In the realm of adventure and outdoor enthusiasts, few stories capture the imagination quite like that of the Netteburgs family. A remarkable journey unfolds as Danae and Olen Netteburg, both 44, embark on a mission that’s physically demanding and spiritually enriching. Their pathbreaking journey leads them through the Triple Crown, which is considered to be the most difficult hiking challenge in North America. This undertaking, which involves hiking the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail, is one that would challenge even the most experienced of hikers since it encompasses approximately 8,000 miles.
The fact that the Netteburgs are not traveling on this grueling trip by themselves is one of the things that sets them apart from everyone else. Their five young children accompany them: Lyol, who is 14 years old; Zane, who is 12 years old, Addison, who is 10 years old, Juniper, who is 7 years old; and Piper, who is 2 years old. This is their extraordinary story of family, resilience, and the pursuit of a dream.
The Adventurous Family
The Netteburgs, a tight-knit American family of seven, don’t conform to conventional norms. Theirs is a life filled with exploration, where the great outdoors becomes their classroom and the trails, their life’s journey. It’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit and a source of inspiration for adventurers worldwide. In 2003, when Danae and Olen were both students at medical schools, they crossed paths and quickly discovered that they had a passion for the same things: exploration and travel. Fast forward a few years, and they found themselves in Chad, a landlocked African country, running a medical practice.
A New Chapter Begins
Chad provided the backdrop for the Netteburgs to start a family. Their children, all born in the U.S., were exposed to a life that was far from ordinary. They had gone on a few shorter hikes as a family until Juniper, their fourth kid, was around two years old, but it wasn’t until then that they decided to try a longer trek together. Their older children were aged two, four, six, and nine at that time.
The Journey Commences
With Juniper as their youngest trailblazer, the family embarked on their first hiking adventure, the West Rim Trail. Their first step on a journey that would change their lives was this 30.5-mile trip around the western part of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. With the encouragement of their kids, they took on the Uintas Highline Trail, a difficult route across the high terrain of the Uintas Mountains in northern Utah. High heights and erratic weather were prevalent in the Uintas, but the kids’ delight simply increased.
Scaling New Heights
Their early successes prompted them to set their sights on a grander goal – the Appalachian Trail. They planned to hike the entire 2,200 miles of this famous path from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine at the beginning of 2020. Fate had other plans, as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted shortly after they began their journey.
The pandemic brought a new layer of complexity to their adventure. Every step was fraught with uncertainty as they navigated a world in lockdown. The Netteburgs had to adapt constantly, ensuring they hiked legally and safely. At times, they weren’t sure if they could complete the challenging trail. However, as time passed and their children achieved remarkable milestones, their confidence grew.
A pivotal moment came when the children completed an 11.3-mile day on the trail. To keep their young spirits motivated, the Netteburgs asked the kids to envision the triumphant pose they would strike once they reached the Appalachian Trail’s end. Hiking with children requires an extra dose of enthusiasm and encouragement, something Danae and Olen provided abundantly. The family persevered and completed the Appalachian Trail in about seven months.
Choosing the Unconventional Path
With the Appalachian Trail behind them, the Netteburgs faced a pivotal decision. The kids had a different plan than the adults, who typically trek the Pacific Crest Trail after completing the Appalachian Trail. They chose the Continental Divide Trail, known for its rugged terrain and challenging conditions. The kids wanted the hardest trail, and the idea of encountering fewer crowds on the Continental Divide Trail appealed to the Netteburgs.
A New Addition
The Netteburgs found that they would have their 5th child just before embarking on the Continental Divide Trail. Piper was born in June 2021, adding a new dimension to their adventure. The family embraced wilderness parenting practices like elimination communication to toilet train Piper at an early age. They also streamlined their camping equipment to accommodate the needs of a growing family, including extra sleeping bags, clothes, and food.
An Incredible Feat
In March 2022, the Netteburgs began their Continental Divide Trail adventure with their newest member, affectionately nicknamed “dead weight.” Remarkably, having a newborn in tow didn’t slow them down. They finished the trail in six months, one month fewer than they had taken to hike the Appalachian Trail. Hiking with five children presented unique challenges, but the Netteburgs used creative tactics to motivate their young ones.
Lessons from the Trail
Olen memorized songs from Disney’s “Frozen ” to engage their children on the trail,” orchestrating impromptu sing-alongs. The absence of distractions like cell phone signals allowed for quality family time and bonding. Amidst the challenges and triumphs, the Netteburg children learned invaluable life lessons. They explored the wilderness, observed wildlife, and dived into classic literature. Spelling and math quizzes became a part of their hiking routine, ensuring that the educational journey paralleled their physical one.
A Glorious Achievement
The Netteburgs plan to register their remarkable Triple Crown achievement with long-distance hiking organizations. After completing the Pacific Crest Trail, their next adventure beckons. They imagine getting a sailboat or turning a school bus into an RV so they may travel the world with their kids. They have discussed the idea of trekking outside the United States and considered routes like Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. However, their immediate plans do not include another long-distance trail.
In a world filled with distractions and conveniences, the Netteburgs stand as a testament to the boundless human spirit, reminding us that we can conquer even the most formidable challenges with determination, unity, and resilience.