Backcountry Made Easy

Gathering the Right Group
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Equally important as the location you choose is the makeup of your group. Everyone should be old enough and fit enough to complete the trip, and families must be realistic about their abilities. Sharing a wilderness adventure with other families can offer companionship for both adults and kids, but group dynamics and logistics can sometimes make or break a trip. In our case, things went smoothly, despite a few missteps, but we four families had known one another so long that we understood each other's personalities well.

Here are a few key points to consider:

Have a compatible group. Again, I mention the question of age and ability because they're so crucial. The kids and adults should be compatible, first of all. Also, everyone should be eager to go, because negative energy can ruin the trip for others. In our case, one father stayed home because he had no interest in the trip; my twin girls, age one, stayed home with my husband because the girls were too young for me to enjoy taking them; and one six-year-old reluctantly stayed home because he'd fractured his ankle.

Make sure everyone has the proper equipment. This is important for any such outing, but especially any in which children are involved. The AMC, for instance, offers a helpful packing list of what visitors to their huts need. One bugaboo affected our group: A four-year-old boy wore Keds sneakers that had no tread whatsoever, making the hike slippery for him. This boy was a good little hiker but kept falling because he didn't have the proper shoes.

Agree on an itinerary. The meeting place and starting time are especially important. Two of the four families in our group, for instance, sometimes run behind schedule. However, getting to the Lonesome Lake trailhead early is important because parking is limited, as we discovered, and getting to the hut fairly early is also important to ensure that the group gets a good bunkhouse selection—bunks are usually allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Agreeing on starting and ending times of the trip, plus discussing activity possibilities ahead of time, helps ensure that your adventure will run smoothly.

Be prepared to hike safely. With any group of children, safety is paramount, and hiking with any group poses inherent difficulties. Our kids were at an age when they liked to run ahead, so we had to repeatedly caution them to always stay within sight of an adult. Some of the children hiked significantly faster than others, so we also ended up dividing into two groups. It's important to have a high ratio of adults to children, and to be clear about who is hiking with whom, so that no stragglers get lost. With any group, or group within a group, an adult should lead the way and another adult should be "sweep," or last, to make sure that everyone stays together.

Huts are the perfect first taste of wilderness for families, offering the delights of the backcountry without many of the hassles. Just ask my son, who said to me soon after we arrived, "Mom, can we stay here more than one night?"


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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