If Louisville had mountains, I always say, we'd still be there.
My wife, Katie, and I left family and a good life in Kentucky a couple of years ago for the elusive draw of the American West. It's more than just mountains, of course, but that's the easiest way to summarize it. However, we wanted more out of life than just the two of us exploring wild places, and we welcomed our little daughter, Cora, last summer.
Cora has done what children do: She changed our lives and changed us as people. She's also slowed us down when it comes to exploring the mountains.
But as we celebrated her birthday this summer without her extended family, we realized that if we give up wild places in the name of parenting, we've let go of the primary thing that separated us from family in the first place. I know of no better way to enjoy the wilderness than to walk into it and stay for a bit, so we decided to try backpacking with our 14-month-old.
We scoured our hiking books and quizzed our friends to find a place that was wild enough to satisfy us but approachable enough to let us return intact. The State of Jefferson is reasonably hospitable in this respect.
Friends and guidebooks concurred on Deadfall Lakes in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest as a perfect spot to try being a family not just near the mountains, but in them. We decided to give ourselves the best chance of success by keeping the trip short in distance and duration, so we planned to hike in and spend two nights at one campsite with a day hike in between.
The hike to Middle Deadfall Lake is mercifully short, with less than two miles of moderate climbing. There's a slightly longer option along the Pacific Crest Trail with even less climbing, but the difficulty of this short hike was in the ratio: A normal backpacking trip has a 1-to-1 ratio of packs to backs. Our daughter does have a back, of course, but it's not the sort to shoulder a load. Also, she takes a lot of stuff with her wherever she goes. So with one adult back dedicated to carrying our daughter and her gear, we were left with what amounted to a 2-to-1 pack-to-back ratio.
I didn't weigh my pack, but by the time we were done cramming it full and strapping things on the outside, I felt as if I'd shouldered the kitchen table with four chairs lashed to it. We didn't look like we'd stepped out of an REI catalog, but when we arrived Friday evening at the lake, with the last rays of sun on Mount Eddy above us, we felt like we'd wandered into a catalog ourselves.
We were happy to leave our load in one place Saturday for a light trip up Mount Eddy, the highest point west of Interstate 5. The summit offers a grand panorama and probably has the best view of Mount Shasta outside of a helicopter.
That night, we built a campfire by the lake after putting our daughter to bed. When she woke again after an hour, we brought her out to sit by the fire with us. It was her first campfire, and she was completely mesmerized by the flames. She fell asleep again in my lap as moonlight crept down the ridge above us.
We returned home Sunday feeling triumphant. The trip, which we'd doubted many times, was an unqualified success. It seems the mountains didn't entirely leave our world when our daughter came into it.