“We set out in the night, abandoning our tent. With backpacks and headlamps on, we navigated our way through the freshly fallen foot of snow. She stayed one foot behind me, as to not lose me and I guided us back to the car.”
I have always been fond of the message that has floated throughout social media memes and photos, “Kids won’t remember their best day of television” with a picture of a child engaging in some outdoor activity. This was no more clear than a few weekends back when I took my nine year old daughter backpacking and snow camping at Mt. Rainier National Park.
The forecast leading up to the weekend was looking rather interesting. The temperatures were going to drop to 15 degrees overnight and with the windchill it would feel like 0 degrees. A weather storm warning was issued for Mt. Rainier and the forecast called for 40 mph winds and 9-12 inches of snow overnight. My son and I were supposed to join his boy scout troop and dig snow caves, however, after a week of school camp, my son was drained and decided not to go. With my bags already packed, I asked my daughter if she would like to go backpacking with me. She didn’t even hesitate answering yes. So, sure half of her answer was based on “one uping” her older brother and the other half was just to spend time with me but I can assure you, she didn’t mean to say yes. Perhaps, she misheard me and thought I said, “Do you want to stay home and bake with me?”
After a two hour drive to Mt. Rainier, a half hour wait in line to get an overnight camping permit, we were driving up to Paradise. By 11:00, we were backpacking down the trail to find some good camping and take in some needed time in the mountains. A half hour later, we located some prime real estate and hiked down a nice flat area to set up some tents. While my friends and I set up our four season tents, Elissa checkout out some bomber snow caves just up hill from us.
After tents went up and securely anchored, we spent some time exploring, digging, hiking, climbing through snow caves and even walking back to Paradise Lodge for pizza and hot chocolate. As darkness started to set in and the temperatures began to quickly drop, we all decided to retreat to our tents. Elissa and I spent some time playing card games with a deck of cards she had. We shared a dinner and laughed about the temperature was so cold that we had to keep taking turns holding dinner bowl to warm up. Typically we don’t take turns snuggling up with pasta primavera. It was such a special feeling to be camped out in one of the most beautiful National Parks with my daughter and soaking up all that the outdoors had to give and listening to her thoughts the day.
As the night sky took over, we snuggled up close to get a little warmer. For the next few hours, Elissa kept telling me how cold she was. Her sleeping bag was rated for 15 degrees, but what if it was so old that it had lost some of it’s filling power or what if she just couldn’t maintain a good temperature and was going to be miserable all night. After some time, I asked her if she would like to climb in my sleeping bag with me and she jumped at the opportunity. This was not an easy feat. While there was enough room in my sleeping bag, neither of us was going to be shifting around and this required me to sleep on my side all night. Oh well, I’m a mom and I’m going to do what it takes to keep my kid warm. This solution worked out perfectly…….almost.
Sparing many details, somewhere between very close quarters and air circulation, I began to feel very sick after midnight. I don’t ever throw up, as in I was a teenager the last time I threw up, and I didn’t seem to recognize the feeling in time. My brain had forgotten what those body signals until it was too late. Fortunately, I found a hat and made use of it. After regaining composure, I knew I wasn’t just going to lay down again and feel better. Elissa had woken up and was feeling pretty nervous about me being sick. I told her I thought it was best if we packed up our sleeping bags, a few essential items and hiked back to the car. At least in the car, we could both lay down in the seats, warm up a little and I may start to feel better.
What a trooper she was. In the coldest part of the night and without hesitation, she quickly stuffed her sleeping bag into her backpack while I packed mine and some other things. Then she grabbed her frozen boots, sank her feet into them. She quickly tied them and didn’t complain once. By 1:00 am, we let our friends know we were hiking back to the cars and we set out in the night, abandoning our tent. With backpacks and headlamps on, we navigated our way through the freshly fallen foot of snow. She stayed one foot behind me, as to not lose me and I guided us back to the car. I loaded her up in the car and turned the engine on which turned on the heated seats to warm us up a little. We “camped” like this for six hours. Every two hours, I would wake up and turn the car on for five minutes to let the seat warmers do their magic. In the early morning, I hiked back to our tent, dug it out the snow and packed up everything. What an adventure!
Down from the mountain, we all met up for lunch. After an hour of good vibes and laughter, we parted ways and Elissa and I drove the two hours back home. Replaying our weekend in my mind, I was thinking that neither of us will ever forget this trip. Like many of our adventures, I will remember her giggles as we played cards together for a few hours in our tent and how much her face lit up to climb around in a snow cave. I will remember holding her tightly and listening to her fall asleep when she snuggled up with me in my sleeping bag. Those are the types of memories that I try to soak up on every trip we take together, but the memories that will stand out to me was the sound of those little feet sinking into frozen boots and the sound of us clipping our backpacks on in the middle of the night. Although a small moment in time, I get to see glimpse into her future. It gives me peace to know that when a situation gets tough or uncomfortable, that she can set aside her temporary discomforts in order to find resolution or help. I can almost picture the two of us ten years from now hugging, me saying “have fun, be safe”, and right before she takes off to follow her dreams she says “you know I’ll be fine, remember the time you took me snow camping and I was a rockstar!”