birthday backpacking with buddies

My forever birthday wish is to go camping.
I don't need presents ever again. I will always want to take the family camping...somewhere new, adventurous, fresh. And this year, we decided to try backpacking! Even the girls carried some gear! We were so proud of them - and its incredible to see how their confidence grew as they were able to conquer something HARD. That was a gift too. Here they are...ready to go to the bus station....

It was a 2+ hour bus ride up to the mountains: this time we went to a different valley called Dong Bai Yang Gou. The bus dropped us off at the bottom, and we took a trolly car up to the trail-head. Notice that we have some brave friends who joined the adventure! Everything is better with friends. :)

As we began hiking, we realized the trail was really steep -- almost straight up, on rocky, dusty dirt. We all had heavy packs on (with tents, sleeping bags, mats, food, water, etc) so it was strenuous for the adults too. The kids were such troopers: we hiked for a bit, had the dad's run ahead with gear, and come back to hold hands and get the kids up the steep trail one-by-one. When we started out, they were all smiles:

It was a challenging hike, to say the least. Here is the slope & terrain (below), even though its hard to see completely. At one point, we were passed by a team of Kazakh shepherds on horses...which was funny! Next time we might need to hire pack mules!!

Once we got over the ridge and into the valley - the kids were loving it! There was a beautiful little stream running through the area, with rocks and boulders scattered about. We had to set up camp before the sun went down and it got chilly....so the kids were sent off to gather firewood. We set up our new 4-person tent, right next to the river. It was the only "flat space" big enough, without a lot of manure. Oh - I forgot to mention that this valley was obviously well-used by shepherds and their huge flocks (ahem - smelly!) so we had to watch our steps. :) But just to be surrounded by green and trickling water....we were grateful!

(I had to include this picture - you will know why later)

(and a special THANK YOU to our wonderful friends who brought this tent over for us! We love it, and it fits our family perfectly!)
That night we made ramen noodles and mini-chicken hot dogs over the fire. Simple is best! Later we roasted imported marshmallows with chocolate & Chinese crackers - the best s'mores combo we can muster! The kids don't know any different!

We finally climbed into our tents and sleeping bags as the fire died down, trying our best to get warm as the river flowed so loud right near our heads. **Now at this point in the trip - I have to admit that it got tough. Justin and I hardly slept all night, between being freezing cold, rolling off our mats on the sloped hillside, or the rushing river noise that made us both have scary dreams of floating down the river in the middle of the night. My hips weren't happy sleeping on the hard ground, and I ended up getting a migraine to boot. Speaking of "boots": both Justin and I left our shoes outside the tent that night, because they were caked with stinky manure. Around 5:30am, we both finally opened our eyes to welcome a new day....only to find that Justin's nice hiking/winter boots had been stolen. It seems that a shepherd must have needed them more than we did. It could have been worse though: my flea market hiking shoes were still there! As we were laying there in the wee hours of the morning, we were mad - wondering how we would ever make it out of the valley with huge packs, steep rocky trails, and a strong husband without shoes. Plus - my back was not cooperating, nor was my migraine. It was a bleak few hours.

We finally got up to face the day. I dismally made oatmeal & hot chocolate over the fire. Then we remembered a small perplexing detail: Once we hiked over the ridge (the day before) we noticed some old abandoned shoes left on the hillside. They must be the shepherds' old shoes, after they steal from unknowing campers!! It was all making sense. Sad though. Goodbye nice winter boots: we hope you take good care of Mr. Shepherd guy, and bring him warmth this winter. We finally "let go" of our frustrations, and tried to smile & laugh at our predicament. Grace.

We ended up fashioning those old abandoned shoes into something that would work for Justin's feet. He cut a huge slit in the heel so his feet could fit into them (2 sizes too small), and used tent rope to lace them and tie them onto his ankles. He was MacGyver for sure. I wish we had brought some duct tape! He had the best attitude too. I sure love him.

After the stolen shoes - we realized we couldn't manage the return hike along that same steep slope. The dad's ventured off to find a new trail ~ seeing if we could hike down along the river with 6 kiddos + gear. They were super excited to spy out the land. :)

The rest of us stayed behind to play in the river, look for bugs, climb, and explore. It was so relaxing! I loved being able to let the girls run around unhindered, without having to worry. My migraine finally faded a bit, which was great - since I would need to hike soon. PTL!

a shepherd leading his flock to pasture: he didn't have our shoes on. :)

The boys came back in the afternoon with good news: we could attempt the river route, after they fortified the trail with extra river rocks & logs. They loved getting to forge a trail and "fortify" something. We slowly packed up camp, ate all the food we could (so we didn't have to carry it) and began our hike back to civilization. The kids were like little goats along the trail, hopping off rocks and bounding along. For the most part, they carried their own things!! It was incredible. Here we are, fully loaded up and ready to hike!

We made it! A little bit dirty, missing our beds, one scratched tummy (see Sydney), minus one pair of shoes, but fully refreshed and recharged by getting out in nature!! It does wonders for the soul.