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August 2014 Issue
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The joy of the familiar

On Helicopter Hill – again. Photo: Angus McIntosh

Children make even the most seemingly mundane outdoor trips an absolute joy

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that before I had children I was set in my ways about what I considered to be an enjoyable experience in the hills. The ideal tramp was 10 days long, though I would settle for seven or eight when so many days off work were hard to come by.

If it was a weekend trip, I wanted the whole weekend – head off on Friday night and not return until late Sunday. And if there was only one day available, then hopefully it was some long masochistic 12-hour-plus day with lots of climbing and bush bashing.

In the naivety of my youth, long and hard tramping equated to more enjoyable tramping. And of course it was always better if the trip took me to somewhere new so I could tick off huts, traverse as many different valleys and mountain ranges as possible and fill in black lines on my tramping maps.

Without parental responsibilities, trips of this nature were always possible, but once I had children I had a rapid re-assessment of what I found enjoyable in the hills.

Luckily, my husband David has never been as narrow-minded as me. He knows that a good time in the mountains can be had in a variety of different ways. He helped me look beyond the long, hard tramping trips with which I had been so obsessed and together, as a family, we found new ways of doing things. We discovered the joy in a 15-minute forest amble, camping at a road-end, and picnics in the snow – all experiences we would have overlooked before having children.

And we learnt that returning to the same places time and time again was particularly enjoyable for young kids.

I don’t know how many visits we have made to Helicopter Hill on the edge of the Craigieburn Range in Canterbury. We’ve taken them at different ages and stages of their lives in front packs, back packs, on shoulders and walking on their own. We’ve been up there with grandparents, other families and friends visiting from overseas. From a young age, the kids knew exactly where the first seat was and, whether tired or not, stopping to sit down on the cold and usually damp, mossy seat was compulsory. They had their favourite gnarly beech tree with low branches that required climbing on the way up – and on the return. They could anticipate which zigzag was the last and they knew that once they reached Lyndon Saddle, it was a short climb to reach the bush line.

We’ve sucked milo through Timtams sitting in the snow on tatty snow-foams, and taught the kids to self-arrest on the steeper slopes in winter. Sometimes we didn’t even reach the summit.

Would I have returned to this little hill so many times without children? I very much doubt it. Would I have been content with playing in the snow or turning back before the summit if I hadn’t been with my kids? Probably not. It sounds clichéd, but one of the pleasures of having children is our eyes really are opened to the small wonders of life, and this is also true of tramping. I am grateful to my children for broadening and enhancing my experiences in the mountains.

Life’s felt far too busy recently and it’s been a while since we’ve spent time in the hills as a family. It’s been even longer since we’ve visited Helicopter Hill. But these days we don’t need 10 days, or a whole weekend to experience the joy of being in the outdoors. A Sunday afternoon with a thermos of coffee – the kids have outgrown milo – and a packet of Timtams will do nicely.

Now winter has arrived, there’s fun in the snow to be had. I can feel a trip to Helicopter Hill coming on.