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Rule number one about traveling in the backcountry with your children: They do not carry their own weight. Rule number two about traveling in the backcountry with your children: The one thing you don’t bring will inevitably be the one thing your kids need.
I was reminded of these axioms late last summer, when I took my two boys, Sebastian and Leo, to North Fork Canadian Yurt in State Forest State Park. The plan had been for us to spend two nights in the five-person yurt, which is part of the Never Summer Nordic system. We would arrive on a Friday, hike to Kelly Lake on Saturday, and return to Denver on Sunday. It seemed like a relatively painless (i.e., no sleeping on the ground!) way to take an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old into the Colorado wilderness.
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The boys brought their backpacks stuffed with clothes and some reading material; they’d carry their sleeping bags on the approximately one-mile hike in. Sebastian, my eldest, also carried our camping lamp because it didn’t fit in my backpack, which was full of…everything else. I’m not positive, but I’d guess I carried 50 pounds’ worth of food, my clothes, some of their clothes, my sleeping bag, a first-aid kit, toiletries, several pocket knives, headlamps, a lighter, matches, and water.
But I left our snow boots in the car.
It was a reasonable decision. There was a slight chance for snow that night, but I didn’t have room—and the boys didn’t either. And anyway, it was 55 degrees and sunny as we left the car and began walking the undulating path to the yurt.
That afternoon, we got settled after I brushed hundreds of dead flies off the bunks and table. It wasn’t the Four Seasons, but after a quick wipe-down, we agreed the secluded confines made for a suitable home away from home. As twilight descended, we grabbed a pot from the yurt’s kitchen and collected water from a nearby stream to boil for dinner. We took silly selfies on the deck, marveled at the views of the Medicine Bow Mountains, ate bowls of mac and cheese, and eventually retired to our bunks to read. I considered making a fire in the wood stove before I fell asleep, but the space was warm enough without it.
In retrospect, a fire would’ve been a good idea.
We awoke to a freezing yurt early the next morning; roughly five inches of snow had fallen during the night. It would’ve been a beautiful sight, had I not been focused on the fact that our snow boots were sitting in the back of my SUV, more than a mile away. The temps outside weren’t prohibitively cold—we’d brought jackets, wool caps, and gloves—but it was breezy, and without boots I didn’t think the boys (or, let’s be honest, I) would last very long on the five-mile (one way) trail to Kelly Lake.
Which leads to perhaps the last rule of backcountry travel with children: Avoid things you know will cause discomfort and induce complaining. No, cold, wet feet would not be on the agenda—so we gave in. We voted to hike out a day early. Our packs were a little lighter, but we were toting back one additional thing: a good story to tell around the campfire for years to come.