Start ’em young: Babes in backpacks

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.

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. 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 realised 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.

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.

Another big milestone for me was when Huxley was about 4-5 months old and able to face outwards in the front pack, 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.

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.

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 10-hour 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!

Originally published here

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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