Since before she could walk, Acacia Wales has been going on hikes and adventures with her parents. Australia residents Tara and Samuel Wales have been hikers since their youth. It was adventuring that brought them together, so the couple naturally wanted to include their child in their zest for hiking.
They began taking her along on hikes before she could walk, carrying her in a child carrier pack. Once she could walk, they got her out on short hikes in hopes of preparing her for eventual thru hikes that take days or weeks and involve overnight camping.
Tara is British while Samuel and Acacia are Australian. The family of three currently live in Australia but have family in Los Angeles, so they visit California often. As Acacia got to be a stronger hiker, they began to search for thru hike options that would fit her ability. While planning a trip to California, they found the Trans Catalina Trail.
“It was the perfect opportunity to see how she could handle her first thru hike with safe bail-out points along with the beautiful vistas,” Tara said.
When Acacia was 1, Tara and Samuel took her on a 40-mile hike on a section of the South Coastal Walk in the U.K. with Acacia on Tara’s back. It took them about five days to complete. At the end of the trail, Tara tore ligaments in her foot and they had to cancel other planned travels. Samuel hiked a large section of the John Muir Trail before the trail got snowed out and he had to cut it short.
The couple met through hiking, when Samuel was looking for hiking routes from Nepal to Mongolia. Tara had been traveling the world wwoofing (wwoof.org) and landed in New Zealand for a year. She had been journaling on elephantjournal.com and Samuel came across a post she had written. The article was helpful and he emailed her a thank you.
The email turned into a pen-pal friendship for several months and eventually led to Samuel going to New Zealand to travel with her. Two weeks later he proposed. Four years and one little girl later, the couple found themselves on Catalina, giving their daughter her first real test at thru hiking. Catalina would be the longest hike Acacia had ever done consecutively by far.
They intended to finish the trail but had no expectation of how long it would take Acacia to finish. They also planned bail-out points if/when she shut down, Samuel said.
“To our astonishment she kept going and actually wanted to get to camp,” Samuel said.
Her favorite thing was wriggling around in the sleeping bags at camp until dinner. After their first stopover, a social aspect also developed. The family made friends with other hikers and Acacia knew she would get to see those people again at the next stop. Despite getting caught in a rainstorm, a fall and few minor meltdowns, Acacia came through like a veteran, finishing a day ahead of what they planned.
“She totally exceeded our ex–pectations and completed the entire loop in just four days,” Tara said.
Along the way the family met up with Theresa H. McDowell, Two Harbors director of operations, who was floored to see such a young girl taking on the TCT.
“I was amazed; she was such a trooper,” McDowell said.
The TCT is nearly 40 miles long and climbs to altitudes of nearly 2,000 feet at times. McDowell also remembered that the family got caught in a rainstorm while at Blackjack, yet Acacia was a happy girl having a great time, McDowell said. McDowell, who has worked at Two Harbors for the past 23 years, said Acacia is the youngest person to complete the trail.
“We have a lot of people who hike that trail and a lot of them quit,” McDowell said.
The Wales are hopeful of attempting the Pacific Crest Trail in about a year. If completed at the age of 4, Acacia would also be the youngest to complete the 2,650- mile hike from Mexico to Canada. Distance, time to complete and altitude (peaks above 10,000 feet) are just a few of the challenges that come with the PCT.
The family is hoping to attempt the Te Araroa Trail in New Zea-land this December-January, which is summer in that region. That would give them a gauge on her potential ability to tackle the PCT.
Either way, Acacia is already impressing mom and dad.
“We couldn’t be prouder of her,” Tara said.