When our blue-eyed babies pop into our lives, one of our fond dreams is them sharing our hobbies when they're older. But if our interests centre on mountains, how long will it take until the kids are able to join in?
A summer mountain holiday can be a great way to introduce children to this inspiring environment, but only as long as you tailor your activities to the kids. This is where the Hautes-Pyrénées, with its accessible mountain-top walks, is ideal.
The base sport for any mountaineer is obviously hiking – something that kids generally find long and boring. As my five-year-old asked me, ‘What's the point in going, just to come back?’ Yet in spite of that, she managed a seven-hour mountain walk this summer with barely a word of complaint – and in fact was still buzzing around the campsite on her bike at 9pm that night while we were conked out in our deckchairs.
The secret seems to lie in taking your time getting to the objective of the walk, and making frequent stops to examine anything that catches the kids' interest. The objective is important, though, as it keeps the children walking onwards. We chose a mountain lake on one walk (Lac Isaby), a peak another time (the Pic de Pan), and a waterfall (Gavarnie) and a natural geographical feature (the Brèche de Roland) on other occasions.
But once you've decided on your objective, forget it! If you're set on that peak, you'll get frustrated at having to stop while the kids run after a butterfly or want to scour the prairie for marmots with the binoculars. After all, a family walk is about being with the children and seeing the stunning countryside through their eyes. Our rest stops included: examining slugs underfoot; counting browsing goats; playing Pooh-sticks, building dams and making stepping stones for nearly every stream we crossed; listening to bird-calls and identifying them from our guidebook; looking back at the distance we'd walked to play I-spy; and making slides in suitable patches of snow.
When the going gets tough and the kids start whining ‘How much further is it?’, you need to divert their attention. Try getting them to decide on a visible objective to walk to. For example, on a stony mountainside we asked our girls to choose a boulder on the path ahead and find a name for it. By the time we arrived at the boulder, they had decided what to call it; we then gave it a number and selected a stone to place on stop. This worked for more than 15 boulders and had the added bonus that on the way back down we could try to identify them and remember their names.
Our trip revealed to us that kids can be perfectly capable of walking for hours on end, as long as they can stop frequently and that you make it interesting for them. Our children, at only five and eight, were able to manage a climb of 300-400m over a time span of about four hours. The question now is whether we'll be able to attack Mont Blanc next summer!