I have been dying to get my daughter out hiking with me, but I have not been able to yet. She was born with a rare syndrome call Focal Dermal Hypoplasia also known as Goltz Syndrome. She has few disabilities one of which she has a hard time walking long distances. Since I love to hike it has been hard for me to share this love with her because it is too hard for her to walk to these amazing places. She is 10 years old and only weighs 45 pounds about the weight of my pack when I did Mt Whitney, so it dawned on me that I can carry her in a pack. My search began to find a pack for a child, not a toddler or a baby. My daughter is tall and doesn’t need to be strapped down like a baby does. I wanted her to be able walk around and explore but at the same time hop on my back when her legs and feet start to ache. I found many packs that would hold babies that maxed out at 45 pounds, but nothing that would fit her. Then one day I was on a google search mission, I ended up putting in the right set of words and found the My Freeloader website. It was exactly what I was looking for. I spent another few days doing research and checking out pictures of other people who had purchased the pack. There were children that were bigger than my daughter on this pack and the person carrying them didn’t look like they were going to die. So I ordered the pack. When I told my daughter she was so excited that we were going to go on adventures together.
I got the pack on Wednesday and took my daughter on a trial run around the house. We had to make some adjustments to the seat. The cushion that it comes with is soft but my daughters rear end is so bony we needed to add a gel bike seat to it. She also hated being strapped in with the harness so we decided to make them into handles for her to hold onto instead of something to wrap around her. Mind you that I would use these straps if we were hiking in dangerous areas but I’m not prepared to take her on those trips yet.
For our first hike out I wanted to take her on something very well traveled in case I ran into any trouble there would be people around to help us. I also wanted a trail with low miles but with a waterfall, something that she would love. I settled on Sturtevant Falls in Sierra Madre. It claims it is only a 3.1 mile hike and is very moderate. This was the perfect place to test out the pack and my daughter to see if she would even like to go for hikes with me.
Saturday morning I got up early to get us ready thinking that if we get there by 7am we would beat most of the traffic, but I was wrong. We got there and the parking lot was full. People were parked at least a mile down the narrow road. I made my way back down and found a spot that my car could fit and I was within the white line of the shoulder. It was tight but we fit. I placed my Yearly Adventure Pass Parking Permit on the mirror (you can purchase this for $30 at any sports store like REI or Big 5 or you can purchase a Day Permit for $5 at the store at the trail head). I saw so many people running back down to their cars with they pink permit in had to put in their windshield.
Now was the true test. I had to hike a mile uphill just to get to the trail head. I put the pack on with another fanny pack to hold our water and snacks and bent down to have my daughter jump on. It was pretty easy for her to get on when I got on my knees. I adjusted the pack and started to march up the hill. I got some stares of amazement from people. I could see in their eyes they thought I was this totally tough women hauling up my daughter but to be honest the pack was like any pack. It balanced her weight so it made it easy to get her up the hill. The only problem I had was when she grabbed my hair as reins and said “Giddy Up.” She thought she was hilarious.
We finally made it to the trail head and began our descend down the hill. I call it a descend because the paved road that you have to walk down is like descending from an airplane it is so steep. I tried to get my daughter to walk down the hill but she was having problems with her foot hurting. So she jumped on my back and we made our way down. We finally reached of that hill that we will have to walk back up to get out of the canyon. We came to a small stream and a very well maintained bridge. After crossing the bridge the trail splits off in all directions. We followed to the right to the Falls.
The canyon was lush and so very charming. I felt as though I had been transported into a fairy-tale world. I made my daughter walk this part of it. The trail had only a slight incline and I didn’t want her to get too comfortable hitching a ride on my back. I only want it to be used only for the parts that would be truly hard for her. She complained a little, ok she’s 10, she complained A LOT! This is boring, my feet hurt, my heart hurts (means it was pounding a little), are we there yet, I’m tired, etc. We came up to the first dam that had a small waterfall. I was able to distract her from her boredom with asking her if she could hit the dam with a rock. At that moment I could see the tiny excitement in her eyes and for the rest of the way to the waterfall she wasn’t bored. Plus I bribed her with her favorite snack at the waterfall, a Little Debbie Chocolate cake, if she walked to the waterfall.
We searched for rocks to keep which nothing came home with us but it kept her busy. Then we looked for a walking sticks and checked out all the flowers. She started to play on the rocks as we walked by them. Then we came up to the cabins that looked vacant but well maintained. We took pictures at all the signs and threw rocks at every spot that opened up to water. We got to the first water crossing. It was a very small shallow stream but I still made her get on the pack. The stones were set very far apart in the middle and people were having a hard time crossing without getting wet. If we got wet it wouldn’t have been the end of the world and there wasn’t enough water to make it dangerous in anyway but it would have been very uncomfortable the rest of the way. There was a small log to the right that had fallen down so I decided to cross that way. The log was unstable and I could see myself falling in with her on my back. But I made it over right before I lost my balance.
There was only a short walk before we came to another stream crossing. This time there were enough rocks for her to be able to get across. We had no problems as we crossed over. We were getting close to the waterfall, I could tell by the loud chatter of people and a group that was signing. My daughter said it sounded like a radio, but it was a large group singing a cappella style.
The waterfall was just around the corner with one more small stream crossing. We got there and there was about 30 people already there enjoying the view. The water was flowing pretty good and we found a spot over by a group that was drawing the falls.
My daughter loved watching the water and she got her Chocolate Cake. We sat there for about 30 mins watching the new people coming in trying to get a turn to get their picture in front of the falls. After we finished our snacks we headed back out. It was time to go.
The hike back was just as beautiful as the hike in. Even though you are on the same trail it always looks so different seeing it as a different perspective. My daughter seemed to be having more fun and letting her wild side shine through. She was climbing on large rocks and jumping off. She wanted to explore little side trails as well as draw in the dirt with sticks. We walked slow and just enjoyed the time together.
When finally came to the end of the dirt trail that took us to the bridge before the steep maintenance road that took us back up to the car. I wasn’t looking forward to hauling up my daughter to the top of this on my back but I guess you only can get stronger and if I was going to take her more often I had to get used to this.
I put her on my back and we headed up. I got a lot of people commenting as I trekked up the hill and at this point I could feel the weight in my hips. I could probably adjust the pack better but I just wanted to get up this hill. At the first switchback I took a small break bending over letting her rest on my back to take the weight off my hips then I pushed forward. I did this at each turn which seemed to help out a lot. When I got to the final turn I had her get off and walk the rest of the way, maybe a 100 feet. My little drama queen began to go through the stages of dying as I forced her up the hill. She told me that heart was beating too fast and then her feet were going to fall off. Finally I told her that there were bees in the bush that she was right next too and by golly she stopped dying and ran up the hill. Mamma knows which buttons work to get her going lol.
We finally made it to the top and I had her jump back on the pack. I didn’t feel safe with her walking down the road to the car. The road was so narrow and there were cars parked almost in the middle of the road and other cars racing up to the parking lot. It was a zoo.
All and all it was a successful trip. We did a total of 6 miles in 4 hours (the added miles was because we parked down the hill) . I asked my daughter how she liked hiking and she told me she loved the waterfall and all the stuff to look at but hated the walking lol. So I guess we will be doing this again as long as we do short trips.
The Crowds @ the Falls
County: Los Angeles
Miles: 3.7 miles round trip (5.6 miles total with trip from car down the road)
Permit: Wilderness Permit needed for parking
Elv Gain: 629 Feet Gained
Trail: via Chantry Flats Trailhead