Last Monday I had the chance to go see a presentation called Life on Ice. You may have heard of this family, Bretwood “Hig” Higman and Erin McKittrick. They live in Alaska with their two young children, and run a non-profit called Ground Truth Trekking. The talk that they gave was about a trek they did in the fall of 2011. (You can see the blurb I wrote for ParentMap here.) They wanted to see what was happening on the Malaspina Glacier, the largest lowland glacier in North America. They are no strangers to long wilderness excursions, but this time they brought their two children. Their son was 2 1/2 and their daughter was 8 months old at the time. I’m pretty sure when my children were those ages, camping for two months on a glacier was not anywhere remotely in my mind. But this family made it work, and now Erin is writing a book about their experience, and they are trying to spread the word about climate change and what it looks like where it’s happening.
I was enthralled by their program, their beautiful photos and the stories they told of their experience. I asked them how they assessed risk when they were planning this trip, and how they kept their families from worrying about them. Erin said that their families are used to them going off on adventures, so they’re resigned to that part. But she also talked about how we view risk, how normal it is to take risk with our children every day (strapping our kids into a moving vehicle, for example.) The difference is we are used to that kind of risk, we are familiar with it. The risks of the wilderness are more unknown, less familiar. So they seem bigger to us (I am paraphrasing). Erin and Hig thought about the risks and took measures to mitigate them. They brought along life vests, bear spray, an electric bear fence, and a big tent with a tiny wood stove to keep everyone warm and dry. They had a sat phone to call out and other electronics to stay in touch with civilization. And they had their experience and each other to call on.
This family has such an interesting story, and I can’t wait for the book to come out next year. I have a lot of questions, about clothing, food, logistics, and more. Erin has another book out, about a journey they took before kids – a 4000-mile trek from Puget Sound to the Bering Sea. You can read about that journey in A Long Trek Home: 4000 Miles by Boot, Raft and Ski. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list!) Seeing what they do, and seeing what other families are attempting (such as Trish Herr and her girls in New Hampshire), it makes me think more about what I want to do. It makes those doors of possibility open just a little bit more. I’ll probably never spend two months on a glacier with my children, or climb all the 4K mountains around here, but I have some other ideas. And yes, Mom and Dad, I’ll do as much as I can to mitigate risk.