From the Mountaintop of New Motherhood

A Baby’s First Camping Trip at Idaho’s Deadwood Lookout, and a Letter to My Pre-Baby Self

by Hailey Hirst

On a mountaintop in a room of windows, the glow of dawn feels like somewhat of a rebirth. The colors are consuming. In every direction as far as you can see, there is warmth on the horizon after the darkest night.

The same could be said about my first summer of motherhood.

My daughter was born in the cold of winter in a year about to be warped by a global pandemic. Accordingly, most of what I’d envisioned for her first year was canceled. Except for one thing: our reservation at the Deadwood Lookout.

We booked this stay from the darkness of a mid-January morning, three weeks before my due date. I didn’t know then how the year would unfold.

But I did daydream about our first camping trip with a baby, high on a ridge overlooking four different mountain ranges in central Idaho.

I knew we would invite my grandpa and that he would gaze out at the peaks he hiked as a child, after driving up the road that his father helped build in the 1930s. I knew this place had gravity and that bringing our daughter here would link generations of us together.

I also anticipated that sleeping in a fire lookout cabin would make for a manageable baby’s first camping trip. It has beds so there’d be no tent or sleeping pads or travel bassinet to fuss with. With walls and a wood stove, the night would be cozy no matter how chilly it got on the peak.

Our stay here is everything I imagined and more. After the spirit-battering year we faced, on top of the recent loss of my grandma, this mountaintop offers a respite and some much-needed perspective.

Sitting with my daughter here, looking out and looking in, I think about all the other mothers before who traced dark ridges with bleary eyes. My mind stretches back in time, to my mother, and hers, and further. I wonder beyond my bloodline, to the mothers who called this valley home with infants on their backs before there was this road to this shelter. I feel close to them all, and at the same time, far from my former self.

So I write her a letter:

__________

To my pre-baby self,

You worry that everything will change, and it will, but not how you think. Motherhood is both easier and harder than you can possibly imagine.

Life as you know it will be over, it’s true. But it will also stay the same. You will still be the you who feels most at ease with a trail to follow. You will still load and zip up the day pack you use like a purse and drive it home to Idaho.

There will just be more of everything. More stuff. More needs. More feelings. In these first early months postpartum, everything feels sharper, deeper, slower. You’ll find yourself nostalgic for your old life the way we’re nostalgic for all the things we can’t fathom ever changing, but do.

Eventually, you will wonder what you ever did without her, but that won’t happen right away. At first, you will be bewildered by the suddenness of everything, by the strangeness of meeting the creature who rolled and hiccuped beneath your skin, by how it all consumes you. It’s okay that you need time to adjust.

You’ll still yearn to have your nights of sleep broken by the rustle of a tent instead of a hungry baby’s whimper, but you don’t know yet that she will bring you more deeply into the present and help you experience the wonder of life anew.

When she feels the wind in her face for the first time it takes her breath away. When her toes are dipped into the icy shallows of the lake she flails in delight.

Yes, there will be days that stretch you beyond your limits, but you already know that the best experiences come with some level of discomfort. She’s growing. Have patience. So are you.

All the bad days (and the good ones too) pass by unimaginably fast. The rapid growth you measure in days and weeks, and by how long her eyelashes look while she’s asleep, it will also make you feel the fragility of life and what a thief time really is.

But no matter what is lost—dawn still comes each morning.

You’ll understand from this mountaintop, while you nurse her with your eye on the pink horizon, that she is a breaking dawn and a world of color. She is the sun in this dark year. And no matter how much despair you feel for the state of the world and for how much is irrevocably gone, all your days will be flooded by her light.

__________

Our night here is over fast, and as we drive back down the gravel road towards the highway, I’m still trying to hold onto the sunrise like I’ll memorize the way she fits in my lap at this age, fuzzy hair tickling my chin. I already wish I could live it all again.

The next time we return here (or venture to a different cabin or yurt or campground) she will have changed and her needs will too. But this first trip—with all its fresh feelings, and the simplicity of infancy—is sweet beyond words.

Some tips & resources for camping with an infant:

  • Do it. Even if it seems difficult or like too much effort to plan and pack. Even if you know you won’t sleep well. The trip(s) will be a standout memory in your child’s first year.
  • Remember how simple their needs are and pack accordingly. Camp dishes are toys, wildflowers are fun, and your sleeping bag is a play mat. Anxiety may say you need fifteen extra sleepers and a basket of toys, but I think you already know that you don’t.
  • Safe sleep can look different when you aren’t at home. We opted to co-sleep in an arrangement we’d practiced beforehand (baby between our heads in her sleep sack and warm hat) but if you’re not comfortable or not at a good age to co-sleep, travel bassinets can be a great camping solution. We have this one but an even better tent-friendly (and longer-term) option is this travel crib.
  • Carrier naps are king. Our little one snoozed while we hiked and got her first stretch of nighttime sleep snuggled close while we enjoyed a sunset and campfire. A gifted Tula is our go-to for everything at this age (hiking, errands, chores, walks, work, campfires…) and we clip the hood up when it’s time to sleep.
  • Dress them as you dress yourself: in layers. If you’re doing something active and they are not, remember that an extra layer will make up for the heat difference.
  • Learn from other parents. Virtually counts too! HikeItBaby is a wellspring of resources and community. Check out their blog and other tools. WildKind is another great hub.
  • Try to stay mentally present and enjoy it while you’re out there. Even the extra night wakings. It’s just another chance to enjoy the stars (and a snuggle).
  • Remember that babies are resilient and adaptable—and despite your worst fears, so are you.

Morning coffee camping with an infant


Hailey Hirst is the Digital Content Editor for She Explores and co-founder of Ravel Media. She’s a multi-passionate creative who thrives on the often-overlooked details. She lives in Kelowna, British Columbia. Find her on Instagram.

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