There is just something about those “schools in the wild” that appeals to me, the idea of kids wandering around in the woods and playing to their hearts content just seems “all” good. I was chatting to the father person one evening and saying – how fab these schools are: “As long as you gave the right kit you can play outdoors and do school outdoors everyday of the year.” And he replied: “Well yours do, just without all the gear.” Right, no wonder it appeals so much… we don’t have heaps of all-weather-gear, but we sure do play for hours and hours out doors everyday… in fact today it poured with rain and my kids spent the entire afternoon outside making catching water from the gutters and making soup with autumn leaves – as one does!!!
I have always liked the idea of the great outdoors and we are lucky enough to live in a part of the world where the great outdoors can be a reality for most of the year. It does help to live on a mountain and right at the beach. The beach is always good, whatever the weather. Slowly but surely we have been moving away from just being outdoors in the fresh air… to moving outdoors into the wilds. I would like our family to embrace the great outdoors for what it is, not just a heap of fresh air… but all the other treasures found there as well.
What began at the beginning of the year as a daily amble, has become a whole lot more… and while we do have hopes and dreams of going further and doing more it has been a slow journey to turn my eager gang of adventurers, who can think of nothing better than tumbling up the mountain behind our house once or twice a week, into actual hikers going somewhere, on a route, with a goal. But this past weekend we did it, we went from being amblers to hikers in a day. One of my kids expressed a dream to climb to the top of Table Mountain, the very top… about three years ago and the idea has been idling at the back of our minds since then… the first year we had a broken leg amongst us and last year was our first and very inexperienced attempt… we made it up the mountain, but not to the tippy top. This year we had much more success, we finally made it to Maclear’s Beacon… that is the very top… and we did it well.
Turns out that like most occupations, it really isn’t about the stuff… nowadays you cannot do anything without the right gear… you can’t go running, you can’t have kids and you certainly can’t go hiking without a visit to a specialist store. Now I am not anti-gear and essential equipment, but I think before we are convinced by clever marketers that ordinary families with comfortable shoes and a packed lunch can’t go hiking… “because they don’t have the gear,” we had better embrace the outdoors and prove that we actually can. So that’s where we are… an ordinary family, going on hikes, doing far from ordinary things – like conquering mountains.
Se7en + 1 Tips For Hiking With Kids…
- Get Prepared: We have spent the last six months getting fitter in small incremental steps… evening ambles, became daily walks… and a monthly hike has become a weekly hike. We didn’t overnight decide our kids could hike all day… in fact at the beginning of the year we probably couldn’t have climbed to the tippy top of Table Mountain. But we had a goal and we kept it in sight…
- Plan Your Trip: Get yourself a map of the area, and plan a route. Pop it on the fridge and talk about it – a lot. Nothing like having your kids telling you that you will do something a number of times a day, for a fair while, to make you less likely to back out. Planning is imperative, last year we didn’t chose the best route for a family with small children, it looked like a good route on paper but this year we read everything we could about a heap of routes, before choosing the one that we thought would be the easiest… not the shortest by any means… but the easiest.
- Pack the Night Before: We started to create a rhythm and routine to our hikes… walks are one thing, but hikes require packing. Everyone has to have packed a sweater, a hat and a snack. Water bottles have to be filled and popped in the fridge the night before. We take a ton of water, our kids have to be able to carry two full water bottles. It takes time to fill at least twenty water-bottles, you have to pack the day before or you will never get going in the morning. We make a special “hiking loaf” of bread and everyone knows they will have a sandwich to carry in the morning. If you are going to be on the mountain for a number of hours then you are going to need a number of snacks, each person gets a snack to share with everyone else. Kids like responsibility and one person in charge of the raisins and another in charge of some dried fruit works for us.
- Start Early: We are not naturally early risers, by any means and some of us are just not morning people… but it can make the most incredible difference to your day of you are walking in the early morning shade rather than the heat of the day. For us it is too late to pack in the morning and go, trust me… just eight kids looking for their kit and deciding on a cereal will take too long. We have instant breakfast ready… roll out of bed, jumped into clothes, grab a muffin and go. There is a reason why early outdoor events happen at dawn… hiking up the slopes of a mountain in the blazing heat, while getting sunburnt is just not any fun at all.
- Get Moving Slowly: There is nothing worse than being marched up a mountain, and one thing about planning to walk a long way with little folk is that you need to keep them happy and loving it the whole way. We keep it slow and steady and we stop and look at things and chat and encourage. Preparation helps and daily walks meant that, while none of us can claim to be a super athlete, we were able to cope with the walk on the day. While we were stretched and legs were tired… nobody came home thinking “I never want to do that again,” in fact everyone was talking about “next time.”
- Take Lots of Breaks and Make a Day of it: Most little folk like to rest and run… as a family we are really working on a slow and steady pace. If you normally have a mid-morning snack break and then you have a rest after lunch and another break in the afternoon… then totally plan for those and a whole lot more when you are out hiking. Really, make a day of it. If you have all day, you won’t feel pressured about taking lots of breaks and even longer breaks and recharging… recharging is good!!! At lunchtime we take an hour, pretty much like we do at home… and after we have rested and eaten lunch, we rest a little longer. If there are interesting things to stop and look at. People watching is always good, especially if they are hanging around on a cliff face.
- Don’t be Afraid to Dream: As far as I know, nobody in our house has big plans for Kilimanjaro any time soon, but we all have ideas for future hikes… a growing list of walks in our surrounding area, that we can keep on adding too. More than one or two over-night hikes have landed on the list too… overnight hikes are far from free and usually require months of booking in advance… those fit nicely into the category of dreams, but we are not afraid to dream… who knew we could make it up Table Mountain, honestly we are open to a little dreaming right now!!!
- Hiking is a Team Sport: You have to have rules. It is very unlike me to go over board and be totally overprotective of my kids… but the mountain is not their everyday environment and we have to remember that there are certain rules that need to be upheld for all the folk that make use of the mountain…
Se7en + 1 Safety Tips
- Wear Bright Colours: It is fun to wear camouflage colours when you are playing outdoors, but when you are hiking you want to be spotted.
- Stay on the path at all times: this is so ingrained from a hiking childhood that I kind of forget that my kids needed to learn it… but stay on the path they must. Any wandering off the path makes it that much easier to get into trouble, and makes it so much harder to find you should you need rescuing.
- Stick together: Wandering off is the greatest “no, no…” of all time. My kids are urbanites, there is no denying that… they are very good at staying together and they partner up well in a busy urban environment… but in the great outdoors they tend to forget that they need to stay close as a gang as they wander and wonder from new find to new find. We are working on this one.
- Elect and Train BookEnds: We have a front marker and a back marker. The person that walks at the front has to walk within sight and not let anyone in the group overtake them, not to mention keep a slow and steady pace. And then we have to have a back marker. Our back marker has to be an encourager… anyone who lags or lingers needs to be encouraged to keep up with the group. We have been using the same front and back markers for all our walks – even to the library. Those two walkers have a responsibility to the whole group and they need to practice it.
- Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks: If you are using the mountain, then use it with respect… because if you do get into trouble then someone will have to rescue you and to be honest none of us want to be putting our potential rescuers in any sort of life-threatening situation.
- It is not a Survival Course or an Adventure Race: This is actually just hiking… there is no need to overextend yourselves to the point of exhaustion and the best way to make sure you don’t over extend yourself is to just go at the pace of the slowest person… the slowest person isn’t always the shortest person either. Watch your kids and chat with them… you will learn to recognise when they need a snack, a break or just to call-it-a-day.
- Be Respectful of Other Mountaineers: Just as you enter Echo Valley, is probably not the best time to practise yodelling. Take photographs and not artefacts… and make sure you pack everything you took back into your pack before you leave.
- Have a Safety Plan: You all need to know what will happen if you have a problem on the mountain. Tell someone where you will be going and if there is a safety number for your area, then pop the number into your phone. Make sure that everyone knows what an emergency is… dropping your sandwich in the dirt is heartbreaking, but not necessarily an emergency. Our kids have been told that if they find themselves lost or encounter any sort of problem to just stop where they are on the path and wait. Someone will come for them… they may take hours but someone will come and find them. The mountains we walk on are part of the Table Mountain Group, it is a nature reserve and there are rangers trained to help. Our children know that if they sit in one spot a ranger will find them. Our rule right now is: Stop on the path and wait.
And the Se7en + 1th…
And the Se7en +1th…
That’s us… happy hiking…