Sat 13 Jun 2009
Trapper Lake Trip – June 12-13, 2009
This trip was the first backpacking trip with all three kids, and they would be carrying much of their own gear. We were in Grand Teton National Park for a total of 10 days, and we had already done several day hikes before this trip to get acclimated. This overnight trip began at the String Lake trail head. Backcountry permits are required for overnight stays in the Grand Teton National Park backcountry, and we had picked up our permit the day before for the one campsite (#18) at Trapper Lake. The hike to Trapper Lake is relatively level and 4.5 miles from the trail head to the campsite. The minimal elevation change makes this a great trip for families with kids or for those new to backpacking.
We left the trail head Friday afternoon, June 12, and the weather was cool and pleasant. Jana and I regularly use trekking poles (Backpacking Light Stix for her and Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 for me), so as we hiked the kids decided they wanted a hiking stick too. As we continued hiking, they looked along the trail for that perfect stick – and this gave them something interesting to do as we went along. The boys both had sticks selected in just a short time. (Note: In an effort to ‘Leave No Trace’, the sticks were dead wood found along the trail on the ground, and the next day the sticks were left near the trail not far from where they were found.) Something else that kept them interested was to take turns letting one of the kids lead the group. An adult was always second in line to help watch for bears and other wildlife, but they certainly enjoyed taking their turn at the front of the line.
The hike followed the shore of String Lake, then along the shore of Leigh Lake. It went around Bearpaw Lake, and then finally ends at Trapper Lake. Being so close to several lakes allowed for great views over the water and into the woods, and the kids look for and saw several different birds and small animals. We bought each child a disposable camera for the trip so that they could take pictures of anything that they wanted without risking damage to our nice digital camera. Giving them control and letting them make choices in this way allowed them to feel more in control of their experience.
All three of our kids weigh under 100 pounds right now, so we kept their pack weights low. The lightweight backpacking philosophy works so well for Jana and I that it only makes sense to help the kids go light. They each have their own pack – the women’s size small GoLite Jam2 pack – which is a good size for their body right now, and their empty pack weigh less than a pound. I have seen so many "kids" packs that weigh three, four, or five pounds, and it just does not make any sense to me to start with an empty pack that is so heavy. We found synthetic sleeping bags for them at around 2 pounds (and under $100) for a 35 degree bag. This is a lightweight bag, but is still durable and inexpensive. As they get more experience and do more backpacking, then we can look into a lighter down bag. So, they carried their backpack and sleeping bag, along with a coat, jacket, poncho, base layer, extra clothes, LED light, and water bottle. Even with this amount of gear, their total pack weights were still under 8 pounds, or less than 10% of their body weight. Jana and I are just over 10% of our body weight with our pack (fully loaded with 3 days of food and water, so keeping them under 10% of their body weight was a good target. I have read other sources stating that kids can carry 20 to 25% of their body weight, but with a 20 or 25 pound pack, they would almost certainly be miserable. Jana and I carried their sleeping pads, both tents, cooking gear, and all of the food. These light packs let all of us travel faster and more comfortably – ultimately increasing our enjoyment of the trip. We covered the 4.5 miles to Trapper Lake in about 3 hours – not a bad pace with kids.
On the way to Trapper Lake, we stopped on the shore of Bearpaw Lake to boil water for dinner. Our philosophy has been to eat dinner on the trail before reaching our campsite for the night. This keeps food and cooking odors away from camp, and greatly reduces the likelihood of bears or other wildlife being attracted to our campsite. We let the kids pick out which Mountain House dinners that they wanted before we packed for the trip. This was a way to include them in the trip planning process, and it helped to avoid cooking something they did not want to eat. They also each have their own spork, in their color choice. This lets them have equipment that they feel like is their own.
As we hiked past String Lake, Leigh Lake, and Bearpaw Lake, we had great views of the Teton Range. But, we really enjoyed seeing Trapper Lake and camping there. The small lake is at the base of a mountain, and it has a stream with a couple of small waterfalls that runs into the lake. It was just a wonderful, beautiful setting. It is also very secluded, being the last campsite on the trail, so we did not see anyone else during our time at Trapper Lake. Two beavers were active and swimming all around the lake – our kids affectionately named them Roseanne and Clark. Several Canadian geese were at the lake when we arrived. The kids really enjoyed being able to explore the area around the lake and near our campsite. This gave them some freedom after being restricted to the trail for the previous several hours.
We took a card game with us, so as it got darker and the mosquitoes came out, we all went into the larger tent to play cards for an hour or so. This allowed the kids to wind down and gave all of us a chance to enjoy being together as a family. It was a relaxing end to our day of hiking. I would suggest to others that are planning a family camping or backpacking trip to take a game or cards or something for the kids to do in case you need to spend some time inside a tent due to weather or darkness.
Although there are 5 of us, we are able to fit into two tents. We have an older Kelty Teton 2 tent that weighs about 4 pounds – this was a tent we bought sometime back when we started backpacking again. At about $100, it is a good first tent that does not weigh too much. We also have a Tarptent Rainshadow 2. We purchased this tent when we transitioned to lightweight. It weighs around 2.5 pounds and is a cross between a tent and a tarp – basically a tarp with netting and a floor. It can sleep three people if they are not too large. With this setup, we can sleep our family of five. The boys used the Tarptent, and the girls were in the Kelty Teton 2. I used a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air pad with a sleeping bag, and the boys used foam pads and sleeping bags. The girls used our Jacks R Better Mt Rogers down quilt and silk sleeping bag liners – this is the lightweight setup that Jana and I use when we are by ourselves.
We woke up early Saturday morning (June 13), since it started getting light quite early. I think that waking up early and getting on the trail early are some of my favorite things about backpacking. After getting up, the kids enjoyed watching several Pikas scampering around the rocks near camp. We made breakfast (bagels and hot chocolate), broke camp, and were on the trail by 7:30 AM. We enjoyed wonderful views of the mountains across Leigh Lake and arrive back at the trail head around 10:30 that morning. The kids really enjoyed the trip and had a positive experience – so it was certainly a success in my book. I always want them to have a great time in the outdoors, so that they will want to go backpacking, hiking, or camping again.
Jana and I were testing some new equipment on this trip. The most interesting new item was the StickPic. The StickPic is an ingenious device to let you take self-portraits with your camera at the end of an extended trekking pole. After using it, I said to myself "Why didn’t I think of that!" It works great. You simply attach the StickPic to the threaded tripod mount on your camera, attach the StickPic and camera to the bottom of your trekking pole, set the camera’s timer, and hold the pole at arms length. You can get a picture of everyone in your hiking group, or you can get a picture of yourself even if you are hiking solo. The other item that Jana and I were testing was the Montbell Extremely Light Down Jacket. Knowing that it would be cold in GTNP in early June, we had been searching for a warm down jacket that was also lightweight. After some research and looking, we both purchased one. These jackets worked very well. They kept us warm, but stuffed small and weighed 4 to 6 ounces, depending on the gender and size.
I carry a GPS data logger on our trips, so here is the track displayed over a topographical map.
Overall, I thought it was a fantastic trip – both for us, and for the kids.