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Into The Wallowa’s: Our Baby’s First Backpacking Trip

There’s often a moment on an adventure that stands out from the rest—one that perfectly encapsulates why you’re out there, and when you reflect back, you can drop back into how it made you feel. On our backpacking trip last fall, that timeless moment happened on our second night. We were on the last couple miles out of the ten we trekked that day, the moon rising above the alpine ridges, the sky drifting between night and day, and Wolfie quiet and contemplative in his Poco pack. I was walking as fast as I safely could while still letting the magic of the night sink in, determined to make it back to camp before I had to turn on my headlamp. That night hike will forever be burned into my cerebral cortex, stored alongside the many other milestones of this first year with our son.  

Baby smiling at a camera Image via Aly Nicklas

Wolfie was eight months old, and it was due time for him to see the sort of places that make his parent's hearts sing. When a wildfire shut down our original plan, the Timberline Trail, we opted for the lesser trod trails of the Wallowa’s just a few days before we left. I’d wanted to do things in my usual style—go as far and as fast as possible, and fortunately my partner Corey pointed out how much more we might enjoy the trip if we took it a little slower than my planned 13 miles and several thousand feet of gain per day. When we set out from the trailhead many hours later than planned I was extra thankful for our new plan, which involved hiking 8 miles to basecamp at a lake, from which we'd hike from the following day before hiking back out the third day. As it turns out, hiking with an infant is both easier and harder than I expected, all at once. And worth every moment of discomfort and uncertainty. 

Woman wearing a child carrier while backpacking Image via Aly Nicklas

I hadn’t been in the backcountry in far too long—I forgot how good the cold feels stinging your nose in the morning, how tasty freeze-dried food can be when you’ve hiked your way into dinnertime, and how that thrill of being somewhere new never gets old. And I didn’t know how wildly special it would be to share those things with our baby until it was happening. I wore the Poco, and once Wolfie was loaded up, it was coincidentally the same amount of weight I gained (45-ish pounds) when I was pregnant. It gave me a better understanding of just why it was so hard to get out of bed when I was 9 months in. Fortunately the weight distribution is much more ergonomic than pregnancy thanks to our Poco. In addition to our son, I was able to carry both mine and Wolfie’s clothes, a solid amount of our food, enough diapers for the day and a few other odds and ends. Corey carried the rest of our gear in a 70L pack, and both of us thanked our lucky stars for our hiking poles. 

Father and son taking a short break on the trail Image via Aly Nicklas

Camp setup with gear strewn everywhere Image via Aly Nicklas

We camped both nights next to Mirror Lake, a magical backdrop for this adventure, and on our second day we did a day hike up to a lonely alpine lake, some ten miles and a few thousand feet of elevation change. We meandered a bit, tried our hand at alpine fishing, had to stop more than expected because our little Wolf is the one who’s really in charge, and as such, on the way back we found ourselves racing the setting sun. 

Mom and baby sitting in a sleeping bag Image via Aly Nicklas

Mirror lake from a distance Image via Aly Nicklas

They say that you’re not the same person after you become a mother, that some part of you is irrevocably changed. I don’t know yet if I agree with that—if anything I feel more myself, more grounded in who I am and my values, especially now as the exhaustion of those early months has faded away.The backcountry wilderness of the Wallowa’s is a world away from our busy Portland streets, and this first foray into it with our son was a step back into the person I was before he came, and also a step forward into the person I want to be for him.

Woman backpacking with her dog Image via Aly Nicklas

We’re always growing, always learning, and I hope those wild places shape him just as they shaped me. His conscious mind may not remember that night, may not remember watching the moon rise, watching the sky and trees reflected in the ponds we passed, but I trust his molecules will. I trust that his soul, so new to this life, felt an awe I hope he’ll return to, again and again, as his life goes by. 

Written by Aly Nicklas(Se abre en una ventana nueva) / Photographed by Corey Arnold(Se abre en una ventana nueva) and Aly Nicklas