I think almost every parent secretly (or not so secretly) hopes that their kids will be into the same things that they are. Whether it be sports, dance or piano, a lot of parents introduce their children to things that personally interest them, cross their fingers and hope that the hobby sticks. There is that fine line between introducing your children to things that will make them “well-rounded” and trying to live vicariously through them. It’s a line that I’ve been cautiously tip toeing ever since my daughter, Lu, was born.
Outside of my family, I have two great passions in life; soccer and hiking. While my daughter enjoys going to soccer games (we have Orlando City season tickets), watching games on TV (she usually roots for the team with the prettiest uniforms) and even has favorite players (looking at you Kaka), she doesn’t particularly care for playing any organized form of the sport. While I may be slightly disappointed that my daughter won’t be playing in the 2027 Women’s World Cup, it’s a “L” that I can take.
When it comes to hiking, Lu has always been curious. When she was too young to accompany me on my hikes, she would ask where I was, want to see where it was on a map and then look at pictures and watch the videos of my adventures. She would see something spectacular and say that she wanted to go there too. Throw in an animal encounter or two and she would become obsessed with the idea of being in the wild.
As Lu got older, we’d take small vacations to the mountains in Georgia. Her first hikes were nothing more than short trips to waterfalls or climbing from the parking lot to Brass Town Bald. However small those hikes were, it was the twinkle in her eye that stood out. She loved the mountains! She would run up and down the trail, jump on and off of rocks and generally just have an awesome time. “Maybe this is my win,” I thought to myself. We just needed to take her on a “real” hike to find out. That first real hike turned out to be quite an ambitious one.
Inspired by my constant assurance that they could do it, my entire family decided that they wanted to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. A 110 mile loop around the Mount Blanc Mastiff in the Alps, crossing through Italy, France and Switzerland isn’t exactly what most people would consider the easiest first hike. Nonetheless, the 9 of us (my mom, my dad, my wife, my sister, her boyfriend, 2 of my nieces, my daughter and myself) set a date a year out and committed to it.
So now that we had chosen our “real hike” and the dates were firmly set, I thought to myself, “how do you train a 6 year old to hike 100+ miles in the Alps?” When you live in Florida, it’s not easy to train for the mountains. Even worse, if you have kids, it’s not easy to have them train for anything. What had I gotten myself into?
First things first, I made her a cute little backpack. If she was coming with us, she was carrying her own stuff. Then we made sure she had the right clothes and shoes. With the equipment sorted, it was time to start training. We mapped out a 4 mile loop in our neighborhood, got everyone together and started training by walking at a crisp pace.
Our first attempt featured quite a bit of whining but the group remained undeterred. The next time out the whining diminished and by the 4th training session, Lu was on board. We then introduced a 5 mile loop and alternated between the two.
About two months out, we started doing an 8 mile loop every Sunday. Lu really adapted to the routine and didn’t complain. She was having as much fun as you could walking on flat land through Florida sub-divisions and we were confident that as long as we kept her distracted (20 questions) and fed that she wouldn’t turn into a Gremlin.
When the trip finally arrived, we flew to Europe and landed in Switzerland on Lu’s 7th birthday before taking a shuttle to our starting location in Les Houches, France. We bought snacks, ate an amazing dinner, the entire hostel sang Lu happy birthday and then we went to bed; exhausted from the long day of traveling.
The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and then eagerly began our hike that had been over a year in the making. Not five minutes in, Lu fell down and ripped a wart off her knee and started bleeding all over the place. “This is not a good start,” I though to myself. We calmed Lu down, threw a bandaid on her knee and kept moving.
Not long after we began hiking again, the trail opened up to a beautiful view over looking an expansive valley. Above us, a glacier on the peak of the mountain was slowly melting; creating a raging river. Lu motioned out with her arms to draw our attention to the view. She turned around and said, “it’s beautiful.” My wife and I both melted inside. Lu was happy, having fun and doing what she wanted to be doing.
It didn’t take long for Lu to hit her stride and earn her trail name. A French couple who stayed at one of the refuges with us one night saw Lu at the top of a pass the next day and had a look of amazement on their faces. They asked if she had hiked the entire way up, which she replied “I did.” They gasped and then exclaimed “Champion!” For the full effect you need to say it with a bad French accent.
Over the course of 11 days, Lu ran up the trails, climbed rocks, played in snow, fed cows, pet chickens and totally kicked our butts as she bested the TMB with ease. She was in her element and I was in mine. The pride she has when she tells people about her hike is only matched by my pride in her accomplishment.
Now, every time I go on a hike, she asks to go with me. While school sometimes gets in the way, she still keeps asking and, when possible, I keep taking her. I can’t think of a greater gift than being able to share a common love for hiking and the outdoors with my daughter. She truly is my little “Champion!”
About the Author
Matt "Details" Favero is the Brand Manager of Zpacks and has been with the company since the garage days of 2010. With thousands of miles of hiking under his belt, his experience provides valuable understanding of the hiking community and the demands hikers have for their gear.