Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29 | High Sierra Topix  

Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

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Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby chrismis21 » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:09 am

I was inspired a few years ago by a relative to get my kids out for some one-on-one backpacking trips. We day hike a lot as a family and do some family camping, but getting the kids out for some quiet time to enjoy nature and learn back country skills seemed like an awesome idea. I decided to take them on a camping trip at age 5 and start backpacking at age 6. I have four girls, and my oldest turned 6 two months ago, so it was time for the trip!

I had some concerns about the smoke from fires, and those concerns grew as we drove into Lone Pine the evening of 8/26 just as the last light dipped behind the mountains. The valley was quite smoky, and looking north the visibility was poor. We could still see the outline of Whitney from the Visitor's Center night drop box, but it wasn't ideal.

We drove up to Horseshoe Meadow and stumbled around in the dark (~9:30pm) locating bathrooms, water and the walk-in campground. We couldn't find an un-occupied camping spot, so set up off the side of one of the other spots (the rangers had stated that as long as the tent was located within the footprint of the designated campground, having an actual tent pad wasn't necessary). We got great sleep, no headaches or other issues with altitude.

We were up early but it took a while to re-pack the bags for the trip that morning. Since my daughter couldn't carry much, we had to move some things around and get creative to fit what we needed. She was still carrying about 10 lbs on the first day, since we had a full load of food and water. As the trip progressed, we carried much less water and filtered more often, but I'm used to packing water and wasn't as confident on water sources having never been to the area in the past.

The hike up to Cottonwood Lakes was beautiful. The smoke had cleared during the overnight hours (we made a bathroom trip around 1am and it was very clear), and it was bright and beautiful the morning of 8/27.




The last couple of miles my daughter was moving slowly as the weight caught up to her. To her credit, she's one tough little girl. As we traveled and drank water and ate some of the food in her pack, things got a little easier, but she was ready to be done by the time we got to Lake 4.


We didn't necessarily plan a Langley summit, but I figured the best chance we had if she wanted to attempt it was to camp at Lake 4 and be close to Old Army Pass. We found a great spot between Lakes 4 and 5, and set up camp. Nice easy access to water and the trail, though very little wind protection.

My notes for that particular area are:

1) Lack of wind protection. In the bowl the wind whips around from nearly all angles. There's no rock to get behind to block the wind.

2) Lack of shade. It's right at treeline, and there are very few trees. The few trees there are in that stretch didn't seem to be on level ground to house a tent comfortably. There are bigger rocks, but nothing to provide consistent shade from the mid-day sun.

3) Marmot poop. It was on EVERY rock and on ever ledge. I was just surprised to see such a massive quantity of it everywhere, and we had to make sure nothing going in our mouths was ever on the rocks or ground directly.

4) Mice. My daughter granted me the privilege of assisting with a middle-of-the-night cat hole digging extravaganza. While she was taking care of business, I watched mice run everywhere around us. The moon was almost full, so even without a headlamp I could see quite well. Thankfully I zipped the tent when we stepped out!

We would have still camped in that area knowing the above, but some things to consider as it's enough of a trek past the more comfortable camping areas that I wouldn't want to be surprised and turn around to head back down to Lake 3.

As we ate dinner and watched the sunset on Langley, my daughter said she wanted to try to hike it the next day and try to see our tent.

The next morning we headed up OAP after sunrise. The trail was in terrific shape and we made it to the top of the pass from our campsite in only an hour. We both took our packs but only carried water, snacks and any extra layers. I kept my daughter's 2-liter hydration bladder along with my 3-liter. She carried two water bottles. All of that was full when we left in the morning, and completely drained by the time we got back in the afternoon.

At the top of the pass, the wind was fierce and the temperature quite chilly. My daughter was feeling great and wanted to keep going toward Langley, so off we went. We ran into a lot of great backpackers up there, and everyone wanted to talk about having my little one up there with me.

As we got closer and moved in the Sierra Slog section, my daughter started off strong, having fun with the scrambles and route-finding, but soon got tired of slipping in sand and rock scrambling. It's a lot for strong legs, but a whole lot for someone with short legs like her. She received lots of encouragement from other hikers that passed us on the way up and down, and I was encouraging her to take the hike as far as she wanted. About a half hour from the summit (13,600') she decided she was done. It was cold, windy and she didn't want to climb in sand any longer. We turned around to head down, but very proud of her accomplishment and attempt. On the way down, a group of about 10 backpackers that had passed us on the way up and down gathered on either side of the trail and cheered my daughter on as she passed through, high-fiving her effort, and reminding her that the mountain will always be there to try again.




We got back down OAP in very quick fashion and back to camp mid-afternoon. We had a hot meal, packed up the camp and headed down to the wooded area between Lakes 1 and 2. We set up there, and my daughter was grateful for the tree cover to get away from the wind. That was probably the warmest night we had of the three, and we slept very soundly. The next morning we packed up and headed back out to Horseshoe Meadow. On the way, we were passed by several other backpackers, some of whom we met the day before, some we didn't. Everyone knew who my daughter was, though, and she continued to receive compliments on her effort.

I had lots of Proud Daddy moments on the trip. First, just to get out on the trail with her at all, and have her love the time out there. Second, to have her hike as hard as she did and put out the effort to go further and higher than we'd planned, and third to see the recognition of so many others on the trail. My primary goal on this trip was for her to want to come back and make this a yearly ritual for us, and not something she looked back on with disdain that I pushed too hard or she was uncomfortable. The whole hike out and drive home on Saturday she talked about next year's hike, so I would count this is a very successful trip!!

The smoke was never an issue the whole trip. It would drift in around 7 in the evening and be gone by about midnight or 1am. The days were pretty clear and only a little hazy. The wind picked up a lot our last day, and I believe conditions changed later that day. We were very fortunate to have things hold up for our trip.

I appreciate all of the input on conditions before the trip. Having never visited the area, I still felt like I knew it well from other TRs and updates.

Of course coming back home, my wife (who loves backpacking as well) was a bit jealous of our trip, so we're now looking at some options for a 2-night fall trip that we can take without most of the kids. Our youngest will be 10 months, so we'll have to take her with us, so nothing too high in elevation or too intense (more than about 8 miles per day), but I'm looking into some options for that now as well. I was considering something out of Kennedy Meadows in the South Sierra. If there are any suggestions, let me know!

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Re: Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:46 am

Thank you for sharing this wonderful report with us Chris, your daughter is quite a trooper, and she did great, especially considering that she is only 6! :nod:
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Re: Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby rlown » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:15 pm

Nice report! Very nice to see your daughter had a good experience.

It's a bummer that mice and fleas go hand and hand, but at least the tent was zipped.

Thanks for the report.
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Re: Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby Bluewater » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:59 pm

Congratulations to your 6 year old for getting all the way to 13,600 feet, and on the dreaded sand hill approach to Langley! Thanks for your report & cool panorama.
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Re: Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby Cross Country » Mon Aug 31, 2015 7:28 pm

It is great isn´t it. I started BP with my 2 sons Mike (6 yo) and Jim a VERY small 11 yo. I had to carry some of the weight for each of them and I felt like a pack mule. It was still well worth it. That year we took 4 trips to Laurel, Charlote, Ten Lakes Basin and Mathes in Yosemite. I think my greattest pleasure in BP was with my two kids.
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Re: Cottonwood Lakes with my 6-yr old 8/26 - 8/29

Postby giantbrookie » Mon Aug 31, 2015 7:38 pm

Sweet report. Your daughter is one tough kid. I got started pretty early as I hiker but I was not in her league as a 6-yr-old. My kids (now 9.5+ and 13) got started very young (<2, 5 for backpacking) but they were also nowhere near as strong at age 6. Your daughter certainly has a lot of days in the High Sierra in the future. Of course, she'll be joined by her siblings soon, too.
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