Monday, January 16, 2012

The Monday Muse: Some Answers...

Thought I'd use today's Muse to answer some frequently asked questions.

1. What kind of gear do you carry/use when you hike?

I'm the type that prefers to be completely prepared for an accidental night out, especially since I usually have at least one of my daughters with me.  Therefore, my backpack includes:

Summer gear: sleeping bag, tarp, bivouac sac, insulated foam mat, extra base layers (no cotton!), personal locator beacon, first aid kit, duct tape, sunblock, bug spray, toilet paper, small and large plastic bags, food, water, Nalgene bottles with insulated sleeves, iodine tablets (for purifying stream water), bandanas, hiking poles or walking sticks, emergency bivy, emergency blanket (lightweight version), hat, wool gloves, waterproof gloves, waterproof pants, wind/waterproof jacket, fleece pants, fleece sweater/jacket, balaclava, facemasks, chemical hand and body warmers, multiple headlamps, a hiker towel, climbing rope or cord, extra bungee cords, extra socks, waterproof matches, emergency whistles, map, compass, a pocketknife, a hunting knife, and pepper spray.

I carry enough of the above for two or three people, depending on whether I'm hiking with Alex, Sage, or both -- except the girls carry their own changes of base layers and their own sets of gloves, hats, chemical warmers, balaclavas, food, water, headlamps, compasses, and emergency whistles.  I also have them wear hunter orange vests when we hike, so they can be easily seen.

Summer footwear: waterproof hiking boots.  We sometimes carry sandals or Crocs for stream crossings.

Winter gear: all of the above, plus goggles, a winter sleeping bag and sometimes, instead of the bivouac sack, a full-size tent.  If I break a leg and we have to spend a night out in subzero temperatures, I want to make sure we have everything we need to stay warm, dry and fed until help arrives.

Winter footwear: Sorel boots (-40 degree) with liners.  We also use/carry microspikes, Hillsounds Crampons Pros, and usually snowshoes.

2 . Do they girls always hike on their own two feet?

Yes, they always do and they always have -- with the exception of some of the highpoints.  The rules for highpointing are unique -- any method of ascent/descent is allowed.  Of the highpoints we've summited where hiking is the only option (no roads or railroads exist), the girls have hiked the trails on their own two feet -- with the sole exception of Mt. Marcy in NY, where I carried an overheated Sage for about a mile on the descent. 

3.  How often do you hike?

Once a week or once every other week, depending on our moods and goals.

4.  Is hiking the reason you homeschool?

No, not at all.  We used to hike solely on the weekends; we've only recently begun (occasionally) hiking during the week.  We homeschool because we like the flexibility homeschooling offers.  Our choice to homeschool has nothing to do with our hiking.

5.  When and why did the girls start hiking?

We started on a total whim.  Read my forthcoming book, UP: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure, to learn more.  Publication date is April 3 (but you can preorder now using the above links).

6.  How do you get the girls to hike?

This is probably the most frequent question I receive, and it's also my favorite...because it's so off the mark.  I don't "get" my kids to do anything, lol.  They hike because they like to hike.  They enjoy the beauty of the mountaintops, they enjoy every aspect of nature.  Also, hiking, for them, is normal, it's just what they do.  The girls sometimes seem genuinely confused as to why others make a big deal of their accomplishments.

I don't believe in trying to "get" your kid up a mountain if it means pushing or cajoling in any way.  Mainly, because I don't see the point.  I don't even think it would work, not really.  Maybe once, maybe on one hike, the kid would get to the top of a peak.  But repeatedly, over and over again, month after month?  Can't see that happening.  Mine go because they want to.  If they don't want to go, then we don't.  It's that simple.  There've been times when I've turned us around because someone decided they weren't feeling up to it that day.  That's never a problem -- I've no desire to hike with anyone who doesn't really want to be out there.  Again, I don't see the point.

7.  How experienced are Alex and Sage?

Tricky question.  Depends on what you mean by "experienced."  Alex will have almost finished two and three complete rounds of the NH48 by the end of this winter, Sage has finished one round, and both have hiked many highpoints and a multitude of peaks on other NH lists.  They've each hiked in subzero temperatures and high winds.  They've each used microspikes and snowshoes.  However, due to their young ages, I wouldn't allow them to hike anywhere alone no matter what the trail or weather, and they still get distracted on descents because they both like to talk and sing all the way down the mountain (ah, youth).  They both have a ton of spring, summer and fall hiking experience, but Sage is a beginner when it comes to winter hiking.  Alex is fairly experienced in winter hiking, though most of that experience has been below treeline. 

That's it for now.  There are a few more FAQs to answer, but I'll save those for another day.


Anonymous said...

Do they have a favorite mountain (NH48 &/or other)? Do you do much backpacking? If so, what is their favorite site (do they prefer huts, shelters, lean-tos and which one/where)? What about winter camping?

Anonymous said...

What advice do you have for introducing hiking to children? Hiking can get difficult no matter the age, size, shape, physical condition, what helps make hiking fresh & fun for you?

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Hi there,

Thanks for your messages!

I'm going to take these questions and make them part of the next Monday Muse ("More Answers," January 23). I'll then be able to answer each question thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

With the amount of gear and precautions list above along with your great sense of adventure, I am curious to find out your take on Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless? Is his story about a spiritual Alaskan Odyssey or about a glorified irresponsible vagabond?

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Hi Anonymous,

I can't help but admire Mr. Alexander Supertramp for pursuing his version of life and liberty. Was he unprepared for the Alaskan wilderness? It certainly seems that way. However, does unprepared always equal irresponsible? Not in my book. If he had taken along a small child, then yes, I'd say he was irresponsible. However, he was on his own, and, as a grown man, he had a right to live the way he liked, as long as he wasn't hurting anyone. One could argue that his actions emotionally hurt his parents...but one could also argue that he felt driven to his actions after having been emotionally hurt by his parents. I wasn't there, I didn't grow up with him, so I don't judge him for pulling a disappearing act. Maybe it was wrong, maybe it was right. We can't know, we weren't there.

As for all the stuff I haul around -- since I hike with one or two small children, I MUST carry enough gear to keep all of us safe and warm overnight. Not just survival warm, but nice-and-toasty warm. I am responsbile not only for myself out there, but for two young girls, so to hike without all that gear would be foolish of me.