Mom Taking Baby on 900-Mile Hike : She Ain’t Heavy--She’s My Daughter

United Press International

Mountain climber Arlene Blum, conqueror of mighty Mt. McKinley and Annapurna I, is taking her 4-month-old daughter on her next great adventure--a 900-mile trek across Europe’s snow-capped Alps.

Lead the life you want and don’t forget to include your children, she insists to parents.

“I believe that parents continuing to pursue the activities they love is of benefit to their children. I can continue having adventures and incorporate her into my activities,” Blum, 42, said.

To prove it, the 5-foot-10 University of California teacher and her husband, Rob Gomersall, are taking their infant daughter, Annalise, with them when they set out July 1 on a 2 1/2-month-long hike across the Alps from the Yugoslavia border to France.

Supply of Diapers

Annalise will be ferried--atop her supply of diapers--in a specially designed pack on her mother’s back. A shade on the spacious pack will protect the baby from the sun.


“We were a little worried before we decided we wanted a baby--what it was going to do to our life and whether we could still keep having our adventures. But we really wanted to have her and I think she’s changed our life for the better,” Blum said.

“I’m sure the Alps trip will be really enriched because of all the people we’re going to meet because of her.”

The baby will be in good care.

Her mother was a member of the first women’s expedition to scale Alaska’s 20,320-foot-high Mt. McKinley in 1970 and led the first ascent of American women up Nepal’s 26,504-foot-high Annapurna I in 1978.

Took 10-Month Hike

Blum also walked the 2,000-mile length of the Himalayas over 10 months in 1980-81.

But she doesn’t quite know what to expect in her newest venture because she’s never had to care for an infant in the wilderness.

“I felt more sure about the Himalayan trip than I do now. This is a different sort of challenge,” admitted Blum, who took her daughter, then just 3 weeks old, with her when she traveled to Bangkok last March.

The Alps hike, though long, isn’t particularly hazardous.

The numerous dirt trails and paths along south-central Europe’s mountain system dip and climb from 4,000 feet to 12,000 feet, well above the range’s permanent snow line. But the route is well traveled by hikers and backpackers.

Infants aren’t usually taken to such locales, though. So special precautions are being taken for Annalise, although her doctor has endorsed the trip for her.

“Her pediatrician told me babies aren’t good at high altitude,” Blum said. “If she experiences any symptoms--headaches, nausea--we’ll go back down.”

The doctor has designed a special first-aid kit to protect against common illnesses, scrapes or bruises. There are also huts with phones along the path, so the nearest pediatrician will never be more than 24 hours away, Blum said.

Blum has no qualms about taking the baby. But she isn’t ignoring safety. Two of her friends were killed on the 1978 Annapurna climb.

“They were on the second summit team. We still don’t really know how it happened. Somebody fell. There was an avalanche or a rock fall,” she said.

The exact route of the Alps trek has not been chosen but it will be the least dangerous. Stops will include Corvara in Badia, Italy, and St. Moritz and Zermatt in Switzerland.

“If we run into any glaciers, we won’t try them,” she said.

Not Mountain Climbing

There will be no mountain climbing with the baby, but Blum and a friend may attempt an assault on 15,771-foot-high Mont Blanc at journey’s end at Chamonix, France, at the foot of the peak.

Diapers were expected to be a major problem. But the makers of Huggies donated enough to last her--about 1,200 disposables.

“Now our problem is how to ship them there,” Blum said. “They’ll be mailed to different towns along the way and we’ll have to pack them out.”

She will breast-feed her baby during the trip. But her pediatrician said it may be time to introduce solid foods, so Blum will take along a solid-food grinder and freeze-dried baby foods.

Boredom apparently will not be a problem for Annalise.

“She loves to look at things,” Blum said. “Birds, flowers, anything.”

May Lose Weight

Blum said she is still 30 pounds overweight because of her pregnancy with Annalise. But she has been walking in the Berkeley hills with other new mothers, so by the time the trip is over she expects to be back to her normal weight.

Blum, a native of Iowa, began climbing as part of a physical education class at Reed College in Portland, Ore., in 1963. She now lectures and writes on mountaineering as well.

“I immediately loved it,” she said, “and I’ve been climbing higher and higher mountains ever since.”

She said she knows of no one else who has hiked as far as she plans to with a baby on her back, and hopes her journey will inspire other parents to treat their children to activities they can share with them.

Blum teaches Southeast Asian studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she got a doctorate in chemistry.

She previously taught chemistry at Stanford University, Wellesley College in Massachusetts and at Berkeley. She published research that helped lead to the banning of the flame retardant Tris in children’s sleepwear in 1977.

Blum’s husband is not a mountain climber but he shares her love of the outdoors. The two operate a Himalayan adventure travel business and he teaches navigation and sailing. He is presently sailing from the Caribbean Sea to Gibraltar and will join his wife later this month in Europe for their Alps trip. They will be accompanied by two friends at least part of the way.