Saturday, 2 August 2014

Hiking with Kids at Mt. Assiniboine: An amazing backcountry experience for the whole family

On the Nublet, Mt. Assiniboine in the background.
Something amazing happens when you and your kids are dropped off by a helicopter in the backcountry with no TV, no wifi and no way to charge cell phones. The whole family is forced into the moment...adventure unfolds naturally, you have the kind of talks that only happen on the trail, and you truly get to experience and enjoy each other's presence.

That's what happened when Mack, Michael and I stepped into the helicopter at the Mt. Shark helipad and stepped off it at Mt. Assiniboine. After four days with their grandmother in basic old school cabins in Fairmont Hot Springs (where we visited Lussier natural hot springs and went white water rafting on the Kootenay River...even at 80 she's a cool grandmother), I'd booked us for one night camping and one night in one of the Naiset huts at Mt. Assiniboine. I figured if it was raining, two nights stuck in a tent would be miserable for a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old, and the experience would turn them off of the backcountry instead of onto it.

I needn't have worried. We arrived around 12:30 p.m. the first day to sunny skies, and easily made our way on the 2 kilometer trail to the Lake Magog backcountry campsite. There we found a mini-city of backpackers who'd hiked in from Mt. Shark and Sunshine Meadows, some smiling and some the worse for wear. After setting up our tent, we explored a bit, found the outhouses and cooking shelter, and ambled along the shore of Lake Magog back to Mt. Assiniboine Lodge in time for the 4 p.m. tea and cake. Mt. Assiniboine is almost like a backcountry amusement park. Between the posh lodge and its
The first night's campsite.
cabins, the nearby basic Naiset huts, and 30 or so campsites at the Lake Magog campground, there must have been a hundred or so people wandering the trails and meadows in the immediate vicinity of the mountain. For an introduction to the backcountry, this makes it a safe place for novices of all ages. You can rough it as much or as little as you want, and if the kids are resisting the wonder of it all there's the daily bribe of a Coke and cake to focus them on. After finishing off two plates of the fresh baked banana bread and chocolate cake, we returned to our campsite under increasingly cloudy skies.
Breakfast the second day.

We heard the first thunder clap as we started up our Pocket Rocket camp stove, but the rain held off until we were finished the main meal and the last kernels of our Jiffy Pop popcorn were popping. If you want to turn your kids into celebrities at any campsite, Jiffy Pop is the way to go. Despite the rain, Mack and Michael were grinning ear to ear when they realized all eyes were enviously on them and their rarest of delicacies in the backcountry. Forget all the fancy backcountry deserts in the freeze dried food section of MEC or REI. Jiffy Pops are fun to make and even more fun to eat than a foil bag of something grossly mislabeled as "Chocolate
Mousse with Chocolate Crumble Topping."

By eight we'd crawled into our tent with the pitter patter of the rain on the fly. I'd brought a deck of cards, but we didn't need them. The kids loved just sprawling out, telling jokes and relaxing to the pitter patter of the rain on the fly. I loved just enjoying the time alone with them, no electronic distractions and lots of laughing.

The next morning, I crawled out around 7 a.m. to a big blue sky and nothing but birds breaking the silence. While the boys slept in, I fixed coffee on one of the open air cooking pads and enjoyed the
Descending the Nublet
company of a couple retired guys who'd backpacked in with one of their grown daughters. When they'd finished their breakfast, it was a young family with two daughters, 4 and 7, who'd flown in and were going to backpack out the next day. It wasn't until 11 a.m. that we'd finished our breakfast of pancakes and were on the trail for the day's adventure: an easy 500 m scramble up the Nublet, a bump on Nub Ridge on the way to the summit of Nub Peak.

With no schedule other than cake at the lodge at 4 o'clock, we took our time on the 4 km trail, stopping to look at tadpoles in a stream or at the amazing view of lakes below and mountains above. On the last section of actual scrambling just below the top of the Nublet, I marveled at how
surefooted the boys have become on scree, how they naturally test hand holds to make sure the rock is at ease they've become in the mountains, how great it is to be an outdoor family...On top we enjoyed the views for half an hour, Mack spotted a bald eagle (not that common in the Rockies) and I was the happiest dad on earth.

Our hut and its small door.
An hour later we were packed up and making our way to the lodge for a cold Coke and cake. From the lodge we carried our gear the half kilometer to the Naiset huts and started cooking supper in what turned out to be a fully equipped cook hut: running water, propane stoves and lamps, gourmet quality pots and pans...not bad for the backcountry! That left us a few hours to explore before sunset and bed, and there was lots to explore. We got our feet wet hopping across and through the creek that leads down to the lake, got them wetter wading in the lake, and had fun doing nothing but having fun. When we finally went back to the hut, we found our hut mates already in their sleeping bags trying to sleep (sorry!) and more or less quietly climbed into our own bags. Even getting up at 2:30 a.m. to go to the outhouse with Michael was an amazing experience, stepping out of the hut's pitch black to a dark sky filled with millions and billions of stars filling the mountain sky.

Waiting for the helicopter the next morning, I couldn't help but think about what an amazing time we'd had. As exciting as flying in a helicopter is for a kid, for Mack and Michael it paled in comparison to things like playing in the lake as the sun set, reaching the top of the Nublet and, for Mack, being the first to spot the bald eagle. Originally, I'd been a little disappointed when I saw how many people would be sharing our backcountry experience, but that had given way to another welcome lesson in letting go of expectations and accepting what the mountains give you. The boys had been exposed to new aspects of mountain culture--sharing a cooking pad and a hut, cook shelter etiquette, meeting fellow campers--and they'd thrived in it. And that's what the
mountains are all about regardless of how old you are: taking what they give you and thriving in it all.

Sunset at Mt. Assiniboine.
Morning visitor at our hut.

A happy dad on the flight out.

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