By Ashley Lodato

Two groups of hikers may be the youngest yet to walk from Harts Pass to Manning Park in Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. In July, James DeSalvo and two of his sons, Malloch (10) and Sawyer (7), as well as Kathy Kirner and her daughter, Wiley (7), completed the hike a week or so after the Diamond Creek Fire started. They took three days, walking about 16 miles for each of the first two days and about 8 miles the final day. Considering that the kids’ longest hike prior to this was about 5 miles, these were sizeable mileage days.

“The kids were pretty fired up about going to Canada,” says James, “and we also fed them lots of chocolate and candy and told stories the whole way.”

A little unexpected entertainment came in the form of a marijuana pipe the kids found about an hour out of Harts Pass.

“What’s this, Mommy?” Wiley asked, holding up the pipe.

Following “Leave No Trace” standards, James and Kathy told the kids they should pack out the pipe so as not to leave trash along the trail, but that they should attempt to locate its rightful owner. So every time the kids encountered another hiker, they held up the pipe and said, “Excuse me, is this yours?”

James says reactions varied from ultra-light PCT thru-hikers saying “No way, too heavy for me!” to those who gave James and Kathy looks of disapproval.

James says that he pulled out every morale-management strategy he used during his days as an Outward Bound instructor, including enforcing a 2-minute complaint period each day, during which time all members of the trip took turns complaining about their aches and pains, and then the group voted on which complaint was most legitimate or worthy.

Inspired by the Desalvo-Kirner trip as well as a recent family hike into Stehekin, Flash Clark and his daughter Sisu (7) followed this same 40-mile path a few weeks later, “right at the peak of heat and smoke in the valley,” says Flash. “The fire didn’t feel close,” he adds, noting that the air quality improved as soon as they hit Lost River on their way to Harts Pass.

About 2 miles into the 40-mile journey, says Flash, Sisu turned to him and said “So, how much farther is it?”

To keep Sisu entertained, “I told an ongoing story for 8 to 10 hours a day,” says Flash. “There were 26 chapters and it involved a family that moved to Harts Pass in 1910, pirates in Bellingham, Norway, and many other elements. I just had to keep inventing and keep talking.”

When Sisu and Flash reached Manning Park, they were greeted by Sisu’s mom, Katharine Bill, and her little sister, Neva. And then Sisu was off to a violin camp in New Denver, after what was quite possibly the most interesting route taken by any of the participants in the camp.

Both Flash and James say that despite the long mileage, the trip is a great one with little kids. “It’s very alpine,” says Flash. James notes that “That entire section of trail is above 5,000 feet. And the first day feels like downhill the entire way.”

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