When your 8-year-old son begs you to go hiking, how can you resist? When he complains that he hasn’t been getting enough time out in nature, you must do all you can to rectify the situation. So, you go hiking. You find a friend who is willing to put up with you and your children, and you pick a hike that will make you and them happy, and you pick a sunny day with gorgeous blue skies and crisp fall air. You make some homemade power bars, buy a few treats to keep the kids “energized,” you pack the gear the night before, and pray nobody gets sick. You drive way too far on congested small-town roads and windy country roads and twisty-turny-wilderness routes that make your stomach flip somersaults as you try not to think about driving off the edge. You arrive at the freezing trailhead and pray there is TP in the outhouse, and that your friend hasn’t been waiting too long, and that she won’t get impatient as you get everyone dressed and booted up and fed and watered and buttoned and zipped and clipped into their packs. You go over your mental lists and hope against hope that you haven’t left anything important out of your overstuffed pack, and hit the trail at the time you should be feeding your children lunch.
The kids head up the trail
When your daughter, 5 minutes into the hike, complains about being tired, you pray again that she will make it all the way without you having to carry her, but you know it will be a long day of prodding and encouraging and whining and feeding her your enthusiasm and praising how strong she is and how great she is doing. You feel your patience stretching with every step along the path, and you know it’s good for you, but you hope you can continue to stretch throughout the day, and that you won’t snap and end up with everyone in tears. You give thanks for a hiking partner that is helpful and motivational and willing to go the speed of a tired 4-year-old, and still be positive. You watch your son speed up the trail until he is out of sight, and wonder when he got so tall, and so natural and confident on the trail, and you fill with joy and pride that after all these years of preparation, you now have an amazing hiking partner in your little boy who enjoys the wilderness and helps you see things in new light. He gives you hope that someday, maybe even next summer, the girl will be stronger and quicker and then, Oh! The places you’ll go!
The trail travels above the highway for a bit. You can see down the American River Valley for miles.
You stop reluctantly every 15 minutes because, yes, she REALLY has to pee again, and she needs a snack, and she’s too hot or too cold, so the mittens and hat come on or off. The autumn air is crisp in the shade but warm in the sun, and the breezes are light. The trees and shrubs are showing the last of their fall colors, but the leaves are dropping and the dusting of snow remains in the areas the sun doesn’t reach in its lowering path across the October sky.
Mountain Ash and bluebird sky
Dusting of snow at the trailhead
You feel the rushing of the turning seasons, the bittersweetness of this time of year, and you are so grateful you made the effort to get up high and breathe in the aromas of fir and cedar, huckleberry and duff, and coming winter. You store the warm sun and spicy smells and sense of wonder in a special place inside for those grey days ahead.
Because you are walking so slowly, you are able to notice plenty of fungi and interesting sights along the trail.
Colorful, deadly fungus
You notice how everything has gone to seed, yet how a few straggling flowers brave the season. You hear a raptor as it circles overhead and calls, and pikas in the rocks, alarmed at your intrusion. You arrive expectantly at the lake, elated to have made your destination, relieved that the girl seems to have a renewed burst of energy.
Beautiful Sheep Lake
You find a spot in the sun with a view and drop the pack to the ground, and take care of everyone’s needs. The boy explores while the girl curls up on a coat for a “nap,” the baby gets fed and diapered, and the sun moves quickly toward the ridgeline.
Sarah and baby rest at the lake
Your visit is all too short, which results in pouts and deep disappointment for the boy, who wanted to stay all day, and would prefer to spend the night in this peaceful basin. No matter that ice rims the shady, wet areas, and there is hoarfrost two inches thick, and the breeze is picking up and you don’t have overnight gear, anyway.
Hoarfrost at the lake
You promise yourself, yet again, that you’ll work on getting appropriate gear so that you can spend the night at a heavenly location such as this, maybe even as soon as next summer. You take a few more photos as you sigh wistfully and leave, reluctantly, knowing that in a few short days or weeks the snow will cover the ground.
Fall color and craggy peaks above the lake
You drag your daughter down the trail, giving her snacks to munch to keep her strength up. You alternate between holding her warm, soft, trusting hand, and encouraging her to keep up with her brother in front.
Gabriel and Annika forge ahead
When she tells you, on the cliffy parts, that “my eyes are affecting the ground – the rocks are moving in front of me!” you begin to worry about vertigo and dehydration and that maybe you are pushing her too hard, but you hold her hand and assure her over and over that the trail is safe enough to walk on, and you will help her if she falls. You pick your way agonizingly slowly down the trail, the parking lot visible a mile away, and your poor partner has to go ahead because the baby is wet and cold in the lowering light and she really needs to get him back to the car. You are so proud of your son for being able to walk ahead with her, and relieved that he will get to be back in her warm vehicle while you slowly, slowly, inch your way back down to him.
The parking lot lies just below the saddle between the two peaks.
You think it’s hilarious and yet exasperating when your daughter begins to squat down at every tiny tree next to the trail to measure with her hands how tall it is, and say, “Look at the baby tree! And there’s a mommy tree, and a daddy tree, and look! Those trees have their arms out wanting the mommy tree to give them food!” You inwardly praise and bemoan her creativity as she makes up little stories about where the baby deer wait for their mommies to go hunting, or where the baby bears come walking down, or the elk go down for water. You are so tired, but you manage to stay patient (mostly) and finally, you make the last switchbacks down to the parking lot, where you greet your son and hiking partner and use the outhouse even though the TP is gone, and get everyone changed and buckled in the car, and give them lukewarm cocoa and praise them for how great they did on this hike and declare over and over how proud you are of them.
Mount Rainier in the evening light
You slowly drive back down the winding roads, into the sunset this time, regretting you hadn’t taken pictures of The Mountain that morning when the light was better, thinking you really need new hiking clothes, because the odor from yours makes you want to faint, and trying hard to remember if there is a restaurant in Greenwater or if you have to get to Enumclaw before you eat. Since your daughter falls asleep in the back seat before you get to Greenwater, you decide to go to Enumclaw after all, and the three of you scarf down a pizza (the boy eating more than the mom), your reward for hiking almost four miles. Your husband calls, worried because he hadn’t heard from you yet, and it is dark, and the half moon is shining through the wispy soft clouds above the almost-glowing Mountain. After only two stops for potty, you make it home and dump everything out of the car and get the kids a bath and put their gear away, and read a short story even though it’s late, and greet your husband who enjoyed a quiet day working from home.
And then, just before he slips up the ladder to his loft bed, your son runs back out to give you a big, tight, lingering hug, and says “Thank you for taking us hiking!” And the memories of the day coalesce into joy and peace as you are so touched and melted by his gratitude. You hope he begs you again soon to go hiking.