6 Lessons Learned from Snowshoeing with a Baby
In October, I embarked on one of the greatest adventures of my life thus far: becoming a father. Four months in, I’ve found that dad life is just as rewarding as it is challenging. While there have been a handful of long, hard nights, there have also been just as many, if not more, tender and hilarious moments that I will never forget.
One of the hardest parts of parenthood that my partner, Macy, and I are discovering is how to strike a balance between our old life and our new one with the baby. Since we began dating six years ago, we’ve always been on the go, traveling across the US and around the Pacific Northwest to camp, fish, hike, raft—you name it.
But since we welcomed our baby boy, Sunny, we’ve yet to figure out just where it’s practical—and safe, frankly—to bring a young child. We’re being pulled in two directions, wanting to ensure our baby is well cared for, comfortable, and safe, and wanting to expose him to travel and nature early so that he grows up enjoying the things we like to do.
Our solution is to try and meet somewhere in the middle by taking him on short outings and slowly work our way up. We started in December with a quick trip to Crystal Mountain in Washington. Then we spent three days at a rental house in Manzanita for New Year's with some friends. Just a couple weeks ago we traveled to Central Oregon for four days, staying in Bend and Black Butte Ranch. We’ve used these trips to slowly expose him to places like a windswept beach or a snowy forest. But recently we decided to take things one step further by bringing Sunny snowshoeing with us while Macy’s mom was visiting. The trip ended up being a comedy of errors in some ways, but also enlightening for future outdoor excursions with my son.
Here are six lessons I learned while trudging through the snow with a baby strapped to my chest:
1. Choose your route carefully.
We decided to try snowshoeing to Tamanawas Falls on the east side of Mount Hood. The route is a relatively easy 3.5-mile out-and-back trail with quick access via the trailhead right on Highway 35 about 30 minutes south of Hood River. It’s a pretty hike up Cold Spring Creek through dense forest that ends with a slight scramble up to the falls which pours over a cliff into a rocky bowl. I hiked the trail in the past when it was free of snow and really enjoyed it, but not having been there for several years made me forget just how steep it is in parts despite only having about 600 feet in elevation.
It’s also a lot longer of trudge in the snow than it is when you’re not strapped into snowshoes. If I had to choose a different location for my son’s first snowshoe adventure, I probably would’ve just gone to the White River Sno-Park on the south side of the mountain, where we could’ve gone up or down the gentle snowfields lining the riverbank. On a clear day, that route would also make for some supremely good photos for next year’s holiday card.
2. Make sure you’ve got the correct gear.
There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at your location and realizing you’re not prepared for the conditions. The day we went to Tamanawas Falls was the third straight day of sunny and comparatively warm weather for it being the middle of winter. That meant the trail—which sits mostly under a canopy of tall fir trees—was a pure sheet of ice. The snowshoes worked fine, but microspikes or crampons would’ve been a thousand times better. In a couple of spots where the trail got narrow along a ravine and in steeper areas, it was hard to maneuver, and somewhat scary having my son strapped to me. Luckily the trekking poles that came with our snowshoes made things a lot easier. But having microspikes, paired with the poles, would’ve made things less sketchy.
3. A baby snowsuit is a must-have item for winter excursions.
This is one of the most functional—and fashionable—pieces of clothing our baby has right now. It's also one of the few good decisions I made the day we went on this journey. We’ve used it on several occasions when it was cold outside, whether there was snow on the ground or not. It keeps him warm, dry, and somewhat immobile, which helps lull him to sleep. Nearly the entire time we were snowshoeing he was passed out in his carrier, which made the hike a lot easier. If he'd been cold or uncomfortable, he probably would’ve thrown a fit and made it harder for me to navigate the slippery trail.
4. Don’t rush yourself.
Arriving at the trailhead around 1 p.m. on a day where the sun was due to set at 4:50 p.m. was not ideal. We should have left ourselves more time to get up and down the trail while it was still fully light out, but instead we were forced to turn around before the magnificent reward of getting to see the frozen falls so that we could make it back to the car before dark. The hike without snow takes about two hours complete, but in snowshoes and with a baby, we would’ve been lucky to make it in four. And that pace would’ve been doable only if we were able to see the trail and the baby remained chill.
5. Bring an extra bottle and some way to heat it.
Breastfeeding after trudging two-and-a-half miles up and down isn’t ideal. Save everyone some effort and bring a couple of bottle of frozen breastmilk or formula to mix up in the car when you get back. My truck has an electrical outlet in the bed, so I brought an electric kettle to boil water and heat up the baby’s milk.
But what I didn’t realize is the kettle pulled more watts than my truck put off, so it just kept tripping the internal breaker after a few seconds of hitting the power button. Instead, we ended up heating the bottle by turning the defrost on high for several minutes and placing the bottle on the dash where it could get warm. A jet boil or other small backpacking stove might be a better option, especially if you’re in a hurry to get some food in your fussy baby.
6. Hood River has tons of family-friendly restaurants to reward yourself with post-snowshoe grub (and beer).
After a long snowshoe on an ice-covered trail, you deserve something tasty. One of the best things about adventuring in or around Hood River is that the town has endless options for family dining before you hit the road home. One of my favorites is Pfriem Family Brewers. Not only does Pfriem make excellent beer—like OutKast, Pfriem’s Japanese lager is so fresh, and so clean—but their food menu also has incredible offerings. Favorites include a bacon mac and cheese with cream using the brewery's signature pilsner, a pimento cheeseburger on a potato bun, and a smoked trout charcuterie board. This brewery is also ultra-kid-friendly; the men’s bathroom has a dope changing station with all diaper sizes imaginable and stocked with several different types of wipes. Just make sure you’ve got a minute to wait, because there’s usually a line out the door. Thankfully, there's a really nice waiting area with a firepit, and you can order a beer from the bar while you wait.
If your little one is getting fussy and you don’t have time to sit down and eat, Grace Su’s China Gorge—also located just off Highway 35, you can’t miss the giant panda statue holding its cub out front—is some of the best Chinese food I’ve had in Oregon. A friend who grew up in Hood River would always have us stop on our way up to Mt Hood Meadows, and it has become a staple when traveling through the Gorge. Call ahead and they’ll have your order of gargantuan portions ready within 10 minutes or less. The General Tso’s chicken and honey walnut shrimp are personal favorites.