The Battle of the Backpack

You know how some people want to make a competition out of anything? Without you knowing it, it has now entered the hiking scene. Who would have thought that a pleasant little thing like going outdoors could have anything to do with competing? But the competition is there, even if you weren’t aware of yourself entering it. They call themselves ultralight backpackers.

They will tell you that if you’re not carrying a featherweight backpack that hurts your back and sleep in a sleeping bag that is just shy of keeping you warm at night, and if you, god help me, are camping in a tent and not under a flimsy tarp, then you are lacking skills, my friend, you are lacking skills. And if you have slimmed your backpack to a nice, comfortable weight, they will start to pick at you, yes you, ’cause why are you using those trekking poles, when there are lighter alternatives out there.

That silly, heavy backpack of yours, why haven’t you at least cut off the superfluous straps and got rid of that daft lid on the top? And when you have found a pair of lightweight hiking boots, they poke you in the rib with their featherweight hiking poles and say “hey, stupid, why aren’t you walking around in running shoes like us smart ultralight backpackers, are you afraid your feet can’t take being wet 24/7?”.

You thought you had a clever cooking system, but they’ll tell you that you must be a total nitwit for leaving the house with anything more than a micro cooking set for one person. When you try to explain to them that you only have one cooking system and that’ll have to do because you now and then like to bring your family along, it will be to no avail. ‘Cause you obviously have no skill.

Are you bringing a DSLR to take pictures? Are you totally out of your mind? Any smart backpacker wouldn’t use anything heavier than a Micro Four Thirds system, they’ll say, ignoring you when you try to explain that you do it for the sake of image quality. – Image quality? You must be lacking skills!

If you confront them with their elitism, they will say “no, there is no elitism”, while some may frenetically try to cover up their footprints. But it’s there, on the net, if you look for it. It’s not pretty. It’s infantile. I will tell you this, my friend. Let them have their silly competition. Let them think they are better than the rest. Let them think they have supreme skills. At the end of the day, why do we go outdoors? To compete? Or to enjoy ourselves? Am I exaggerating? Yes, big time. Am I generalising? You bet. Is this written tongue in cheek? Absolutely. Just don’t tell the ultralight backpackers.

The sound of a paddle

The evening is closing in and we only have a few hundred meters left down to the tiny wharf, when she says it. We are about to finish a kayak trip down our local river Numedalslågen. Instead of eating supper at home, we had put a simple pasta salad in a bag, cycled down to the river on our bikes and paddled up to the little island we knew upstream. There were no mosquitoes out there on the island, and we could sit on the hot rocks and eat while we looked at the current drawing patterns on the water surface around the island.

Later, wild joyful shouts spread through the air above the river as the girls were playing in the swift current with their kayaks. Then we pointed our kayaks south and paddled towards home. It didn’t take long before we saw our first beaver.

And that’s when she says it, shortly after the evening’s first beaver encounter, while quietly drifting down the river:

– The sound of a paddle in the water, I think it’s the most beautiful sound I know.

SUPPER BY THE RIVER. We eat on a tiny island before having a blast in the current with the kayaks.
SUPPER BY THE RIVER. We eat on a tiny island before having a blast in the current with the kayaks.
GOING HOME. Sif pushes her kayak out of the eddy and into the river.
GOING HOME. Sif pushes her kayak out of the eddy and into the river.
FULL SPEED. It's fun to paddle downriver and feel the speed of the kayak.
FULL SPEED. It’s fun to paddle downriver and feel the speed of the kayak.

Hammocks in the summer night – first experience with our Hennessy hammocks

ANCIENT PINE. We're still fond of the old pine tree, even though there wasn't room for all our hammocks.
ANCIENT PINE. We’re still fond of the old pine tree, even though there wasn’t room for all our hammocks.

There are a lot of things that aren’t wise. And to go on a family overnight trip with hammocks at the peak of the midge season is definitely not the smartest thing to do. We did it anyway – there weren’t that many midges in the forest any more, were there?

But there were. The plan was to hang our four hammocks in a beautiful, ancient pine we knew. The memory of the great tree had apparently grown bigger than reality. When we finally found our way back to the tree, it soon became clear that it would be difficult to set up the hammocks there. Of course I had to try it anyway. The midges did what they could to ruin the project.

CLOUDS OF MIDGES. It's annoying to think about the mosquito nets lying back home.
CLOUDS OF MIDGES. It’s annoying to think about the mosquito nets lying back home.

It ended in total resignation. It simply was not possible to set up the hammocks in the tree of our dreams. Instead, we found a nice cluster of pines higher up on the hill. Now, I could have written that «shortly after the four hammocks hung among the trees», but it would be to idealise, it wouldn’t be honest, because it took a long time: Soon, one of the hammocks was put up too low, then moments later it would be too high. And you can let yourself fascinate by so many animals, but I have a hard time finding anything fascinating about midges, that is, unless they hover like clouds glistening in the low evening light. Then even I will have to admit that they are actually quite a beautiful sight.

And now, at last, we are hanging here, under the canopy, each in our own hammock. It is odd, strange, like sailing into sleep. I think I can get used to it.

The next morning a wind blows like a salvation through the trees and takes with it the majority of the midges.

HAMMOCKS IN THE NIGHT. We rock into sleep hovering in each our Hennessy hammock.
HAMMOCKS IN THE NIGHT. We rock into sleep hovering in each our Hennessy hammock.
HENNESSY HAMMOCK. Siri is chuffed about her first night in a hammock.
HENNESSY HAMMOCK. Siri is chuffed about her first night in a hammock.
LUSH FERNS. Sif crosses a tiny creek running through the fern covered forest floor.
LUSH FERNS. Sif crosses a tiny creek running through the fern covered forest floor.

Under an open sky

It is the oldest girl who proposes it: the last camp fire trip of the season. Let the tarp and the tent remain at home and sleep under an open sky, before the mosquitoes and midges occupy the forest. What father could say no to that? It gets late before we get away. Again. But we don’t care about that. It’s Friday, it is the end of the week and it’s lovely weather. It is three happy hikers embarking on a walk through the spring woods in the beginning of dusk, the woodcock flying back and forth across the treetops against the darkening sky. The small pine needle path leads us through the forest behind our house, takes us down the steep hill to the skiing tracks and leads us over the little bridge. Then we leave the path, and walk into the night between straight pines and over heather and lichen. The feeling of sitting by a camp fire that your daughters have created, almost by themselves, see the joy of responsibility glow as radiant as the firewood. To lie in your sleeping bag and let your eyes find rest in the night sky above, hear the light breath of the kids who sleep next to you.


It was to be a cold night, but we first notice when we find a a tiny amount of frost on the backpack the next morning and look at the thermometer – three lines down on the blue part of the scale. The girls fire up a morning camp fire, and it is difficult to say what warms me the most, the girls’ joy to be out, the fire or the sun, also joining in. We are in no hurry to go back home, one sits by the stream and listens to the water, with thoughts that migrate to the bathing trips of summer, another goes exploring, at one point close the camp, then suddenly on the other side of the river gorge, high above the open pine forest. It is sad and nice all at once. The last camp fire of the season.

Stream

Wintercamping with Children – Northern Lights and Whooper Swans above the Blefjell mountains

It was winter. There was snow. And before us awaited a week without any big plans – winter holiday 2011. The ideas were many, but the decision was easy: We went to Blefjell, our lokal mountain range. Sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tents, food, clothing, cooking equipment, cuddly teddy bears and a radio were distributed between backpacks and the pulka. The mountains gave us four unforgettable days with low shoulders and a high sky.

The full story was recently published in the Norwegian magazine Snø & Ski nr 1 2012.

THE SODA POP HUT. We pass The Soda Pop Hut on our way.
THE SODA POP HUT. We pass The Soda Pop Hut on our way.
ALONE IN THE MOUNTAINS. We walk away from the ski track and into the mountains.
ALONE IN THE MOUNTAINS. We walk away from the ski track and into the mountains.
WHOOPER SWANS IN THE MOUNTAINS. Four Whooper swans surprises us on our way into the mountains.
WHOOPER SWANS IN THE MOUNTAINS. Four Whooper swans surprise us on our way into the mountains.
POWDER HAPPINESS. The girls find a perfect ski slope right next to camp.
POWDER HAPPINESS. The girls find a perfect ski slope right next to camp.
THE GOLDEN HOUR AT BLEFJELL. The colour shifts during the day are dramatic.
THE GOLDEN HOUR AT BLEFJELL. The colour shifts during the day are dramatic.
SILVERCOLOURED WINTER LANDSCAPE. The landscape turn silvery just before dusk.
SILVERCOLOURED WINTER LANDSCAPE. The landscape turns silvery just before dusk.
FUN IN THE MOUNTAINS. The girls stay outside and play even after dusk.
FUN IN THE MOUNTAINS. The girls stay outside and play even after dusk.
NORTHERN LIGHTS ABOVE BLEFJELL. Slender spruces stands in silhouette against an iridescent green northern light.
NORTHERN LIGHTS ABOVE BLEFJELL. Slender spruces stand in silhouette against an iridescent green northern light.
FREEZING FOG. One night, the freezing fog put down a thin layer of white over the landscape.
FREEZING FOG. One night, the freezing fog puts down a thin layer of white over the landscape.
WINDSCREEN. Everybody lends a hand to the building of a windscreen.
WINDSCREEN. Everybody lends a hand to the building of a windscreen.
WINTER JOY. We are very satisfied after unforgettable days on Blefjell.
WINTER JOY. We are very satisfied after unforgettable days on Blefjell.

70 seconds of outdoor happiness

« … And this weekend there really is no time, but it’s no use thinking about that now, the boots sink into the snow, the pack resting heavily on the back and in your hand you hold a child. We leave the small road and go into the night. Straight pines slide out from the black and into the light of the headlamps. When the cloud cover for a moment opens up, the moon peeks through, orange, half-covered by Earth’s shadow: the lunar eclipse.»

Winter camping in winter with children need not be a huge, insurmountable project. An extra sleeping bag, a thick mattress, warm clothing and boots. The adventure is waiting right out there.