Hiking with a New Baby

Two members of the Feathered Friends staff recently welcomed new additions to their families, so we are sharing a blog post written by the Washington Trails youth Programs Director Krista Dooley about hiking with a new baby (originally published on WTA's awesome Signpost Blog). Kris shares what it was like to recuperate from birth, and how hiking has changed for her and her husband now that they're sharing the trail with a third little hiker.

Krista Dooley with AJ on Mount Walker. Photo Courtesy of Krista Krista Dooley with AJ on Mount Walker. Photo Courtesy of Krista Dooley.

While I was pregnant my husband and I dreamed of being an outdoorsy family. We talked about the outdoor adventures we wanted to share with our new baby, and how we would do monthly family outdoor adventures. We'd start with hikes, then go camping, fishing and more adventurous outings.

We each have our preferred activities. I like to hike, backpack, camp, run, and bike, while my husband enjoys rock climbing and mountaineering. We share a love of fly fishing. I’ve seen many families on trail and always imagined the day I would hike with my own child and how amazing those shared outdoor experiences would shape her view of the world.

During my pregnancy I felt great. I ran until I was seven months pregnant. I went backpacking in the Enchantments at six months and walked as much as I could. Then in January, my daughter AJ entered the world fast and furious.

Recuperating and close-to-home exploration

I was surprised how long it took me to recover from the trauma of delivery. Everything hurt. My mind was still focused on being active and getting outdoors, but physically my body just wasn't ready. I like to stay active, and if I have to sit around (like I did to recuperate from AJ's birth), I get restless. This was an especially dark and dreary winter, and I was anxious to get out of the house to go for walks in the neighborhood.

By mid-February, five weeks after delivering a 8lb 3oz baby, I yearned for something more than walking on sidewalks in my neighborhood. I am a hiker and work for a trails organization; I was ready to get on a trail again, and I felt sure I'd be able to resume my regular hiking routine right away. So I told my husband I was ready to start our monthly family outings.

He told me to pick the location and we'd go on Presidents Day. I was so excited (and stir-crazy), I planned a trip to Mount Walker on the Olympic Peninsula. For us, this meant a ferry ride and a two-hour drive to the trailhead. The trail was one of the first ones my husband and I visited when we were dating, so I wanted to share it with our new daughter.

My husband asked if I was sure I wanted to go that far away, and was I ready to hike that far, but I was adamant. It was where I wanted to go.

On Presidents Day, we woke up to a pretty significant rainstorm, but I was determined to hike, so we bundled AJ up, grabbed an umbrella and headed for the ferry. The rain kept pouring as we approached the trailhead, but my spirits were high -- we live in the Pacific Northwest, we had raingear, what could slow us down?

Learning a new routine

Oh my, did we learn some things about hiking with an infant before even leaving the parking area. After the long car ride AJ needed to eat before hitting the trail. As I sat in the car feeding our sweet little bundle of joy and listening to the raindrops pound the roof, my husband got things organized for our adventure.

Then, we had to change AJ in the car, trying to keep her diaper dry from the rain. Once we secured the new diaper and got her situated in the baby carrier she started wailing. Finally we got her to stop crying, but then my husband said he heard “the rumble”, so once again we pulled out the diaper changing supplies, took her out of the carrier, and changed her again. This time we wised up and used the umbrella to block the rain, which kept her from getting splattered by rain drops.

Finally, we were off! My husband carried AJ and I carried our water, food, extra layers, diaper supplies and other items for the baby. I kept telling myself that I had walked four miles in our neighborhood and that I could do this hike. Mount Walker is 4 miles round trip, with only 2000 feet of elevation gain on a consistent 10-20 percent grade; I was sure I would be fine.

Finding my new pace

In no time, my feet were reminding me I hadn't worn my hiking boots in several months. I felt hot spots forming. At one point I actually checked to make sure I had on my own boots and not someone else’s.

AJ bundled up for a rainy day of hiking, and staying dry in the carrier with an umbrella. Photo by Krista Dooley. AJ bundled up for a rainy day of hiking, and staying dry in the carrier with an umbrella. Photo by Krista Dooley.

I also realized even mild elevation gain can make a big difference. While I'd been doing four miles in the neighborhood, those walks pushing AJ in the stroller were pretty flat. The steady elevation gain on Walker and all my layers meant I warmed up quickly and became uncomfortable, but it was still raining and I didn’t want to get wet stopping to take off a layer. But I was sweating so much I was getting wet from the inside out, so I finally stopped to take some layers off and felt much better.

My husband hiked with the umbrella and kept up a good pace to keep AJ from crying in the carrier. I struggled to keep up. I was breathing hard, my legs were heavy, my feet sore and my face was dripping with rain drops, but we were outdoors as a family!

We hiked for an hour and still didn’t make it to the top. AJ was starting to move and fuss a bit and I was exhausted from the hike up, so we decided to turn around and head back to the car. Being new parents on our first outing, we were especially concerned about the logistics of a trailside changing or feeding in the steady rain.

Learning to adjust

I was disappointed we didn’t make it to the top, but AJ’s comfort and needs were our first priority. While we didn't make it to the viewpoint, I took note of all the rhododendrons along the trail and thought how beautiful it would be in the spring.

The next day I was sore, but satisfied we had had our first family adventure. I was hopeful we could keep our monthly family hiking adventures going and to get my legs used to the mountains again.

Since then we have gone on family hiking adventures each month and even managed to squeeze in a fly fishing trip to Montana. In between our bigger outings, AJ and I enjoyed several trails closer to home in the city and county parks. It definitely took me longer than I expected to feel comfortable on a day hike, but I'm starting to return to my normal pace.

Gaining a new perspective

Recently, on a cloudy day in late May, we went back to Mount Walker to give it another shot. I remembered all those rhododendrons and wanted to see them in bloom. This time we were ready for the multi-step parking lot departure; we were even prepared for a mid-forest diaper changing. Our monthly outings had paid dividends. My stamina had improved and we made it to the top!

Returning to the trail started with shorter, close to home hikes. Photo courtesy Krista Dooley. Returning to the trail started with shorter, close to home hikes. Photo courtesy Krista Dooley.

Spending time outdoors with our daughter is a priority for my husband and me. With each family outing, we learn how AJ's need change. How long will she last in the carrier before needing to be taken out to stretch and look at the plants or how best to keep dirt and pine needles out of a clean diaper while doing a trailside change.

The time since my daughter was born has also helped me slow down, to listen to my body and give myself the time and space needed to heal. I am still a hiker and now also a mother. That has changed my perspective and created new limitations to our outings, but it has also opened up opportunities for new experiences on trail.

For more helpful and insightful tips, check out the rest of the content on the Signpost Blog.