Thanksgiving 2014 AT Hike with the Kiddos!

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This past weekend I decided that the kids and I would sneak away for a quick overnight hike on the AT. So, I grabbed a few packs out of the gear closet and started filling them with gear (good thing I got a lot of it!) As well, I even called one of my old-time school buddies and asked if it would be ok if I were to take his son (which happens to be my son’s best friend…) along with us. He said sure!

I filled each of the kids’ bags with a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, a drinking cup, a headlamp, and then some extra sleeping clothes. Then I threw in all the other necessary gear, as well as my own items, into my pack. By the time I had gotten them sorta filled, our guest had arrived, and I decided I had better start settling in while I could… 3 am was coming early!

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or should I say, droopy-eyed and wild-haired, we headed out the door just after 3. Thankfully the roads were pretty clear, and we were able to make good time…

Since my daughter was going, I decided that I had better do 1 of 2 things: keep the mileage really short, or the elevation gain/loss to a very minimum (especially so since it was cold). As well, I needed to find something that they would find interesting… So, I decided to park at the parking area at the Wayah Bald Observation Tower, and stay the night at the Wayah Shelter. The stone tower is like a cool looking castle (to me anyway… so I figured it would have to be to them…), and then the shelter was just under a mile away. The only potential downfall is that there was a few hundred feet of elevation gain when coming out the next morning… I figured I would chance it.

Around 10:30 am we finally made it to the gravel forest service road that would lead us to the stone tower, just 4.4 more miles ahead. The first couple of miles was gravy… The road was in better shape than I had hoped, and we were all anxious that we were almost there! Then, after about 2.5 miles, we started hitting a few ice patches… then things got a little tense… at least on my end! After a couple of car slides, I decided that it was time to park the car, and walk the remaining distance of the road to the tower. It just wasn’t worth it to try to keep driving, plus I was thinking about having to drive back out the next day…

So it began…

P1050213As it turned out, the tower was only a few tenths of a mile farther from where we parked. And with all the ice on the road, the kids really didn’t mind… They kept running/sliding up the road, then turning and skiing back down. I was doing all I could to make sure I stayed on my feet! (Why didn’t I bring my Microspikes???….)

Soon we were at the top. Before getting on the paved walkway to the tower though, I took the kids to the restrooms that happened to be near, and gave them one more opportunity to use a “real” restroom. While waiting for them to use the facilities, I took a few pictures… The truth is, I was really excited about seeing some snow myself!  🙂

P1050215 P1050217 P1050219 P1050221After everyone was ready to go, we headed back towards the paved walkway that lead from the road to the tower. The tower is pretty close to the road, so the kids were really excited that we had already made it to the castle! So, the kids ran around and explored, I took some more photos, and just took in some of the views. It was a beautiful day…

P1050225 P1050227 P1050233 P1050236 P1050241 P1050243After about an hour of fun at the castle, we decided to see what lay ahead of us, so we headed down the trail. According to the MapDana Elevation Profile map I use, we had 892 feet to descend in the next 0.9 miles to the shelter. But this was all good… the kids were still excited. We were out of the car, and in the mountains, where they could run free… like the wild kids that they were! And they did! They made snowballs… they threw snowballs… they rolled snowballs down the trail to watch them get bigger… and they got wet.

Real quick like, I realized that I was going to have to monitor their activities… at least a little. It was cold, the wind was blowing, and they only had an extra layer of sleeping clothes… which they happened to be wearing under their outer layer of hiking clothes. I didn’t want them to end up with frost bite or anything… This turned out to be pretty easy though… they also quickly realized that snow is cold, and wet, and that there was no house nearby to run into and stand next to the heater to get warm and dry again.

P1050247The whole way down to the shelter, the trail was covered in snow. And as expected, this resulted in a few slips and falls between the three kids. Nothing serious, thankfully. They all just laughed it off, and tried to figure out who would be the next one to take a fall. Of course though, I was laughing tentatively… I saw it as they were getting wetter… and had visions of losing fingers and toes…

I had actually stayed at this shelter this past July on another hike and remembered that the water source, while good, was a little ways away from the shelter. So, about half way down the trail, I decided to fill my 2L Sawyer bag from a water source right on the trail. Then, soon after we arrived at the shelter. Thankfully, as evidenced by the lack of footprints in the snow leading to the shelter, we were the only ones here!

I had carried an extra tarp and a ground sheet for the kids, however, I was hoping to put them all up inside the shelter instead. And being that we were the only ones there, I did just that. After the kids slung their packs off and went to explore some more, I started unpacking their packs, and laying out their gear. After I got their stuff all situated, I called them back in and we had some “lunch.”

P1050250 P1050249 P1050252 P1050253Once we finished eating, I sat around with the kids for a while. Just talking about very random things, and just loving the moment. Snow, mountains, family and friends… it was so worth the 700+ mile round trip drive!

A while later I decided I needed to set-up my hammock. I really didn’t want to set up inside the shelter… I wasn’t sure just yet if anyone else would show up, plus, the shelter was kind of small, and didn’t offer the best options to hang the hammock appropriately. However, I wanted to be close to the kids, so I decided to make the best of it, and set the hammock set-up the best I could from the rafters in the shelter…

P1050256 P1050255After I was as happy as I could get with the set-up I went and hunted the kids down again. (It really wasn’t that hard though… IIRC, at that time, I think they were in the back of the shelter, debating weather or not to climb on top of the roof and slide down on the snow!) I got them to come back in the shelter and assessed their clothing… surprisingly, there were still a few dry spots left on them. I could also tell that the cold was starting to get to Matthew & Emily a little, however, Micah was loving every bit of it, and wanted more!

Emily found the shelter log and decided to sit and write in it, and Matthew started pacing the shelter. At this time (which happened to be around 3 pm) I told him that if he wanted, he could slide off his outer clothes, and slip into his sleeping bag to warm up. He jumped right in! I also talked Emily into doing the same, however, she was elbows deep in her journal entry, so she sat up in her bag and finished here entry. Micah was still wanting to build a snowman, however, with a little persuasion, he was also in his sleeping bag, warming up soon after!

P1050258 P1050260As one would expect, after the kids squirmed around in their bags for a bit, laughing and giggling and soaking in the warmth, they slowly started to doze off a little. As I mentioned, we did leave at 3 am that morning… and while they did sleep in the car for most of the trip up, after snuggling up in those warm bags, the droopy eyes made a come-back. It didn’t take them long to catch a well-deserved afternoon nap. But, this made me want to take a nap too… of course, I didn’t get to sleep on the drive up!

I laid back in my hammock for a bit, but kept from dozing off. Finally, a little after 4, I decided I would go ahead and start preparing our gourmet dinner… turkey dogs! Complete with hotdog buns, and mustard and ketchup packages! I had planned on cooking over a wood fire, but after finding so much snow on the ground, I figured I would use some of the alcohol that I carried just in case…  So, I filled my 1.3L Evernew cook pot with water, plopped the hot dogs in, assembled my Caldera Cone, filled the Starlyte stove, and began slaving away on a hot meal for the kids and I.

P1050263After scarfing down the hot dogs, I emptied the hot dog water from the pot, and refilled the pot with fresh water, then set about making hot cocoa for the kids, and some chai tea for me! (I did threaten to just use the hot dog water for the hot cocoa though…) After filling our bellies with hot dogs and cocoa, I went about cleaning everything up, and getting it ready to hang.

This was good timing too… the skies were beginning to darken, so I was glad that I had finished everything before dark. Next I set out to find a good limb to throw a bear line and get all of our smellables hung. Then, just as I was tying off the loose end of the bear line, another hiker showed up…

At first, I debated taking my hammock back down. To be quite honest, I didn’t want too, but I didn’t want to be that hiker either… I asked him if it was in the way, and he said he was planning to pitch his tent. This gave me a little relief… I wanted to be in the shelter with the kids, but also, didn’t want to have to set the hammock up again somewhere else. However, he did mention that there were two other SOBO thru hikers that would likely show up later that evening.

By this time the kids were rested from their afternoon hike, and warm, snuggled up in their sleeping bags. However, that didn’t keep them from having a good time. They weren’t playing in the snow anymore, but they were having just as good a time as when they were. Plus, they were dry, and that made me happy!

A little later, the 2 other SOBO thru hikers did show up. (Their names were “Clam” & “Bug” and they began their SOBO journey on June 8th, 2014. They were planning to finish around December 6th.) I immediately asked if my hammock was in their way, and they both said no. However, they did plan to sleep inside the shelter. There was still plenty of room inside the shelter for them both, but, I made sure that the kids were slid over and on their side. After this, the kids and I began playing card games while the other 3 hikers went about preparing their own dinners, and began the hiker chatter… After a few games of Uno, and then a few more games of Go Fish, the card games lost some of their interest. So, as night settled in for good, I began talking with the other hikers, and the kids began playing amongst themselves…

After the other hikers finished eating and cleaning up, we all talked for a bit longer, and then everyone started making themselves comfortable in our own sleeping set-ups. The kids eventually quieted down, the one hiker retreated to his tent while the other 2 thru’s crawled into their own sleeping bags. I had already climbed into my hammock, and eventually started snuggling in a bit deeper…

All night long, the wind howled… and just so happened to blow right into me. On occasion, I would hear others move around, and at one time saw my daughter sit up in her sleeping bag. And of course I had to get up a couple of times throughout the night to answer the call of nature. Between the wind, and the fact that we had all settled in by 7:30 that night, it turned out to be quite a long night…

The next morning around 6:45 I heard some of the others up and moving around, which was all I needed to hear to get myself up and motivated too. Knowing that I had to pack up 4 people’s gear, and then drive home was plenty to get me moving. So, after fetching our food bag and getting my own gear somewhat packed up, I began rousing the kids. They woke up as if they were in their own bed at home: hair wild and half closed, drooping eyes…. groaning. This was great to see though as it said to me that they slept good, and warm.

After getting them up and dressed, I gave them their breakfast, which was muffins and wraps. I had planned to make some hot cocoa too, but we all agreed that we would just snack and get on the trail. The hike back up wouldn’t take too long, and we could stop and get some “good” hot breakfast soon after, and some coffee for me! So, around 8 am we were all packed up and just about ready to get on the trail. We stayed and talked with the other hikers for a bit, and soon after, we were all ready to head up the trail!

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As can be seen in the above photo, the snow had pretty much completely melted where we were at, and for the most part back up to the top of the mountain. There were a few spots here and there that was still protected by the shade and had a little snow left, but nothing near what was on the trail the day before. As well, with all the leaves on the trail, there were only just a few places that were muddy.

I had let the boys hike on ahead of us (with instructions to wait on us at the stone tower at the top), while Emily and I hung back and went at her own pace. It started out pretty good, but after about 15 minutes of constant uphill, I could tell it was starting to get to her. Thankfully, after 15 minutes, we really were pretty close to the top, however, unless we were actually at the top, I could tell the top may as well have been a million miles from where we currently were! I tried to keep her talking, and to keep her spirits up, and I think it worked ok… but I was really glad that I opted to do a really short hike for her sake. (Besides, I think she is going to grow into it a bit more…)

As we neared the top even more, we found ourselves walking through a cloud. By the time we did reach the top and found the boys playing at the tower, we also found that there was zero visibility from the tower. I was really glad that we had such great views the day before, but it was also cool for the kids to see such drastic differences from one day to the next while on the trail… and especially so since the car was only about another quarter of a mile, and downhill at that!

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We followed the short, paved path back to the road, and thankfully, found that the ice on the roads had also appeared to have melted quite a bit. This relieved me a great deal as I was dreading having to drive back down the narrow, icy road. However, after spending all morning walking on the leaves, and out of the mud, we now found ourselves walking down a muddy road… but hey, I took it.

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In no time at all, we had made it back to the car. After making the kids strip back down to their sleeping clothes, and throwing the rest of their wet clothes in the trunk, they all piled in the car. We turned the heat on, and began making our way, on the long drive back home…

As the morning turned to noon, the sun came out more and more, chasing the clouds away. Then, on the drive home, I stopped at a random pull off on the Ocoee River. The kids hoped along the rocks for a bit, I took a few pictures, then we settled back in the car for the final haul back home…

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So, in the end, I drove just over 700 miles, to hike less than 3 miles. But, I got to spend the night on the trail with the kids, and one of their friends. They got to play in the snow, which we hardly ever get to see here where we live, and they got to play in a castle. My son’s friend spent his first night ever on the Appalachian Trail, while it was my daughters second night on the AT… I had a blast watching them, and look forward to taking them out on many more hikes…

But, before you go, be sure to check out Emily’s video from this hike:

Thanks for stopping by!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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15 Responses to Thanksgiving 2014 AT Hike with the Kiddos!

  1. Mama says:

    Stick, You may not be making big miles, but you are making big memories, and these kids will have a lifelong love of nature and the trail thanks to your time and commitment. Thanks for a great trip report!

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  2. Oh Stick I do not have 6 kids, just 3. I have a 6 year old (nearly 7). I am barely surviving with 3 and could not imagine 6!

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  3. Hey Stick, As always I thoroughly enjoyed the video of you and the youguns hiking and camping. My children are all grown and gone now but they have never forgotten our camping, fishing and hunting adventures. Thanks for the blog and merry XMAS to you and the family.

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    • Stick says:

      Thanks for stopping by Steve! And I hope that my kids and I have many more memories like this together before they are to grown up to hang with their old man… Anyway, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years to you and yours! 🙂

      ~Stick~

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  4. Leaf says:

    700 miles? Brother, tou either need ro move, take up a new hobby, or elect to hike at a location closer to home even if it has less frills. But you’re dedicated, can’t argue that. Good work with the kids. Anxious to hear how your night in a hammock went.

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    • Stick says:

      Leaf,

      I hear ya… I will admit, the drive looses some of it’s excitement each time I make it… but it usually comes down to… if I am going, I may as well go… 🙂

      And I just put up a post about the hammock set-up.

      ~Stick~

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  5. BoobOnARock says:

    I just love this! Here’s to many more hikes with your kids!

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  6. ighwoman says:

    I agree Stik, what a great thing you do when you share the outdoors (and the AT!) with kids. So many children these days get virtually no exposure to the outdoors and how can we expect their generation to be good stewards of the wild places if we don’t show them what it has to offer. You are a great Dad, and a great role model.
    And I think that you were willing to “risk” taking them out when the ambient temperatures were low says a lot about your confidence in your kid’s abilities to handle other than optimal conditions. I am 67 but still wish my parents had exposed me more to the outdoors when I was a child.
    TicTac

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    • Stick says:

      TicTac,

      I agree… and to be fair, my kids get plenty of inside time too… So, yeah, when I can get out, and take them with me, that is great… They do enjoy going outside though, but it’s better when they have something to do… When I was young I had plenty of woods around me to play in all day long, not to mention probably was a little safer… We do live in the city, and while we have a quite large yard, there are no woods for them to run around in… and to be honest, I do like to be able to know where they are… I get nervous with people now a days…

      And yeah, as far as taking them out in those conditions, I had faith in them, but don’t think I gave them all a good talking to on the drive down… and I had to remind them a few times about getting wet and cold, with no dry clothes to change into… But they did great, and I am looking forward to taking them back out again… 🙂

      ~Stick~

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  7. As a fellow Dad of a 6 (she would want me to say nearly 7) year old, how did you get your daughter interested in hiking? Was it through local trails, backyard campouts, or just hitting the hiking trails for overnights?

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    • Stick says:

      Jeff,

      It took some time for my daughter to get to the point of actually going. For a while she was just fine watching me, or me and my son head out. Finally, earlier this year I proposed a short hike to her on the AT. She was very familiar with the AT because she constantly hears me talk about it… So, she went, and she had a really good time. It was only 1.8 miles in, and the elevation was something like 400 feet up on those 1.8 miles back out the next day. She wasn’t super fond of the uphill, but she tolerated it. I was a bit nervous on this hike though as it was almost 900 feet up in 1.2 miles… and yeah, she was kind of slumming along for a while, so I just kept talking to her and trying to encourage her. She did good, and wants to go back again, but for a while yet, I will either keep the mileage really low, or the elevation really low.

      And yeah, she has spent a few nights with me in the yard testing gear… 🙂

      Anyway, 6 kids… wow, you are awesome! I hope that they all find the outdoors as enjoyable as you do… and boy would that be a trip! Packing for 3 wasn’t too bad, but certainly different than just for me… Next summer I am going to try to bring my 2 kids, the same friend, and one of their cousins out… Hopefully my wife will accompany us… 🙂

      Good luck, and happy hiking!

      ~Stick~

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  8. Annie says:

    That was a great read Stik; a nice change to see Dad, out with the kids and all had a blast, ( had to bring in ZPacks, did’nt I !!). It’s not always about endless hours and miles covered on the trail. It’s about the quality experience.
    I spend more time looking and pitch up earlier now to feed off my surroundings.

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    • Stick says:

      Thanks Annie! We all did have a good time, and I am looking forward to bringing them back out when the temps warm up a bit… they enjoyed the snow and all, but I think they will also enjoy it when they can run freely without having to worry about being cold and wet! I know I will too… 🙂

      And yeah, I had to throw ZPacks in there… gotta give credit where it’s due!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

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