Hiking Report: Pemigewasset Wilderness

With great joy and high hopes, we set off on our first family overnight backpacking trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of the White Mountains. I’ve been dreaming about this day for years. The goal was to give the kids their first postive backpacking experience. To stack the odds in our favor, we chose a completely flat trail along several different rivers and streams. No hiking up 4000-footers this time, kiddos. Nonetheless, we had a rough start.

This photo makes me laugh out loud every time I look at it. At the time, however, I wasn’t laughing. Someone who is 5 needed a major attitude realignment (someone who is 8 was a pretty good trooper, but clearly not without a few protestations). Someone who is 5’s theatrics involved sore feet and debilitating hunger. Because hiking 1/4 of a mile is known to cause these things. Forgive my lack of compassion, but this is the same kid who beat me up a 4000-footer when he was four. Fortunately, this lowest of lows was balanced by subsequent highs. Once we got onto the singletrack and crossed a few streams, their consciousness shifted from all that was wrong to all that was delightful. We just needed to get them to that mental space where the modern world and it’s trappings fall away and the beauty, solitude, and adventure of wilderness rushes in.

Like rocky roaring rivers,

moose tracks (you can see the trail of moose tracks in the mud in the foreground, Owl’s Head in the background),

moose hair on the trail,

goldthread (a favorite of mine, whose bitter orange roots can be used like goldenseal),

shelf mushrooms,

tranquil wilderness views,

and inviting trails.

John and I have backpacked a lot but always to designated campsites. This was the first time we just camped in the woods – the rule is 200 feet from designated trails and 200 feet from rivers/streams. We had to cross a river to get to an area flat enough for the tent. Typically this time of year this river would not be passable, but since snow melt was nil this year, we were able to get across with the kids. It wasn’t for the faint of heart – the water was numbingly cold – but the adventure of it made us all feel ALIVE!!

We pitched our tent in the woods, and found a sweet spot next to the river to cook our meals and play. We had a balance beam and a ready supply of rocks destined for the river – perfect for our gymnast girl and rock-pitchin’ boy.

Over the past several months we’ve upgraded much of our decade-old gear to ultralight versions, and this paid off big time. Back in the day when my husband and I backpacked often, we each carried 40-45 pound backpacks. This time, we had two more family members to feed and shelter and yet our backpacks were just 30 pounds (and the kids each carried 5-pound packs which held their sleeping bags, rain gear, bandanas, hats, and water). Instead of feeling like a pack mule, I felt like a fleet footed day hiker. All hail ultralight technology! Our new stove is titanium and weighs an ounce or two. It’s super low-tech and brilliant.

We bought backpacker meals this time but you know, of course, that I will be planning and cooking and dehydrating meals for upcoming trips. If there’s something to make, it’s what I do!

Once we were in the sweet spot, the kids exclaimed how much they loved backpacking many times. The truth is they love camping, but the hiking can be a chore unless they are so stimulated by the sights and sounds around them they forget about the effort. This is pretty much the modus operandi of childhood, right? Enjoy yourself. I get that. But I also want them to know that if they put in some effort, there are huge rewards. This little 12-mile trip is just the tip of the iceberg of what they can experience. If they think moose hair and river crossings are fun, wait until they experience western wildflower meadows and hiking on glaciers. The world awaits. And I am more than happy to take them there!

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3 thoughts on “Hiking Report: Pemigewasset Wilderness

  1. Sore feet and debilitating hunger, sounds very familiar with a certain 7 year old I know rather well. Along with the refrain of “my legs hurt.”

    You are an inspiration! I think we’ll try it but I’m more interested in the designated campsites. As I recall they even had platforms up there.

  2. Gorgeous! Can’t wait until my kids are old enough to take out on the trail. We hike a lot and do tent camping. But, man, I miss backpacking way out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes Aaron and I sit there and plan future trips of all the trails we want to take them on in a few years.

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