30 Nov Extreme Family Adventure Part 1: Meet the parents behind the ‘TrisTrans Saga’
For many first-time parents, just undertaking a trip across town with their babies can feel like an adventure. But for Kim Broux and Jochem Cuypers, getting out of town—and into the remote wilderness of Norway, Greenland, and the American Southwest—is where the adventures just begin. They are the parents and lead adventurers behind the “TrisTrans Saga,” the blog and Facebook page chronicling the outdoor adventures of their two boys, now one and four years old.
Both Kim and Jochem are originally from Belgium, but at 12 years old Jochem’s parents moved the family to a small town just south of the Arctic Circle to indulge in their love of nature and pursue their passion for dog-sledding. They competed on the Norwegian national team at events around Europe for more than a decade.
When Kim’s family came along for a dog-sledding vacation in 2000, she—and Jochem—discovered she had a more adventurous soul than she’d realized. Many adventures would follow for the pair, including a three-week ski trip across the Spitsbergen archipelago in northwestern Norway, where they were totally alone in the Arctic. When they reached the highest point in the journey (topographically speaking), they became engaged.
Becoming parents hasn’t slowed down or softened their adventurous spirits. Rather, it’s galvanized their philosophy that life—and parenting—is better outdoors. Only 4.5 years into their careers as parents, they have already traveled great distances with their young children by sledge, bicycle, canoe, pack horse, skis, and hiking boots (often with crampons). Kim and Jochem were kind enough to discuss their inspiration and advice about extreme family adventures.
What is the “TrisTrans Saga” exactly, and from where did this inspiration come?
TrisTrans Saga comes from ‘TrisTrams Saga’ – an old Norse story adapted from the Tristan and Isolda legend. Our own ‘saga’ is about sharing great experiences in our natural world while crossing magnificent regions (TRANS) and summiting breathtaking peaks (TRIS). It’s about learning and having fun.
TrisTrans Saga is [also] inspired by the Vikings. They were an intelligent and brave people always prepared to explore new regions. Some of their breathtaking journeys to Arctic regions were of great importance to discover the world. Even today it’s thrilling to go in their footsteps! Especially for a child, it’s amusing to listen to Viking histories—and even better to just go there and experience it themselves. Nature, culture and history are a fun combination!
Can you briefly explain your philosophy of the “outdoor lifestyle” as a family, and why this is so important to you as parents?
Isn’t your life more fun when you do what you love—and share it with your closest friends and family? Our biggest motivation to take our kids along is the happiness that we experience while being together in the outdoors. Out there we get the chance to experience many ‘golden moments’. We’ve [found] that outdoor activities are the most effective way to happiness.
It’s not only a fun way of sharing free time, it’s also educational and kids develop respect for nature. In addition, studies have proven that kids enjoying the outdoors develop better motor skills and wellness, in addition to a greater confidence, creativity, emotional intelligence and easier learning when they grow up.
What was your first “adventure” as parents? How did you decide where to go and how to prepare for it?
Our first little ‘adventure’ with Tristan was a hike to a local summit. Just 300 meters above sea level (984 ft.)—but a memory that will last forever. It was a beautiful November day—one of those rare days with blue sky and sunshine. The temperature was -10 °C (14 °F). A day earlier Kim arrived home from the maternity hospital [and] she couldn’t wait to take Tristan outside. Four days old he was on his first little summit.
We used around 3 hours to pack for the hike. We didn’t have a clue what we were up to. What does a 4 day old need? [How] does he take the cold? And so on. A lot of questions! But everything went fine. And those kinds of family adventures turned out to be fun and exciting. During the next weeks we collected all the local summits close to our home.
At 3 months, Tristan ascended his first 1000 meter mountain (3,280 ft.)—with morning and evening temperature down to -20 °C (-4 °F). After a while packing was getting easier. So our first multiday adventure was a trip through Børgefjell National Park—at an age of 5 months.
Jochem’s goal was to cross the Folgefonna Glacier that winter with friends—but since everything went so smooth with little Tristan—he invited Tristan and Kim along. It turned out to be one of the best outdoor experiences ever. A challenging trip with almost 100 km/62 miles and 7000 meter/22966 ft. elevation gain with heavy loads that amused the spirit of an adult adventurer—and a cozy and intense time for the smallest spirit of the team. After this we started our planning for a polar expedition on Baffin Island 1 year later.
I’ve found that traveling with a baby can actually be easier in many ways than traveling with a toddler. Have you found this to be true in your own adventures? And when baby #2 came along and you had a toddler AND a baby, did it slow you down or change the way you traveled as a family?
Traveling with one baby or toddler is definitely easier then traveling with two. Two kids are not the same as 1+1 but rather 2*2! With one child you still have one parent to take some time off in between—there are some free hands to take pictures or film the experiences. One parent can carry a backpack with gear and the other can carry the baby.
With a baby and a toddler, you suddenly don’t have enough hands. Every parent has to carry a backpack with gear and a baby or toddler—so the load is getting heavier. On our Greenland trip with both Tristan and Nanook, we had 50% more luggage compared with our Baffin Island trip with just Tristan. So it slows you down—and our daytrips in Norway are also shorter.
But there are no problems—only solutions. After we got Nanook, we more often use our NordicCab (with wheels during summer, skis during winter), a canoe, a donkey or a bike…. Your imagination and fantasy is the only limitation for what’s possible.
[As they grow] there is a point you notice that the smallest one tackles much more than you think. From the age of 3 Tristan walked many of the hikes himself. To give an example he ascended his first 1000 m peak on his own at 3 ½ years old—his summit number 365! You need to distinguish between trips for fun and sometimes a trip to complete a goal. Of course you shouldn’t push them. It has to remain fun and exciting!
I love that you took the boys on a Greenland ski trip with sledges and sled dogs to “Erik the Red’s Land.” I’ve never heard of anyone attempting a trip like this with a 1- and 3-year-old. How long was the trip and how did it go!?
In Norway you find many historical books about polar exploration. Helge Ingstad was a Norwegian adventurer living in the 20th century. Most often he went to the Arctic, and he wrote some inspiring books. One of his books is called East of the Great Glacier. He described a fascinating world located on Northeast Greenland called “Erik the Red’s Land.” The nature is supposed to be awe-inspiring and rich in wildlife. In addition there is today a small Inuit town located in the southern part of this region—an essential to give our kids (and ourselves) knowledge about the culture of natives. An interesting culture + diverse geography + rich wildlife = a perfect family adventure
The trip lasted 5 weeks including transportation to and from the area. We met many different challenges. One of them was the weather. We always study statistics before we leave so we can avoid the coldest period. This year was different. So the temperatures were -30 °C (-22 °F) the first week of our trip. Our progression was very slow since we can’t go that far with such low temps.
In addition there was a lot of wind. During the first two weeks we got wind up to 25 m/s (55 mph)—and were stuck in our tent for several days. Even though the rough weather we had a great time in our tent. In our baggage we had some musical instruments, a ball, a reading book, cards with questions and tasks. We taught the boys how to melt snow, how to cook expedition food… all kinds of basic stuff.
Earlier that winter the region got wind velocities up to 45 m/s. (100 mph) so the Arctic ice along the East-coast couldn’t freeze to one piece. We had to change our original plan.
Our buddies, Dusty and Whitefang, were another challenge. We borrowed them from a local trapper—but they were young and untrained. They didn’t even have names, so Tristan named them after some of his favorite figures from a book we bought in the US earlier that year. They were supposed to give us a little help while pulling our heavy loads (325 kg/716 lbs total), but they didn’t understand that until our last day. Another function for them was to protect us from polar bears, to give us a note when one of those approached our tent. Luckily we didn’t have need of that.
We had to change our original plan due to the unsure sea-ice, so we ended up exploring Liverpool land and Jameson land. The total hiking distance a day went from as little as 1 km (.6 miles) up to 15 km (9 miles). Our trips at home sometimes go up to 30 km (18 miles) a day—with backpacks.
The second half of our journey was just awesome! The weather turned warmer—and we could spend a lot of time outside. Tristan got some good exercise skiing with real Norwegian wooden skis and learned how to use an ice axe. We used our sledges to ‘race’ down a hill. The Easter rabbit came along—so we followed his footsteps into the mountains. Nanook learned to walk. Tristan buried his last night-soother (pacifier) in a glacier moraine. At the end of our trip we joined a local trapper on a sled-dog trip into the field. That was an extraordinary experience for all of us.
The adventure continues in Part 2: Tackling Highest Peaks and Lowest Temperatures on the TrisTrans Saga!
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