I nervously stepped onto the scale. My heart sank as the red numbers formed.
“How much is it?” Heidi asked me.
I looked up, feeling suddenly disillusioned. “Fifty-seven pounds. That’s half my body weight! We have to take something out. I mean how many diapers does he actually need?”
Heidi shot me a defensive glare. “We’ve paired it down to the necessities, Becca. Now, let’s weigh mine.”
It’s 11PM in Wilson, Wyoming and my best friend Heidi and I are doing some serious last-minute packing for one of the most scenic treks in the United States: the 47 mile Teton Crest Trail. But this trip is different than anything I’ve done before—really, really different. Heidi’s 14-month-old son, August, is coming with us.
Heidi and I have both logged significant time in the backcountry. I’m a lifestyle and adventure photographer and she grew up with the Tetons in her backyard. Since becoming a single mom at 23, she’s transformed from a casual adventurer into a half-marathon-running, hiking-obsessed mountain-machine that can easily talk me into any trip—even one that requires hauling dirty diapers through rugged alpine. It’s an added plus for her that I enjoy a little suffering on the trail.
Google searches don’t return much helpful logistical information about planning a backpacking trip with a baby, so we did our best to prepare based on Heidi’s self-taught expertise. She’d spent all summer completing long-distance hikes with August, having done 117 miles before we even set foot on the Crest Trail.
On paper, everything about the three-and-a-half day backpacking trip looked good, but with all our gear laid out on the floor, it looked more like we were about to embark on a yearlong expedition across Mongolia.
I studied the map on the morning of the expedition, my nervous eyes falling on the topographic lines leading up to Phillip’s Pass, 8,946 ft above sea level. The trail we’d chosen was steep, but it offered multiple bailout opportunities through canyons in case of emergency.
The dirty diapers scared me most. We’d done our best to dial the weight we carried and to estimate ounces of potential trash we’d be carrying out. I crossed my fingers in hopes that we wouldn’t end up with heavier packs than when we started.
Within the hour we were off hiking, passing two different couples who asked us if we’d ever hiked with a baby before. Heidi’s pack was an explosion of supplies held together by carabiners and the bear canister was rigged to the side of mine with a makeshift Swami belt made of old webbing. I don’t blame the couples for the skeptical looks they wore as we marched past looking like walking circuses.
A few miles in, there was a small fork in the trail. I grabbed the map from Heidi’s bag, waking up August, who unleashed a little scream that felt high-pitched enough to wake dogs for miles. I went into instant stress-mode, and told Heidi we should follow the trail to the left.
Heidi argued with me, doing little bounces to calm August down. “Seriously, Becca. I know I’m right on this one. We go north.”
Too flustered to argue, I gave up and followed Heidi down the trail, feeling a little less confident in our abilities as a team.
Exhausted, we finally arrived at camp after completing somewhere between 8 and 10 miles. Meals and setup took seemingly forever.
While one person cooked, the other herded August away from bear spray and knives—the only objects that seemed to interest him. When it came time to eat, Heidi spoon-fed August tiny portions, as to not make his shirt a bite-size chili plate for bears.
We barely made it to moonrise before all of us were asleep.
My watch beeped at 6:30am and I rolled over on my half-deflated sleeping pad, which had somehow acquired multiple new puncture wounds overnight. Heidi and August barely twitched in their bag, so I got up to make coffee.
It took us two-and-a-half hours to begin hiking. Again, one person cooked, pumped water, broke down camp and cleaned while the other watched August. It was an effort that felt comedically slow, and knowing we had at least ten miles to cover that day made our sluggish start even more stressful.
By mid-day, our heavy packs started to wear us down and they became increasingly more difficult to lift. First, I would help Heidi put on her pack so August wouldn’t tip over. After she buckled her waist strap, we would both lift my bag to my knee for the swing around to my back. I would almost fall over, staggering to keep my balance during the weight transfer. We are both strong women, but to a passerby we would have looked desperate out there.
Our trail talk became nursery rhymes when August started crying, and after about six rounds of “E‑I-E-I‑O,” he finally dozed off to the rhythm of hiking and repetitive vowels.
Moments later, Heidi abruptly stopped.
“I have to pee.”
I silently wished for a beer.
“What is it?” I asked, hoping for the letters “PBR” to come out of her mouth.
“I wrote down all the lyrics to our favorite Wu-Tang song!” Heidi replied, enthusiastically.
I broke out in laughter, surprised that she had taken the time to write every line and slightly disappointed that it wasn’t a beer.
“Okay, repeat after me. M‑E-T-H-O‑D, man…”
As she trailed off, I parrotted lyrics back to her, feeling extremely grateful for our friendship.
Later that night at camp August talked to the stars as Heidi and I studied the map. We were surprised to realize that we had covered 13 miles, a much longer day than either of us had planned.
The campsite was beautiful in the early morning and we took a healthy dose of ibuprofen for our swollen hips. It was the big day and the first two miles went notably fast, fueled by the knowledge that we would soon stare face-to-face with the Grand Teton.
When I finally crested the pass, tears welled in my eyes. In front of me were baby blue glacial lakes and alpine wildflower meadows nested beneath the Tetons. We put our packs down for over an hour to teach August the names of every peak we could see.
Moving quickly and confidently on the descent, we came across a ranger who shared some bad news. He notified us of a rockslide on Paintbrush Divide, the final pass after our next campsite. Going around the slide would add significant risk with potential snow and scree fields. Heidi and I struggled with our egos and discussed our options, knowing we wouldn’t finish the full trail if we didn’t complete the pass. But with August in tow, it was a no-brainer. We would cut the last 7 miles off of the trip and come down Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake.
We agreed to keep our last camping site, a clear-cut patch of ground with a perfect view of the Grand Teton.
After two dinners and dessert to celebrate our last day, we laid in our sleeping bags, talking about the trip. Despite having to cut the trip short, I was beaming with pride, knowing that we’d still accomplished something special.
I was drifting into sleep when I heard Heidi sleepily say, “You know, I’ve always wanted to do a bike tour with August.”
“Maybe next summer,” I said.