Major excursions, family-style

The story that Heather DePaola tells about how she and her husband, Steve, started organizing trips for the Appalachian Mountain Club is classic in its basic outline. It started with the couple’s shared desire to learn more about hiking. They had been married for one year when they signed up for an introductory class with AMC’s Boston Chapter to learn how to hike safely, using the proper gear.

That was 10 years ago. Since that first class, Heather and Steve have climbed all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers. They added 4,000-foot peaks in Vermont and Maine to train for their first AMC Major Excursion, to Tanzania, in 2005. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro hooked the couple on major expeditions. They signed up for another in 2006, a backpacking trip to Alaska. Nine months later, their daughter, Mckinlee, was born.

The arrival of their daughter didn’t change the level of the DePaolas’ involvement in AMC activities, but it did change the focus. Last year, Heather and Steve organized a family-friendly major excursion for AMC to the Canadian Rockies. Their group of 25 adventurers, who ranged in age from 2 (Mckinlee) to 81, and included several other families, explored Banff National Park.

In Banff, they hiked to high alpine lakes, walked over the Continental Divide, and took a driving trip to the Columbia Icefield. They saw black bear and bighorn sheep and rode in a massive Ice Explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier.

They learned some useful lessons from the Banff trip, too. They learned, for example, that young children adjusted more slowly to time-zone differences than adults. Dinner at 6 pm by the schedule could mean bedtime by a child’s internal clock. Although they’d planned hikes of different lengths for each day, they heard from some families that the children (and some of the adults, too) wanted shorter days and more down-time. “Families all travel differently,” says Heather DePaola. “Flexibility is the key to success.”

Building on that success, Heather and Steve joined with long-time AMC member Sue Lach to plan another “family adventure vacation”— this time to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. They looked for a base-camp location that would give them more flexibility, and landed on the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. The DePaolas and Lach arranged for buffet breakfasts and earlier dinners and opened up the excursion schedule to make more room for down-time or smaller family trips. And they made sure that climbing, horseback riding, and swimming, along with other, less physical pursuits, were available nearby. (As the parents of a toddler, the DePaolas understand the importance of minimizing the time that a child spends strapped into a car seat.)

AMC has been offering major excursions for many years. But Heather and Steve DePaola have a sense that their family focus is opening up new opportunities for families and children to participate in AMC’s tradition. “We truly believe it is a new breed” of trip, Heather says — and one with many possibilities. “We’d like to see all the National Parks,” she says, “maybe go back to Banff, take a family group to Kilimanjaro and safari, and even a trip to Denali and a river float in the Arctic Refuge.”

Learn more
Find full trip details here.

Photos: The DePaolas at Mirror Lake, Canadian Rockies; AMC group picture at Lake Louise.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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