Backpacking with the Cubs

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As a Cub Leader (Scouter). One of the things I really wanted to do this year was introduce a few the Cubs in my pack to Backpacking. At first I wasn’t sure how the youth, ages 8-10, would do. While my kids have been backpacking since they were 4 and 5, some of our Cubs have never been camping outside of our normal activities which are typically car or cabin based (at least at this age). I’m happy to say they did an absolutely fantastic job and I’ll definitely be doing this again next year

Elk Lakes Provincial Park

One of the focus areas of the new Canadian Path is to review our activities, and we thought it would be a good idea to share what worked well, and what we’d change.

1. FIND A DESTINATION OF APPROPRIATE DIFFICULTY.  

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from backpacking with my kids is that there is a fine line between choosing a destination that is challenging and gives them a sense of accomplishment, and one that is a demoralizing, demotivating slog. I’ve had to ratchet down some of the activities I plan with my kids for fear of turning them off backpacking (Camping in a quinsy in -28 almost pushed them over that line). In this case we chose Jewel Bay, a 4 km hike along the shore of Barrier Lake in Kananaskis. Elevation is ~50m and it is mostly up and down along a hydro cut. The campground is well equipped with bear bins, a common cooking area, fire pit, and an outhouse. Firewood and an axe is provided. During our debrief with the kid at the end, they all concurred that this was a good challenge for them, but not overwhelmingly so. Plus it helped their esteem knowing that the older Scouts of our unit had only hiked in 2km to Quaite Valley that same weekend.

The group photo (missing Dwarf)

2. DO A FEW PRACTICE RUNS.

Before taking the youth out for the weekend, we organized 2 practice hikes. The first was 6km day hike at a local city park on a Saturday morning. Our goal was to see that the youth were good for a hike of that distance, and to help educate parents on some of the necessary gear. Proper backpacks were one, good footwear and ideally a lighter sleeping bag and pad. The second hike, a few weeks later, was more of a dry run. We met up at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park outside of Calgary and did an 8km day hike using their packs and some of their gear. It was a chance to ensure that the kids had what they needed and would be more than capable of making it to camp. The kids were pretty shocked when I mentioned that we had walked twice as far as they would need to on the hike into Jewel Bay. It was also a good way to debug any issues early on before we hit the trail for real

Beautiful creek near Elk Lakes

3. HAVE A PLAN, BUT BE FLEXIBLE.

With kids its important to have a plan of activities to cover the weekend, but you also want them to explore, learn and make great memories. One of the Kim’s (a Scouts who joined us) knew his edible plants and was teaching the kids about how to identify Fireweed and snack on its shoots. The kids had a great time learning, and while it slowed down the hike in, they had a great time collecting shoots and started putting together a plan to make Fireweed tea. After we set up camp and went down to the lake, the kids decided to build a “tea house” from the blocks of clay they found on the exposed lake bottom. (the water was quite low at this time of year)

Snowy covered landscape around Elk Lakes

Overall, is was a great weekend, the weather was perfect, and the youth learned a few things and made some good memories. My hope is that by having a good first backpacking experience, we’ve planted the seeds of the next generation of outdoor explorers.

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Kelly McDonald

After spending 12 years in Ottawa Kelly returned to Calgary in 2012 and decided to pick off where he left off by roping his closest friends into some new back-country adventures (some more fun than others).

Kelly McDonald is a father of two hobbits ages 12 and 13 and tries to get them out into the wilderness as often as he can.

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