“Did you come up the auto road or the cog railway?” the woman asked my son Connor on the summit of Mount Washington. He didn’t have many words at age three, so he simply pointed down the mountain and said “There.” She followed his view down toward Tuckerman Ravine, which I had just climbed on foot from Pinkham Notch, with Connor on my back.
It’s a question I’d heard before, when my daughter Riley was three. That time we were at the Lakes of the Clouds hut for the evening. Again, the answer was neither; We’d hiked the southern Presidentials with her on foot for part of the way.
Yes, I’ve been climbing 4,000’ mountains with a pre-schooler in a backpack.
On my hiking trips to the White Mountains, Riley and Connor get equal treatment on who comes with me. On some trips it’s Rye, on others it’s the ConMan. Rye has been with me on some of the most glorious trips, like the three-day overnight to Zealand and the Bonds, the Kinsmans, and the South and Middle Carter trip. She’s also been on some of the more strenuous adventures, like last year’s Southern Presi traverse and the Dry River Wilderness.
But Connor’s been on some epic trips too, like Owl’s Head, the Wildcats, and the Willey Range. He’s done a lot of the grittier stuff, like a rainy trip to Mt. Hale, enduring the fog on Mt. Eisenhower, and an overnight on Waumbek where the temps got into the 30’s. He’s climbed the North Tripyramid Slide and the Flume Slide, as well as the steeps of Wildcat Ridge and East Osceola, where he waited while I found a way into the car without keys.
Imagine an 18-mile trek through barely-traveled wilderness, past forests of birch and pine, the occasional overgrown clearing, constantly accompanied by the rush of a clear river, without seeing another person. That’s the Pemigewasset Wilderness on a Tuesday.
On Monday we got out of Dodge (Eastern Massachusetts) during mid-morning. This was harder than it should have been due to traffic and construction. In fact, it’s extremely frustrating trying to get out of a busy region after everyone is up and about. But we finally headed north, and after swimming above the Basin in Franconia Notch (coooold), and lunch in Woodstock, we headed for Lincoln Woods and set up the tent at the Franconia East campsite, started a fire, then settled in before the 8PM rainstorm began.
The weird part is there was no single reason. No job change, family milestone, or graduation caused it. The kids have been around for a few years now, so it’s not that. This just kind of crept up on me, where I’ve become this person who wakes up at the crack of dawn to go running. And lifting, and whatever else it takes to get rid of the extra 50 lbs I’ve picked up.
But I’m not part of the fitness community or anything like that.
Here we are high up on the Durand Ridge of Mt. Adams in New Hampshire, heading along what they call the Knife Edge (I’ve been on Katahdin’s Knife Edge, and there is no comparison – I’d never take one of my kids on Katahdin’s, while Rye is hiking the Durand Ridge on her own). Except for the hour we spent on that ridge, I cruised to the junction of the Airline and Chemin de Dames trails in a little over two hours, where I let Rye hike (which is kinda the point), then powered up the rest of the way in a half hour after Rye got back in the pack. That’s 65 lbs total on my back, and I didn’t just beat the guidebook time, I crushed it.
For some reason (maybe a long summer of hiking mountains with the kids), I’ve been reading book after book about and by mountaineers. It turns out there are hardly any books about the White Mountains, except for guidebooks, history books and one exceptional collection of harrowing tales called Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe.
So I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library picking out books that are mostly about the Himalaya. Believe me, I will never set foot in the mountains of Asia, so I’m reading these mainly in disappointment that there’s hardly anything to read about the mountains I am familiar with.
Here it is, the big trip report I’ve been trying to write for a couple of years now. When Riley and Connor came into my life, I was hoping to spend as much time as I could playing with them and writing about it. Since then, it’s been about 90% playing, 9% planning to play, and 1% writing. This is that 1%.
It turns out a three year old doesn’t play much baseball or chess. They like playgrounds, especially the ones near busy roads they can run into and basketball courts they can invade to disrupt the game. We go to one with a 40″ high chain-link fence, which my kids regard as more of a suggestion than a barrier.
These aren’t baloney babies. These are the kids who are so insane that their parents often get glared at by others. I’ve even crafted a response for when someone opens their mouth to me: “I’m sorry, we’re doing the best we can.” Then if they keep talking, I can say “I told you I was sorry, so now you’re just being a douchebag.”