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I’m sure we have some readers who look at what we do with our kids, shake their heads and think, “I could never do that” or “I would never do that”. And in some cases, they are totally correct–they shouldn’t. This post is about some lessons learned from watching others make mistakes and potentially ruining future adventures for their family. We’ve all heard bad stories of a horrible hiking trip, my first and last night camping, etc. and some of you may have these experiences. We have one story that comes to mind every time we hear of others ranting about how they will never try something outdoorsy again.
Right after we were married we went on a sweet kayak trip down a narrows canyon in southern Utah. It is a place called Muddy Creek and the in most years the creek is only runnable during a short 2-3 week period when the runoff peaks. We watched the river flow religiously waiting for our opportunity.
We were well prepared, but got a late start. We didn’t start our shuttle from the trail head until about 12:00. This is a roughly 15 mile trip through a narrows canyon, with side trips and breaks for floating we were expecting 6 – 7 hours. A hike of this canyon usually takes about 9-10 hours with low water. As we left our gear, we saw a two young families show up with innertubes and K-mart inflatable mattresses. They had done their shuttle and were ready to take on the mighty Muddy Creek. There were two fathers and about seven kids ranging in ages from six to seventeen. We didn’t think anything of it and finished our shuttle and were back and ready to get on the river around 1:00 pm.
As we got in the kayaks, we could hear young kids voices and as we went down the first few bends we came on the young family group who had only gone about .25 miles in the last hour. They were jumping into the water, having a grand old time and getting their cotton shirts and shorts completely soaked. There were three backpacks between all of them with a few water bottles to share between all of them. We pulled off and asked the dads if they knew about the canyon and what they were headed into. Of the 15 miles, the middle 9 or so are in a narrows canyon with few, if any exit points. With higher water levels, once you are in there’s no getting out. Had we floated this before, we would have advised them to turn around and just enjoy the rest of the day, but even we didn’t fully know what to anticipate. They had just heard about it from a friend who had floated it a few years before and had recommended it.
So we floated on by and had a grand adventure. There were some cool side canyons to explore and a few good rapids to splash in, but mainly just enjoying the beauty of the canyon as we lazily floated through. It took us the rest of the day to make it to the end. We were pulling off of the river about 8:45 pm with the last of the sun leaving the tops of the rocks and getting ready for nightfall. When we carried the kayaks to the top of the hill where the cars were parked, we met the oldest kid of the group, the 17 year old and his little brother who was 6 sitting in one of the cars. They had turned back when he was cold about a mile into the hike and had driven the car from the put in down to the take out and were waiting for the rest of their group to finish the hike. We began to worry. We had no way to know where in the canyons they were, how they were doing or what they would be doing. We talked to the older boy for about 20 minutes telling him everything we knew about the canyon, offering our support, extra food and water, but he declined any help. We got the phone number of his mom so that we could call her as soon as we got back to an area with cell phone service and let her know that they would be returning very late if not the following day. We didn’t know what else we could do, so we headed back home and called their mother to let them know not to be expecting their kids that night. I kept thinking of the poor kid, worrying about his family, turning the headlights on periodically and honking the horn to signal to the rest of his group where the cars were. We didn’t think that they had flashlights and it would be difficult to identify where the cars were as they are about 1/2 mile away from the river on the top of a hill.
The next morning, we couldn’t wait, so we called the mom to see how they were and to make sure that they had made it out safely. They had made it. All were safe, but very upset and never wanted to do anything with their dads again. They had been in the middle of the canyon when the sun went down. They had hiked all night in soaked clothes, with nothing to keep them warm, no matches, no more food or water and had finally made it back to the cars around 4:00 am. The younger kids had been freezing since long before the sun went down. I felt bad for them all and kept thinking of the contrast of our fun experience and their horrible one.
This story has haunted us through the years. Looking back, we should have insisted that they weren’t ready for it and shouldn’t be doing this hike, especially starting so late. But we, like they, were naive. As Jessica and I remember this many lessons come to mind of what NOT to do when you bring your kids.
- Do not just wing it on a trip with kids – They didn’t understand the full extent of what they were doing and at a different time of year, this may have been fine, but the combination of the late start and high water complicated this trip far beyond what they had expected.
- Go in empty handed – a flashlight, matches, extra food, extra water and an extra set of clothes or jackets could have made a big difference while trudging through the waters at 2:00 am. You never know what you will come across.
- Bite off more than you can chew– know both your and your kids abilities. If it takes an adult 10 hours to make this trip, anticipate taking a few more with the kids because grandiose adventures can be great, but take time to work kids up to.
- Push them too hard – Had this family been prepared this trip could have been awesome. However, since it wasn’t the kids were pushed far past what they could do, just to survive. Don’t ruin it for your kids just so you can have an adventure – remember, you want to keep doing fun stuff with them, not have them hate it!
If you are interested, here is a full trip report for hiking the canyon, but after both hiking and kayaking, we far prefer the kayaking. Muddy Creek Trip report