When you spend your life in the mountains, both personally and professionally, it’s natural to want to share your love of these wild places and the adventures you have there with your family. But how do you balance the risks involved and discrepancies in ability when climbing or hiking with your kids? We talk to Rab athlete Aaron Mulkey about summiting Gannett Peak with his 15-year-old daughter; the planning, the preparation and how the experience differed for the two of them.
Whose idea was it to go on this trip?
Aaron: It was my idea. I try to do at least one big trip with my daughter every year and last year we hiked the Beaten Path which covers nearly 30 miles hiking between Cooke City, Mt and East Rosebud in Montana. This year I wanted to add some climbing into the mix along with checking out a new area of Wyoming that I have never visited.
Afton: My dad came up with the idea, so I went along with it.
How did you come up with an objective that you knew was attainable for Afton?
As usual my ambitions are typically big and sometimes I have to remember to pump the brakes a bit, but with this trip I felt like it was an attainable goal. It certainly would not be easy, but with the right mindset she could push through it.
Have you two been on lots of climbing trips together?
This was the first big climbing trip for her. Most of our other climbing trips have been day trips to go rock and/or ice climbing.
How did you get her ready for this kind of trip?
Im pretty lucky that, at 15 years old, Afton still likes to hang out with me and try new things. She has heard numerous tales of “Mulkey Missions” from my wife and friends so she is always a bit nervous about what she is getting into. With this trip I tried to get her more comfortable with snow climbing and walking with her crampons by climbing some local alpine routes in the Beartooths. We also spent some time trail running and hiking which helped with the nearly 40 mile round trip we would encounter on our Gannett trip.
What was the most memorable part of the trip for you?
Aaron: My most memorable part of the trip is probably my daughter’s worst memory of the trip. At about 4am on our summit day we were hiking across the glacier on our approach. Afton had been very quiet all morning and suddenly stopped and began to puke multiple times. I was immediately thinking to myself ‘okay this isn’t going to happen today and we need to turn back.’ At this point I was concerned that we had a big day ahead of us at altitude and she now has an empty stomach. We talked and I told her we could turn around right now or at any point in the day, whenever she wanted to. She drank some water and started to eat a bit and said “let’s keep going”. I was reminded of her first alpine route a few years ago when she puked halfway up the route and I had the same thoughts go through my head this time, but she smiled and said “I feel much better now”. She is learning how to work through being nervous and is very conscious of how her body deals with these situations. Most adults, much less a 15 year old, probably would have succumbed to those fears and turned away, but she dug deep and trusted my judgment to continue.
Afton: The best part of the trip, for me, was reaching the summit of Gannett Peak. Looking over the top of Gannett and seeing the mountains from overhead gave me the best feeling. I felt so accomplished and the view was great.
What was the hardest part?
The hardest part of the trip was the constant worry of the uncontrollable dangers. Climbing with my usual partners they can typically take care of themselves and can identify safety issues or react quickly to a falling rock or something like that. With my daughter, she doesn’t have that mountain experience and knowledge so I was not in my normal comfort zone. It was the hardest part, but also a good part because I think when you climb a lot it’s very easy to get in the comfort zone and become complacent. Having a reset every now and again is a good thing.
What advice would you give to other parents wanting to get their kids outdoors?
It’s unlikely that kids will choose to join you in the outdoors at first. It won’t be their first choice, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy it. When I started doing things outside with my kids they were never very psyched, but they always had a smile on their face when we were done. I came to the conclusion early on that I couldn’t give them a choice to join or not. It was the plan for the day and you’re coming along. Its sorta like going to the gym, I often don’t want to go to the gym, but when I’m done I sure am glad I went. Start with a small hike or climb and work your way up from there. Make it a good experience, not an epic!