Not for kids

Ice climbing in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway
You know what's beautiful with Norway? The obsession with hiking. Everyone goes for a walkabout, a hike, a promenade, whenever they have some spare time - because that's what you do. And on Sundays it's totally holy. Everyone, kids and adults, are out on "søndagstur", often a bit longer because, you know, Sunday.

They say Norwegian kids are born with the skis already on. They will climb mountains, swim, ski and skate before they even learn to walk. It may seem like that, really, but that's because many of them actually have lived in areas where mountain walks and skiing outings is the only way of getting to the cabin, or home. And nobody makes a big deal out of it.

Now, many iconic Norwegian walks are marked as suitable for children from the age of 7. No matter if there are steep parts, Via Ferrata or scrambling; it's not considered to be a challenge for a Norwegian kid. That's because they do strenuous hikes all the time; at school, at home, on vacation when they go to that cabin. It's normal behavior for a lot of Norwegians. And that's the problem.

The people attempting the hiking routes to Galdhopiggen, Glittertind, Slogen, Floya, or whatever beautiful peak there is in the vicinity are not always that trained. And neither are their kids. Norwegian or not.

Yours truly on top of Fløya. A hike definitely rated as suitable for kids.
An adult can always turn back. Or continue pushing, even hurt themselves on the way - but they only have themselves to blame, and are there on their own responsibility and free will. The kids that are dragged along by their fresh air loving parents do not have a choice.

So why would any parent expose their untrained kids to a massive challenge with few rewards yet multiple risks? The hiking culture in Norway is the root of the problem here.

Imagine a Norwegian going to the office, and constantly hearing that middle manager Ole talk about hiking with his kids. How his kid was only seven years old (or younger) when they reached the summit of the highest mountain in Norway. And you think that, well, your kids are soon that age, and it would be a serious blow to your self-esteem to be a lesser parent than Ole.

So you book a weekend, pack your bags, get your kid a brand new set of Norrøna gear (setting you back a sum equal to a small cabin in the woods in Northern Sweden), and get going.

Problem is that Oles kids have been hiking since they learned to walk. Your own kid, however, is neither prepared nor motivated for the trip.

But you still do that, because you're a great parent and of course you will be able to motivate you child. Because outdoors is fun!

A tranquil mountain view.
A beautiful autumn view, sun shining through the morning mist. Yellowing leaves fly around like butterflies, chased around by tiny hands, the pitter-patter of small feet in front of tent, happy laughter, giving siblings and parents a happy and grateful frantic hug.

Yeah right.

Hiking and camping with kids can be as challenging as anything, and can turn the simplest little outing into an full-blown expedition. And that's given that the kid actually wants to join the experience. Fact is, you cannot make a child like something, especially if you haven't prepared them for the subject by exposing them to low-threshold activities related to the matter. If you have been taking them for strenuous but rewarding walks now and then, or made sure to spend a few nights every summer in a tent, you will be able to advance from that. But if they are not used to any of it, you cannot expect them to enjoy it right away, solely based on their parent's fond childhood memories and high prestige expectations.

What happens is that the weather turns foul (hey, we're in Scandinavia!), the kids get tired (they are not adequately trained, remember?) and you slowly start realizing that this is not regular project management - this is disaster avoidance followed by crisis response.

Hiking in Jotunheimen, Norway. Early September.
Still, you do not want to back down. What would Ole say, together with all your coworkers/neighbors/family? You beg your kids to smile as you take that selfie, distribute cookies, and push on.

I'm watching you.

Your kids are way out of their comfort zone. Scared and worried, they clutch to the rope at the Via Ferrata. They are sweaty, snotty and more tired than they've been in their whole life, but there's still 80% to go. Their knees are shaking and chocolate is not a motivator anymore. And while you're determined to push all the way, they are definitely not.

Even an adult can find a hike too strenuous and start considering turning around.
At some point, that little person is going to collapse, give up, stop, refuse to go further. And none of your cheap rewards will help you to get them moving. If you push hard enough, they will cry. If you push harder, they will scream. They are already hating you for this.

I'm still watching you. And I'm considering calling social services. Because this is child abuse.

Watch what is happening in this video. This is the shorter route to Galdhopiggen, from the place called Juvasshytta, in September 2018 - at the end of the glacier crossing. There are almost 200 people leaving the refuge despite the very harsh weather reports - gale wind, near-freezing temperatures and heavy rain and snow. This is quite normal for this time of the year, but people are optimistic and naturally hope and prepare for a sunny and dry day. Many of them are underdressed, and do not have sufficient gear to manage walking on ice, resulting in slipping and falling. Only 30 actually made it to the summit (read full story here).

Notice how many are kids. Because of the wind, it's hard to see or hear - but the closest ones are in tears, crying and howling on the top of their lungs. They cannot take a step further. This is beyond what the children can manage, and it's heartbreaking. The parents have been dragging them by the rope, and now the kids are in panic, unable to go further, scared for their lives, freezing and in pain in the hard wind. But remember - there's much more left to go, and even if they turn around there is the whole way back left, several more hours in these conditions.

It breaks my heart to see how parents create this kinds of situations, based on their idiotic prestige. How can kids develop a trust in their parents if they are forced into such situations? And I'm not even speaking about developing a "love for the outdoors".

Mont Blanc, photo taken from about 3,800 meters above sea level
There are more examples. In 2014, an American tried to beat the record for the youngest person to climb Mont Blanc, by bringing his nine-year old and eleven-year old. They were caught in an avalanche, and closely escaped death. The same year, an Austrian climber tried to drag a five-year-old up the same summit. Luckily, the mountain police interfered and sent them back down.

Just last year, eleven-year-old twins were rescued from about 3,800 meters with a helicopter after being dragged up there by their family. Or, to be precise, the mother and the twins were rescued. The father continued the attempt. What a dad, what a partner. Really someone to rely on.

To be clear: if your kid loves the outdoors and enjoys mountaineering or anything of that kind, go ahead. Challenge them a bit at a time, develop skills, motivate them, go out on adventure! But wait with dragging them to the really dangerous grounds, until they are grown up and can stand for their own decisions. Kids rarely understand the implications of death, so the really keen little ones are royally bad at risk managing.

A young kid in Greenland. Born and raised in an extreme environment. Full respect for nature, weapons and death
And train your kids to enjoy nature, sleep in a tent, create and respect fire, understand and take care of their own needs. You can't expect them to pick it up over a night. I sometimes get the question: "how long a hike can I bring my children to?" There is only one way to find out! Start with a short one, and test with longer distances and more time, until you discover what's right. It should not be about discomfort and a challenge, it's about spending time and enjoying the nature together.

During the past years, the outdoor trend has been picking up in Sweden. More people are getting out there, and it's become a bit of a lifestyle, not unlike Norway. That's great, and it's a good opportunity to be a good role model and introduce the whole family to the outdoors. I just hope that the toxic prestige does not evolve further in Sweden. A humble attitude is always the way to go when it comes to nature. Please take care out there!