Here he is opening some birthday presents over breakfast--thick socks, a cool camp towel, and a fancy lightweight sleeping pad.
Too bad more of our gear isn't lightweight! Here is Jason and the crew at the start of our journey. Note the giant tent strapped atop Jason's pack.
Swapping photo spots with my hubby. Note how Annika is already riding my shoulders, even though we've only been going for five minutes. She fell asleep on the car ride up and woke up GRUMPY--an auspicious start. After she refused to be set down, I traded packs with Brooklyn so that I could carry her on my shoulders. (Both Jason and I had packs that were too tall to accommodate a piggyback rider.)
Brooklyn was a trooper, but the larger pack was a little too heavy for her. Don't worry, she still carried plenty of weight on her own! This left me toting Annika in front along with a giant pack on my back. And why do we think this is fun?
All pain is forgotten once we stop to take a break.
Talia and the birthday boy.
Best stay hydrated, right girls?
While all may seem idyllic from these photos, the path quickly grew steep, and we seriously struggled. The trail gains an impressive 2743 feet in just 3.4 miles--not necessarily the wisest choice for a family introduction to backpacking. In the future, it'd probably be a good idea to hike a trail before we backpack it. What can I say? It's a fine line between courageous daring and outright stupidity.
In the end, this kind gentlemen and his friends helped us stay on the happy side of adventure. We'd decided that since Annika was moving slowly, Jason and the other kids would keep going and stop every mile so that Jason could drop his pack, run back, and help me carry Annie. Out of energy from carrying Annika in my arms, I had just decided to leave my pack at the side of the trail so that I could piggyback her. Right at this moment, these three men and their teenage daughters came by and noticed my dilemma. They each took turns carrying Annika or my pack until we caught up with Jason and the other kids. I told them that if they kept on rescuing people like that, they were going to get a reputation as the three Nephites.
Thankful for heavenly help.
Once our group was regathered, it was still a challenging haul. We took the tent off Jason's pack so that he could piggyback Annika, amazingly strong man that he is. I then proceeded to carry the tent in my arms for a while, grateful that it didn't wiggle around as much as Annie. Eventually it got too heavy as well, so I left it behind. Before long, I realized that the tent was of more immediate import than anything in my pack, so I ran back and hid the pack instead so that I could lug the tent the rest of the way on my shoulders.
Needless to say, we were all grateful to finally make it to the top. Just in the nick of time! The first stars were beginning to appear as we secured a lovely tent site.
As Jason and the kids set up the tent, I ran a mile back down the trail in the dark to reclaim my pack. By the time I got back, they had dinner all ready. I'm not usually a huge fan of smoked sausage, but after hours of hiking, that meat was some of the most delicious food I've ever tasted.
Despite temperatures dropping below freezing, we slept fairly warm that night. Early the next morning, Jason arose to explore the area and take some pictures.
We gathered around our little backpacking stove for a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate.
Happy faces all around!
In the day light, we were able to see the mountain beauty that we had climbed so far to reach.
While it warmed up quickly, we were grateful for our winter coats. Now to convince Annie to wear her gloves too...
Camping is inherently full of mishaps. I wish you could have seen our dirty clothesline. Three children fell into misfortune trying to figure out how to potty outdoors (it's quite easy to aim wrong and soak your pants, trust me), while the last child sank up to her knees in a mud bog. By the end of the morning, all of them were wearing their underlayer as their outerlayer. Everyone except Eli that is, who soaked both his layers the first time. Ever resourceful in times of necessity, I gave him my underlayer (some thick gray stretchies) and used a piece of rope as a belt to create a stylish new pair of pants.
The kids' favorite part of backpacking was exploring the rock cliffs behind our campsite.
Eli and Annika blazing their own trail.
"Brooklyn was here."
Look who joined us! Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles met us on Saturday morning after booking their way up the mountain in record time. They even brought some delicious subs to share.
Packing up camp makes me grumpy too, Brooklyn. After all, who would want to leave such a beautiful place?
Loading up once more.
Extreme family togetherness.
I must say, we were so grateful to have Grandpa Charles's help carrying Annika down the mountain. Grandparents really are the best.
I think I love the mountains so much because that's where heaven touches earth.
One last view of Lake Blanche.
I'm so grateful for seasons! (Remind me of that in the dead of winter.)
Back to the trailhead, at long last. As you can see, Annie is sleeping, having worked so very hard. Charles's arms may still be aching from carrying all that dead weight.
For dinner, we made a beeline to Cafe Rio where our seven year old ordered a much deserved meal all for himself.