day.

Over the last 6 months since then, we’ve continued to embrace long days, steep climbs, rough tracks, overnight adventures, and many many happy tramping days. Little Huxley has become quite the hut- and peak-bagger, and I’ve become one super happy mum!

Huxley enjoying exploring outside Officers Hut in the Huxley river valley on Christmas Eve.

Maggie Evans is a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club, and lives in Hawea with her son and husband. She’s also an active member of the Babes in Backpacks – Wanaka group. You can follow Maggie’s parenting adventures or get in touch with her on Instagram at @nzmagz

This article is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch. All photos are credit to Maggie Evans Collection. 

 

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