You really can hike as a family. Take it from the twins who’ve summited Mt. Baldy 54 times
Ready for your mind to be blown? Seven-year-old twins Matthew and Arabella Adams have summited Mt. Baldy 54 times. That’s an awe-inspiring number for any hiker, much less a 7-year-old. Not only that: The first time the twins did the hike was at age 3½. (I’m getting off the couch now.)
Nancy and Shaun, the twins’ parents, both work full-time while the kids go to public school, but the fam prioritizes these trips. “When we were kids, our parents took us camping, so we have always enjoyed the outdoors,” Shaun says. “After having kids, we shouldn’t stop doing what we enjoy doing. Hiking is an activity the entire family can enjoy.”
We’ve mentioned the famous Super Hiking Twins before, but as a parent of a finicky 3½-year-old, I needed all the advice from Nancy and Shaun. How did the Adamses motivate Matthew and Arabella to go farther? Did the twins whine and ask for TV at mile two? What gear did they use? Were any bodily fluid cleanups involved?
Turns out, they started early and never gave up. The couple was trekking with one baby each in carriers when the kids were a month old, transitioning them to independent hiking by age 2½. As Arabella and Matthew grew into more confident hikers, the family started tackling more challenging outdoor adventures, like Shasta and Baldy. (Note: The snow can make these mountains dangerous this time of year — here’s what to know if you’re considering a hike yourself.)
The Adamses go on four hikes a month, and more when they are on vacation. “[It’s] our way of getting away from everything and spending quality time together as a family,” Shaun says. The kids love it so much they don’t whine about anything while on the trail — especially not TV.
The twins’ favorite hikes are, Baldy; Mt. Wilson for the banana splits at the Cosmic Cafe (smart kids); Cucamonga and Ontario. In 2019, they summited Whitney twice and completed the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, which includes San Gorgonio, the tallest mountain in Southern California at 11,503 feet. At age 4, they completed 18 of the tallest peaks in Southern California, a challenge they’ve repeated every following year. In 2022, the family hiked 785 miles together, for a total gain of 254,380 feet in elevation.
My son — a daredevil with a tendency to execute sudden, risky jumps off trails — isn’t as interested in summiting as he is in examining an anthill or a water pipe for 15 minutes while I try not to huff impatiently, manically gesturing toward the trail terminus. He’s taught me an almost Zen-like patience, but we’ve finished a few hikes together. We go to Millard Canyon to play in the brook and walk around, but post-age 2, after he became too heavy for my Kelty back carrier, we stopped making it to the waterfall. I long to climb with him to a panoramic view at Cherry Canyon Park in La Cañada, or to stroll together among the oaks at woodsy Gabrielino Trail near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Maybe, just maybe, it could be done. Here’s the Adamses’ advice for inducting your little ones into that #hikelife.
- Make them the architects of the hike. “Having them feel like big kids and be part of the planning is a very important aspect that many parents overlook,” Shaun says. Arabella and Matthew sketch out maps of the planned hike, decide when they should take breaks and choose the length of the hike.
- Start small and local. Begin with half-mile hikes, Nancy advises, and progress to two miles. “We did a lot of hikes in the local mountains up until they were about 3½,” Shaun says. “The Hollywood sign was a frequent trail because it was wide and perfect for them to hike.” Nancy also recommends Mission Peak in Granada Hills, which the twins hiked when they were toddlers.
- Transform a hike into a science field trip. The parents encourage the twins to look for and examine ladybugs, lizards and sunflowers using small magnifying glasses they bring in their backpacks. Talking about clouds can also help them want to hike higher. (I recommend “The Cloud Book” by Tomie dePaola to teach kids about the different types of clouds.)
- Empower them with backpacks. “[The twins] usually carry the same percentage of their body weight as we do. So if we are carrying 20% of our weight in our packs, they do the same,” Shaun says. This action gives them responsibility for their own possessions. (Arabella and Matthew have Osprey Jet backpacks, which are very comfy at the hips.)
- Don’t forget the snacks. The twins always have their favorite trail snacks in their backpacks, including Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, trail mix, fresh fruit and popcorn.
- Bring a fuzzy friend. Matthew and Arabella have Tiger and Ruffy, their well-weathered stuffed animals, in their backpacks for all their adventures, even on the way up to Baldy in the snow. Having a companion is comforting and gives them someone to take care of and encourage.
- Set a fun topic for the hike. “Hiking provides us a chance to chitchat,” Shaun says. The family addresses questions like, “Why do they call him Bigfoot? Does he have a big foot? Is it a boy or girl? How tall is he?” Shaun says he enjoys following the twins’ thinking and wild imaginations.
- Ask the Mountain Fairy to visit. When the twins were 3, Nancy and Shaun invented the Mountain Fairy, a magical creature like Santa who delivered a little toy to the kids at the summit of each mountain. The Mountain Fairy, Nancy says, shops exclusively at Dollar Tree and the 99 Cents store, mostly awarding books, balls, toys, drawing pads and tchotchkes. “They still believe it,” Nancy says.
- Let your kids pick dinner. After each hike, the twins choose the dinner location. They love eating Italian food, including salad, spaghetti and pizza, or heading to In-N-Out for burgers and fries.
- Talk about hiking when you’re not hiking. “Some of the twins’ favorite moments include eating a mosquito by accident, their teeth falling out and not having a pillow to put it under for the tooth fairy, swimming in icy cold water and excitement when they see little animals,” Shaun says. Get the kids enthused about their next hike by hanging a map on their bedroom wall. Circle the peaks you want to summit and talk about trails they can try when they’re older, or when traveling further to national parks and other countries.
- Set goals and be proud of their accomplishments. “We tell the kids if you are determined enough to reach the top of the mountain, you can accomplish anything in life,” Shaun says. The twins have identified Everest as a potential goal. And now they’re leading the hikes and encouraging their parents, which gives nearby hikers a chuckle and makes their parents proud. “They call me the little caboose,” Nancy says, laughing.
I’m wowed not only by the goal-setting and gumption that Nancy and Shaun are showing Arabella and Matthew, but also the love for nature they’re teaching. “[The twins] always want to take care of the little creatures,” Nancy says. “If there’s a bug on the trail, move him off to the side. If there’s a flower, don’t step on it; stay on the trails. They know that’s part of nature and you can’t destroy it.”
4 things to do
1. Level up with a little help from your friends. Need some courage for the big peaks? Join the We Explore Earth crew to tackle nine hikes over 15 weeks. The first hike traverses relatively flat four-mile Eaton Canyon, while the last is a 19-miler at San Gorgonio. You’ll gradually increase your endurance — and probably your lung capacity too. And you’ll never get left behind, because each hike will be flanked by both a leader at the front and a sweeper toward the back. The series starts Jan. 28 and ends May 6, and your contribution is $40 for the self-guided tour and $50 for the group expedition. For tickets and more information, go here.
Get The Wild newsletter.
The essential weekly guide to enjoying the outdoors in Southern California. Insider tips on the best of our beaches, trails, parks, deserts, forests and mountains.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
2. Hop over to a Korean-founded AAPI market. It’s the Year of the Water Rabbit, which means we can expect this year to be calm, quiet and introspective — something I’m really looking forward to. To celebrate, you can parade your pup through the Firecracker PAW’er dog walk in Chinatown or visit one of the many great Lunar New Year celebrations with lion dancing (Chinatown, Alhambra and Monterey Park will all feature them). I’ll be ringing in the new year in Studio City with a short toddler-training hike at Fryman Canyon Trail (2.6 miles and less than 500 feet elevation), lunch at the new Roberta’s Pizza (baby sister to the older Culver City outpost) and a stop at MAUM Market at North Hollywood’s Lankershim Arts Center. This pop-up features 28 vendors of Asian origin who sling everything from ceramics to matcha. You’ll find kids’ activities, food trucks and a photo zone — all for free, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 22. Grab your advance tickets here.
3. Traipse around Griffith Park with a mushie expert. One of my favorite L.A. mycophiles (that’s “mushroom lovers” for the uninitiated) will be hosting the Griffith Park Mushroom Walk on Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Bat Vardeh of the Los Angeles Mycological Society will lead you to the tiny fungus gifts the rain has wrought. I’ve interviewed Vardeh about gleaning for our Food section, and she’s also a personal friend; I can bear witness to her genius when it comes to understanding the unique lives of these little fungi. Wear comfy clothing, hiking boots, a hat and sunscreen, and bring water to the Travel Town parking lot at 10 a.m. Make sure to sign up beforehand — it’s free, but you need a reservation.
4. Celebrate our most legendary big cat. If you’re still sad that tickets to the Greek Theatre event commemorating P-22’s life are sold out, head to King Gillette Ranch’s Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center on Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a book signing for “P-22 The Journey” and “P-22 The Park.” Both were written to support Save LA Cougars and the Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. You can get your books signed by authors Sherry Mangel-Ferber and Calandra Cherry, as well as artist Barbara Freund. Reserve a spot here for the free event. (Parking is free too.)
A green thumb I’m not. But I do love to plant heirloom veggies, drought-tolerant plants and native flowers in my yard. One year, I tossed native California poppy seeds from the Theodore Payne Foundation into my side yard, and they sprang up with the rain and sun — that’s what I like to call “chaos gardening.” In The Times, Jeanette Marantos talks to Tim Becker, director of horticulture at Theodore Payne, for some fresh advice on growing your own personal superbloom at home. The time is now to plant — the sooner, the better, because wildflowers need moist ground to germinate in. The endangered bees and butterflies thank you.
Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more.
These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
What makes the city we love so visually memorable? Is it the Randy’s Donuts sign that beckons to us as we stall in traffic, or maybe Echo Park Lake, with its lazy swan boats? Fill out this form to tell us (of course, you can list any California landmark).
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.