This is long…if you’re only interested in the pictures, just scroll down and enjoy…if you want to read about the whole adventure…begin now…
We like to push our limits…and the limits of our boys. With Jay as our fearless leader, our motto is if you’re going to do something…start big. We have been talking about taking the boys backpacking for about a year now. Our Grand Canyon trip over spring break didn’t work out, so this summer was our next opportunity.
Jay surveyed our backpacking and hot springs books, scoured the internet, and looked over our forest service map to find the perfect loop to take the boys on. We wanted something scenic and not to difficult that could be done in about 3-4 days. We eventually settled on The Queens River Loop, a 31 mile hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness near Atlanta. The book rated the scenery a 9, Solitude a 7, and Difficulty 5 (out of 10). It seemed perfect for our first family backpacking trip.
We spent hours pouring over recipes and meal ideas on the internet. Jay and I have backpacked before, but feeding 4 rather than 2 is a little more difficult. We found several recipes for lightweight food that would be filling and easy to fix. Jay, always concerned about our caloric intake, made sure it would also be enough calories to make up what we would be burning off.
We put our packs together on Sunday night. The boys each had an REI backpack with several pockets and loops on the outside. They were responsible for carrying a change of clothes, their sandals, a sleeping pad, water (CamelBak), and their sleeping bags. The sleeping bags didn’t fit inside the packs, so we clipped them onto the back using carabineers. This wasn’t ideal, but worked okay for our needs.
Jay and I carried sleeping pads, warm layers, food, and cooking utensils…actually, I mostly carried my own gear and some of the food. Jay carried the tent, cooking supplies, and food. He opted our of a sleeping bag and just took a flannel sheet. I wasn’t that brave… I think in the end Jay’s pack was 42 pounds and mine was 37. This was a bit much for most of us, but as we ate meals the weight shrunk a bit and was more manageable after the first day.
Our boys were excited to get going and were very willing to hike most of the day. We usually keep them going from sun up to sun down when on vacations to national parks and while camping…mostly to save our own sanity at the camp ground, where they tend to just fight, get dirty, and cause trouble… I know they didn’t quite realize what they were getting into, but they’re good sports.
So, on Monday morning, we drove up to the parking area just before reaching Atlanta. We started the hike at 10:45. It was already warm, but once we started moving, we were going to be hot and sweaty anyway…so no big deal. Here we all are at the beginning (me by the car and the boys at the first river crossing). We have two sets of trekking poles (one pole for each of us) and they have been such a life-saver on hikes. They seem to keep the boys’ minds off of all the walking and we noticed a huge increase in their stamina with the poles.
Yes, I’m wearing a skirt…they are very cool, easy to move in, and make “squatting” an easier task…
Aleksi (8) was our turbo hiker. He liked to be in the lead, had no trouble crossing rivers and streams, seemed to never get tired, and kept us all at a good pace.
Nikolai (10) stayed at the back with me most of the time and kept us both occupied by talking about Harry Potter, Empires, and anything else he was thinking about.
Jay, our handsome leader, kept everyone moving at a good pace, kept track of the map, and helped everyone over streams, rivers, and fallen logs.
I don’t know how many stream and river crossings we made. I thought I would take a picture of each of them, but when the number moved passed five within the first few hours, I gave up…
One of our favorite things while hiking was to dip our hats in the water to cool off. Jay likes to refer to this as a “water melon”. We had a pretty nice first day. The wild flowers were out in full bloom and each water crossing added some bright green foliage to change things up. We met one hiker on the trail early on, a man who was 84 and heading down with his dog. He seemed impressed the boys were doing the loop and we were impressed he was doing it as well. The only other people we saw that first day were three hikers who passed us as we stopped for lunch. We had just packed sandwiches for that first meal, so we simply sat on some logs along the trail and enjoyed a break.
At one of our snack breaks, following another water crossing, we saw this large animal bone. Aleksi was convinced it was a dinosaur bone at first, but after some discussion we changed his mind…
We saw a beaver den in a small pond just off the trail…
I think I took a million pictures of all the boys walking down the trail. This one is right before we reached our first campsite. We were really happy to make it there around 4:00. We took off our packs, set up the tent, and just sat around on some logs resting and reflecting on all we had done so far. It was a pretty easy first day and the boys had done very well…never complaining, even.
The campsite was just a few hundred feet from a creek, so we headed there to pump water and cook dinner. Dinner for the first night was couscous with chicken. We measured the couscous and two different Lipton soup mixes (mushroom and herb) in a quart size freezer bag. We added a small foil pouch of chicken we found at Fred Meyer. We had warned the boys that they might not like everything we were eating, but that it was important to eat it and not complain. When we started eating though, the boys declared this was almost better than eating at home.
Our Chef getting ready to boil water.
Nikolai enjoying his meal.
Aleksi and Jay.
After dinner we followed a side trail for about a mile up to see a waterfall. The waterfall was hard to see, but the rest of the scenery was enjoyable and it was nice to hike without the packs.
Aleksi and Nikolai even had enough energy left to climb some boulders.
Nikolai wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as Aleksi.
This is the waterfall on the way down. We thought for a while if we kept going we would have a better view…but that wasn’t the case.
The next morning we fixed oatmeal and hot chocolate. Nikolai isn’t a huge fan of oatmeal, but ate it without complaining and enjoyed his hot chocolate. It wasn’t freezing my any means, but was a little cool under the cover of the trees. Once we got on the trail however, it was quite warm and I thought it was going to be a really long day.
This was the day of fallen logs and switchbacks. We spent a lot of time climbing over or under logs…and in my case finding an alternate hike around the log. It’s hard to step up on something with an extra 35 pounds on your back…
After walking through several more meadows on a moderate uphill climb, we headed up “11 switchbacks to an 8500-foot saddle” (quoted from Backpacking Idaho). To keep the kids’ morale up we counted the switchbacks in English and Spanish. The kids seemed to do fine with this tough climb. I, however, was struggling to catch my breath. The combination of a heavy and tightly strapped pack and all of the climbing was leaving with breathless. So I brought up the tail end…
Whew! We made it to the top!
There were some beautiful small lakes on the other side and a waterfall once we headed down.
We had to go down several more switchbacks and eventually we stopped to have some lunch. We had bagels with seasoned tuna…another big hit with the boys. The smoke was settling in and the clouds covered the sun, so we had an overcast hike for the rest of the day, which was nice. We walked through meadows, forested areas, lush almost jungle sections near the water, and again, the wildflowers were stunning. The only downfall was the logs we kept having to go over, under, and around…the kids stopped counting around 50…
Eventually the trail headed up again and we made our way to Pat’s Lake. This part of the trail was one of my favorites. The scenery was just stunning and with the overcast sky, the colors weren’t washed out and the heat wasn’t unbearable.
Again, the boys had enough energy to climb the boulders.
We made it to Pat’s Lake around dinner time, so we stopped and cooked Ramen with salami (not my favorite, but the boys loved it). We swatted away mosquitos, looked out at the water, and marveled at the silence we’d experienced the entire hike. We saw no people on the trail, saw no wildlife, and heard almost no sounds.
From Pat’s Lake we headed up about another mile to Arrowhead Lake. The mosquitos were even worse here. We set up our tent between some boulders, ate some dehydrated ice cream, and then hunkered down in the tent to play cards until we were ready to sleep. There was one other hiker camping at the lake, but we didn’t get a chance to talk.
The next morning we got up early, packed up, and ate bagels on the trail to avoid holding still and letting the mosquitos eat us alive. This day was overcast as well and we had several small bouts of rain off and on all morning. We ate bagels along the trail as we headed up to 9200 feet.
It was breezy and somewhat cool at the top. We stayed for a bit and ate some more, let everyone rest for a moment, and then headed down the other side.
It was nice to finally be going downhill. We saw more beautiful lakes and lots more wild flowers.
We stopped at one lake to pump water and noticed the sky was looking pretty gnarly. There was a bit of cloud cover, and the smoke was turning it a greyish orange color that was pretty ominous. We had decided earlier we might hike out today if all went well, and the sky was encouraging us to decide on this plan.
The first half of the day was just beautiful. More lakes, waterfalls, meadows, trees, and boulders.
The boys in a tree…
Aleksi at a log crossing…I was nervous for the boys, they had to balance and step over another log in the middle, but once again, they were awesome and made it look easy.
We passed a forest service camp and talked on two different occasions to some people working in the area (Jay teased them about getting paid to fish) and they all seemed to be heading out that day as well. We passed a man taking up a pack of mules, but other than that, no one was on the trail.
We had cheesy mashed potatoes for lunch with bacon pieces…another big hit with the boys.
We got to the last campsite at 3:00 and decided it wasn’t worth getting eaten by mosquitos for the rest of the afternoon, so we just kept on going. It was doable to get out that day, but it would be late. We picked up the pace a little and morale fell for a bit during a long dry section. But then we made it to the river. This time the boys had to wade through the icy waters and they rushed by at knee level. Jay helped them each across and I was so nervous I didn’t take any pictures. We hiked a bit further, crossed the river a second time, and then knew we were only a few miles from finished.
We made it to the end around 8:00. It only took around 12 hours to hike 16 miles with lots of breaks, so we were pretty proud of ourselves.
We had planned to camp in Atlanta and hit the hot springs the next day, but a man stopped at the campsite to tell us they were telling people to leave the area, so we decided to head down to a lower campground. As it got dark, and we’d been passed by several forest service vehicles, we saw the fire along the ridge heading down towards the river. We were all mesmerized by the horror and beauty of the burning. It went on for several miles and we were told it was best to just get all the way out, so we drove home instead of staying…we got home at midnight.
It was such a great trip and the boys were loving it. They kept talking about the next time we go and what we should do and where we should hike…so we’ll have to see where out next adventure takes us.