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PCT thru hike With my 5yr old along for the summer- Northbound or Southbound?
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John Hillyer
(TrNameLucky) - MLife
PCT thru hike With my 5yr old along for the summer- Northbound or Southbound? on 10/13/2013 18:39:06 MDT Print View

So I am planning a PCT thru hike for the summer of 2014 and my 5 year old son will be joining me from the 2nd week of June to the 3rd week in August. I’m still deciding if we are heading north or south. For a northbound trip, I would start at the end of April at the Mexican border and my son would join me south of Kennedy Meadows on June 5th. If we go southbound we will start together in June. I have done a lot of research but still need a bit more info. Any help would be much appreciated.


1) Just in case they make crossing into the US from Canada legal again: is the Canadian portion of the trail from Manning Park to Marker 78 maintained as well as the trail in the USA?

2) Do the seasonal creeks and springs in Washington run during June?
From Halfmile’s PCT notes:
North Bound Water Alert!
Seasonal water only from WACS2624 to WACS2646 [Spring] in 21.4 miles
2624.3 Hart's Pass, campground with bathroom nearby 2630.1 HartsPass 6179 L4
Seasonal Creek 2630.5 WA2631 6290 L4, Campsite at the foot of Tamarack Peak
seasonal creek nearby 2635.9 WACS2636 6547 L5
Seasonal Shaw Creek 2640.2 WA2640 5763 L5
Seasonal Creek 2644.6 WA2645 5606 L6
Campsite, spring nearby 2645.7 WACS2646 6208 L6
South Bound Water Alert!
Seasonal water only from WACS2646 to WACS2624 [Stream] in 21.4 miles

3) Anyone have info/pics/video for the ford of the creek at mile 2451.9 from the Mexican border.
From Halfmile’s PCT notes:
Creek, potentially dangerous ford early in the hiking season 2451.9 WA2452 3802 J5
The potentially dangerous ford at WA2452 may not be passable early in the
hiking season after a high snow year. This should not be an issue for northbound
hikers who arrive much later than southbounders.

4) Is there any good tenkara fishing along the PCT from June to August 15th in Washington and/or Oregon?

5) How are the snow conditions in the Cascades in June during an average year? Are we talking the summer cement like the Sierras or is it a more powdery deeper stuff that snowshoes may be more useful in? Also how do the snow conditions usually change between June 5th (our earliest possible start date) and a couple of weeks later?

6) Am I right in thinking that campfires are usually allowed along the PCT in Washington and Oregon during the June to mid-August time period?

7) How do the mosquitoes in Washington and Oregon 6/5-8/15 compare to the mosquitoes in the Sierras during the same time period?


8) Is there any good tenkara fishing along the PCT from June to August 15th between Kennedy Meadows and Sierra City?

9) Am I right in thinking that campfires are usually banned along the PCT between Kennedy Meadows and Sierra City during the June to mid-August time period?

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Consider carefully about taking a 5 year-old thru-hiking the PCT on 10/15/2013 07:26:51 MDT Print View

Personally, I wouldn't dream of it. I saw many fords that would be virtually impossible for a 5 year old without a packraft. My hiking partner nearly lost her life in a crossing, and that's not an exaggeration. Will your child be able crank out 20+ miles a day, day after day? If they can't, will you be willing to slow down and forgo finishing your hike?

For me, it wouldn't be realistic to hike for 2 months with a 5 year old, and do much campfire building and fishing and still finish a thru-hike during a single season.

Edited by Colter on 10/15/2013 07:44:23 MDT.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
PCT thru hike With my 5yr old along for the summer- Northbound or Southbound? on 10/15/2013 08:23:45 MDT Print View

I haven't thru-hiking any long trail, so you can certainly decide how to weigh my opinion . . .

I would listen to Buck, a very accomplished hiker. The realities of dealing with a 5-year old's abilities, needs and wants does not seem to work with the goals of thru-hiking a trail.

I'm all for getting children outside and there are times when I've wished I pushed my own children a little more, but this just doesn't seem like a good idea. There just doesn't seem to be any good reason to do this.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Hiking with 5 year old on 10/15/2013 08:52:16 MDT Print View

I have no input on the PCT, but I did hike a portion of the Colorado Trail with my youngest son (just turned 11 at the time).

I had no idea what to expect from him as far as his enjoyment of the hike and/or his mileage abilities.

I checked with the doctors first to see if there was an increased risk of repetitive stress injury doing long days with his developing muscular and skeletal system. They advised us to monitor him closely and reduce mileage or stop hiking if symptoms developed.

He generally enjoyed it, but he was ready to stop after 4 days and 50 miles.

I could have made him continue and I certainly wanted to continue, but didn't want to force him to do so.

I think it's great to take your son hiking for as long as he is able and willing to go, but like the others have said, it could certainly derail your plans to finish the whole trail.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Consider carefully about taking a 5 year-old thru-hiking the PCT on 10/15/2013 10:19:08 MDT Print View

Seriously, this is on the verge of child abuse. There's is no way a 5yo can handle those miles and conditions for that long. A few short days maybe, but not that many weeks.

John Hillyer
(TrNameLucky) - MLife
Background on 10/15/2013 11:23:01 MDT Print View

I think a little background is in order. I work seasonally and do a long-distance hike every summer. My son has been asking to come with me for about a year and a half and I put him off by saying that he could come with me when he was five. Well, he just had his fifth birthday. He is a big kid at just under 4 feet tall and 55lbs. He is the poster child for ADHD of the hyperactive variety and has one speed: full throttle. I have had him out on day hikes while car camping and he has had a lot of fun. I’m taking him out for a 9 day hike just after Christmas so I will get a better idea of how many miles a day.

A month ago, I asked my son a bunch of questions about what kind of environment he wanted to go hiking in next summer. I thought he was going to pick tropical beaches but he surprised me by picking mountains above the tree line with snow. I’m thinking the PCT because it’s graded for pack animals, avoiding insanely steep ups and downs and with no rock hopping in boulder fields. I realize that even with light gear, my pack is going to be heavy next summer with extra gear for safety and a whole lot of food for us going at slower pace with long stretches between resupply.

As long as we make enough forward progress so that I can physically carry enough food to get us to the next resupply point, I could care less about the mileage we cover. The important thing is that my son has fun. I have no problem doing a sleep deprived, forward progress at all cost, 35+ mile a day, mad dash for the border after my son goes back to school. And if I don’t make it all the way it is not that big a deal to me; the trail will be there next year and I’ll have the time to go hike it.

The river fords are a major concern. One of the reasons I’m thinking about southbound is that there are less of these up north than in the Sierras (I think…but it would be nice to actually confirm that). But there is the one unnamed creek in Washington that I asked about in my first post that might be an insurmountable obstacle.

Buck- The packraft idea is a good one! Before reading your post I was thinking:
1) I cross first with the gear.
2) Leave the gear on the far shore (possibly hanging it from a tree to avoid a mishap
with opportunist wildlife).
3) I cross back though the water to get my son.
4) I cross again with my son on my back in a myog nylon strap harness system with shoulder straps so that I can carry him like a backpack.
I also thought about rigging up a zip line or at least a safety line for him to use, but it seems like this would be a heavy and difficult set up.

I know it may seem a little early to be planning a hike for next summer but my work in the winter and spring pretty much consumes my life, so I need to get most of the planning and myog projects done in the next few weeks.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Expectations. And trial runs. on 10/15/2013 12:17:13 MDT Print View

We've always done a lot of hiking with our two kids and my son can now do some serious mileage in a day, starting in middle school. Two data points: at age 11, Colorado River via Bright Angel (20 miles RT, 9,000 feet up+down) and at age 12 Half Dome (18 miles RT, 10,000 feet of up+down) both with no complaints nor needing assistance or encouragement (beyond wide-ranging discussions and conversations); BUT, a day hike isn't the same as cranking out 20 miles day after day after day.

My daughter at age 8 also went up Half Dome, nominally unassisted (no one carried her), but Mom carried all her food, water and clothes, held her hand at times, was encouraging, and dispensed "energy pills" (M&Ms) as needed. We were all ready to turn around at any time and had expected to, but she kept plugging along. But 8 isn't 5 and our daughter is amazingly physical with great strength-to-weight (she can do an Iron Cross on the rings).

In my mind, there are two things you HAVE to do:

1) give up any idea of finishing a thru-hike in one summer by doing mega-miles before and after you hike with your son. Just forget it. You can't slow down for 9 weeks and finish in a season (unless you're at an extreme level of fitness and experience).

2) get in a 3-4 night trip with your son as preparation and fine tuning for a 10-day trip before committing to 9 weeks with him on the PCT. A 10-day trip is long enough to learn what mileage you can both enjoy together, your food requirements, and you need to know that to plan food drops, etc - you don't want to arrive at a resupply with 4 days too much nor 4 days too little food!

Until their growth spurt in middle school, our rule was miles=age. i.e. 5 miles backpacking a day for a 5-year-old. We're in this for the long term and feel it is most important to keep it fun so they WANT to go on family trips and have a life-long activity that they enjoy.

At 5, he can take some volume (3-4 pounds of pads/quilts) but essentially none of the weight, so you'll need to be quite UL in your gear and technique because you'll have all the weight.

BPL's own Erin (and hubbie Hig) did 800 wilderness miles this summer with their two kids "at the pace of a 4-year-old" which they figured at 6-8 miles per day. The two-year-old was mostly carried by Erin. Mom & Dad have uber UL and thru-hiking cred having done 4,000 continuous off-trail, human-powered miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands hiking and pack rafting. They take their kids everywhere, they live in a yurt off the road system, and the whole family has a high tolerance for dirt, extreme weather, body odors, and cramped quarters. Your son would have the advantage of being one year older and being on a trail, but have heat, more UV, elevation, and slopes to contend with.

Edited to add: I'm glad to see you are planning a 9-day trip with your son as a proof-of-concept. On river-crossings, DO NOT strap anyone to anyone else. There's just too much chance of getting a strap snagged on a rock or submerged log and going under. Maybe cut armholes into his CCF sleeping pad so it can be worn as a vest for warmth and as a life jacket for river crossing ("Daryl Daryl" has posted with such designs). Get him in swim lesson now and through the winter. However much he can swim now, more skill is better. Both for safety on the river crossings and for fun swimming in lakes along the way.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 10/15/2013 14:51:32 MDT.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Re: Hiking with 5 year old on 10/15/2013 12:36:48 MDT Print View

John's idea of talking to your son's doctor is VERY sound advice (and would be good from a legal standpoint, too!).

How "big" your son is for his age may not be quite as relevant in terms of the development of his connective tissues, his bones, muscles, etc., and his high energy levels may/may not cause him to adopt a level of activity that is not really healthy for him.

The fact that you promised your son that he could "come when he turned 5" SHOULDN'T mean that you guarantee that promise if it's not the right thing to do. YOU are the parent, and sometimes you'll need to reconsider your promises in the best interests of your child.

That said, if you would be comfortable with doing 5-10 miles per day, stopping frequently, and carrying virtually all the food/equipment (5 year olds' bones should not be carrying much weight!), and if your pediatrician says it's ok, then why not? And definitely helping him across any creek would be necessary, but attaching him to your body with any kind of harness is NOT advisable (if you fell in, he would be trapped!).

One final issue you should consider, given that you're planning to take him through the Sierras -- mountain sickness! Most of that route is above 8,000ft, and much of it is above 10,000ft. I have no idea how the altitude might affect him, but it should certainly be discussed with his doctor!

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Hiking with 5 year old on 10/15/2013 13:44:58 MDT Print View

Youngest PCT thru hiker is 9 yo "Monkey"

5 is pretty young.

Kenda Willey
Sound advice on hiking with children on 10/15/2013 14:37:37 MDT Print View

There's been very sound advice in this forum.
My son was already a little mountain goat at about three, and we frequently took little hikes, from which I frequently had to carry him back. We started tent camping and hiking when he was going on five, and our experience was around six to eight miles per day (usually three miles in, three miles out) at that age--similar to what others in this forum estimate. So he was a pretty hardy little hiker already, and still couldn't do more than that without strain--which you just don't wanna do to them.
You seem to be prepared to slow down if he needs to, which he probably will. It sounds like your son is a natural, so he'll be hiking through to the tune of 20+ per day before you know it.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
5 year olds at altitude on 10/15/2013 14:49:54 MDT Print View

>"One final issue you should consider, given that you're planning to take him through the Sierras -- mountain sickness! Most of that route is above 8,000ft, and much of it is above 10,000ft. I have no idea how the altitude might affect him, but it should certainly be discussed with his doctor!"

Or not. The average GP isn't going to be an expert on kids at altitude.

I proposed taking our kids up to the summit of Mauna Kea (13,803 feet) when they were 3 and 7. The park signs and websites have grave warnings about bringing kids to the summit. My wife, a board-certified internist and adjunct facility at UW School of Medicine, has access to some impressive specialists and asked a pediatric pneumologist who was also a climber for his opinion. He said kids are no more and no less susceptible to HAPE, HACE, or AMS than adults are but (and here's the important part) they can get quiet and withdrawn (just like adults can at altitude) and you might think it is just nap time, while a lethargic adult would stand out more. So if you are carrying on a conversation with your kid and they still sound and act like themselves, they're fine. And if they don't, like for any altitude issue in any person, get them to lower elevations. We all enjoyed the side trip, did fine, got winded easily (coming from sea level), and then headed back down. If the 5-year-old will join you mid trip, best to have him acclimatize a few days before hitting the trail hard and fast. That can be at the trailhead, a few "nero days" on the trail, or maybe mom can spend 2-3 days in Tuolumne Meadows with him beforehand.

I track my kids' behavior, performance and mental state closer than I do for adults, and have never had to deal with heat- cold- or altitude issues on the trail. But when I have IDed hypothermia, AMS, and heat exhaustion in adult companions, it was always through slight personality changes - more irritable, less humorous, or less sharp - from our conversation. Picking up on that, I'd examine their skin color, temperature, etc and confirm what the problem was, but it was always the conversational changes that initially alerted me to a problem.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
"Redefine long-distance hike" on 10/15/2013 17:55:16 MDT Print View

If I were you I would redefine long-distance hike to mean something on the order of a couple hundred miles. That gives you the freedom to schedule your hike to avoid the nasty stream crossings - which are, bar none, THE most dangerous part of a thru-hike - and the worst of bug season, and also means you can go at the kid's pace, which is what you should do. A five- year old usually wants to stop and explore and investigate. Regardless of energy level they usually are not so interested in getting from A to B but in finding out what is under that rock and behind that tree and in that lake. Of course your kid may be different but having taken mine and others out in the mountains that's what I've seen.

Doing the JMT or another trail about that long would be very do-able and you'd both have lots of fun, and to the kid it would be plenty of adventure.

You'd also have the option of extending the trip further if all is going great.

I've always felt you want to take kids on adventures that leave them wanting more. Much better to have to drag them out of the mountains and have them begging to go again than to push them too hard on the trail and have them not want to do it again.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: "Redefine long-distance hike" on 10/15/2013 17:59:08 MDT Print View

>"I've always felt you want to take kids on adventures that leave them wanting more. "


Rule #1 for a consultant: "Under-promise and over-deliver."

For parenting: "Quit while you're having fun."

Marc Kokosky
(mak52580) - F

Locale: Washington, DC Area
Re: Background on 10/16/2013 00:30:14 MDT Print View

Like you said, the trail will always be there.

Wait a few years until he's older, his body has grown and is better able to withstand the rigors of long distane backpacking and better able to enjoy it and will have the age and maturity to enjoy it for what it the meantime, extended 1-2 weeks should be adequate to keep him interested if he already enjoys it.