When he’s not climbing the highest peak on every continent, Brian Dickinson can be found hiking Washington trails with his 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. Dickinson is probably best known for the time he summited Everest solo after his sherpa got sick, and then had to descend so snowblind, he basically crawled off the peak. These days he’s less concerned about feeling whether that is a rock or a frozen corpse and more concerned about getting his kids excited about outdoor adventures.
He may have been a little too successful — his kids often drag him out of bed with headlamps on at 5 AM to hike a local 4,000-foot peak on schooldays. “They’re first up in the morning like ‘Daddy, let’s go!'” Dickinson says. “Then we’re back in time to see them get on the bus and go to school.”
Follow Dickinson’s advice, and you too could be so lucky.
Start By Taking Stock
Your first trips into the wild with your kids should be all about figuring them out. “It’s [about] coming back and evaluating the feedback that you got on things as you’re just walking the whole way,” Dickinson says. “Did they have the athleticism to get to the end? Did they just complain the whole time?”This feedback is essential to making a game plan going forward: If they’re physically strong but scare easily, maybe you’re looking for nice long walks in the woods; if they’re braver than you expected, you can plan accordingly. If they were uncomfortable, maybe you need to reassess their gear. And if you couldn’t keep up, maybe it’s time get your sorry ass in shape.
Make It Their Adventure
It’s not about you taking the kid on your hike; it’s about the kid’s hike, which you enable. Customize the journey around what motivates the hiker with the least endurance and the shortest attention span. “Then you can incorporate certain adventures and have them own it,” Dickinson says.
A kid who loves flowers can easily be turned into a hiker during wildflower season; kids who love animals can get roped in with a decent pair of binoculars and a sharp eye on your part. If they love history, find hikes with ruins — the point is that hiking is a means of showing them more of the things they like in a context you like. Unless you don’t like hiking, in which case why are you still reading this?
Give Them A Reason To Continue
No matter how game your kids are or how adept you are at getting them psyched to hike, you can encounter any number of hurdles to clear in the great outdoors. Sun is hot, rain is wet, stomachs get empty, and spiders are terrifying; the ability to change your kid’s focus when they start to get hot, wet, hungry, or terrified is the difference between a hike that ends early and an experience they remember for years. So, change the goal.
“It’s not always about getting to the top,” says Dickinson. “It can be a nature walk finding bugs. Make it interesting. Stop a couple of times to have snacks. Have it be a fun time. Distract the kids to make it to the top.”
Always Have These In Your Pack
• Lots of high-calorie food, like trail mix or Clif Bars.
• Bad-weather gear for everyone.
• Digital water purifier, to determine if the running water you encounter is safe.
• Iodine pills, in case the digital water purifier goes on the fritz. Know When To Push Their Limits
Provided you’ve followed Dickinson’s advice, turned your kid into a young Shackleton — one who gets excited to go hiking and doesn’t scare or tire easily — and you have a good sense of where their limits are, then it’s time to give them a sense of accomplishment. “I do believe in pushing just beyond your limits to truly understand what your limits are,” he says.
One of his favorite stories involves the time he took his kids up the highest peak in Australia. At 7,310 feet, Mount Kosciuszko is the butt of most 7 Summit jokes; the hike was only 5 miles long, but for a 10 and 7-year-old, it was still an undertaking. As they made their way toward the summit, the winds picked up suddenly and slowly blew Dickinson’s daughter down the icy slope.
She was never in any real danger, and Dickinson grabbed her when the gust moved her along, but the point is that it’s not just one of Dickinson’s favorite stories; it’s one of his daughter’s favorite stories too. “She tells everyone,” he says — presumably on her way to school after bagging a 4,000-foot peak before dawn.