Trip Report video
This past Friday and Saturday I took my 4.5 year old son out for his first backpacking trip along with his Star Scout brother. The only previous hiking experience he had was last Labor Day when I took him out for 3 miles in Shakamak SP to see how he'd fare, and it was a breeze for him. I had outfitted him in some fairly heavy duty nylon pants he had, a fleece Pooh top, a fleece jacket, hat, "mountain socks" (my pair of Darn Tough low cuts I never wear) and old Garanimal "trail runners". I chose the Deam Wilderness in Hoosier National Forest since we could camp anywhere, and it wasn't too far from home. We left shortly after big brother got home from school but still got caught in the rush hour traffic around Bloomington (and construction on 46). After 2 hours, we arrived at our destination, a small parking area 1 mile east of the fire tower.
My plan was to get to our campsite fairly quickly and get setup so it would be well before dark. I also figured this would be the worst part of the trip because we had to descend about 170 feet off the ridge heading north across the Sycamore Branch valley. We passed right by one of the established campsites and continued up the tributary valley coming down from the north. I had learned there was a tiny waterfall with some decent camping spots there. As we approached the site, rain began to fall so I picked a site and set to work getting up the shelters, a Lunar Duo for the boys and a homemade LDPE tarp for myself. One they were up, the skies cleared enough we could tell the sun was still out. I fired up the Windpro to heat water from the creeks (which are normally dry later in the year) for dinner, which was ramen with mashed potatoes. I fed my son out of my bag since he's messy enough without trying to eat out of a ziploc. :)
Since we hadn't gotten dirty, and I knew it was going to be chilly, I left him in his hiking clothes so he wouldn't have to change into PJs and then back again in the morning. We played chinese checkers and then went to bed. I'm pretty sure they slept well as I didn't hear them all night. I awoke to more rain and then did my typical wake whenever I need to move, which seems to be quite frequent. :( Even though the temp recorded for Bloomington that night only got down to 34, it was colder in our valley because we awoke to frost inside the tent and the droplets on the outside were frozen.
I was surprised my son came out wearing crocs (which have some type of fuzzy liner) without socks. His trail runners were likely slightly moist so perhaps nearly frozen. We had breakfast of oatmeal though I couldn't get him to eat much at all. Keeping his feet warm while we wandered around the meadow proved too much, and he eventually conceded they were cold and hurting so I got him back in the tent and put his sleep socks back on but he didn't want to put them into his down bag despite our protests. I put his "mountain socks" into my shirt pocket to warm and dry. We ended up playing cards and more chinese checkers and then he was ready to get out and play. Thankfully, it was a sunny morning so the tent was fairly warm. The boys were all over the meadow and the creeks that bordered it, and I explored maybe a quarter mile up each creek fork.
After lunch of ramen and tuna with crackers, we were ready to finish our journey. We hiked back to the Sycamore Loop trail and followed it to the eastern end. He walked right through the 3 crossings we did in his "trail runners" without a complaint at all and liked being the leader when we were on the trail. I was surprised that he rarely stopped for anything either. Where the trail cuts back to head NW, we headed south gaining about 130 feet up the southern valley slope. While the boys took a short break, I zipped out and back to check out the lake about a quarter mile down the ridge. I had been told there were some decent campsites there, too. We then followed the old road along the ridge back to our car, with him racing me the last 100 yards or so.
We covered 2.5 miles total. The highlight of the trip for my son though was the fire tower. He had been asking about it the whole time. He did make all 123 steps but was rather freaked out at the top because it was pretty gusty (and thus, loud). He wouldn't even let me hold him to look out. He was still full of energy once we got down though. FYI, he weighs 33 lbs and only carried his blanket, PJs, jacket, hat, crocs, toy car & plane, all of which were in his normal preschool backpack.
Lessons for dad: I was surprised that he didn't play with either of his toys he was allowed to take though he claimed he got his car out when he went to bed. I still wasn't happy with his footwear though it was only a concern early in the morning when it was cold. He was fine walking through the creeks that afternoon though they weren't as cold as I was expecting them to be. I also should have brought him some gloves. Other than that he had a great time.
Our second trip should be later this week at the Forest Glen Preserve SE of Danville, IL. This will involve 3 days of 3.5 miles each with all of it on trails.