On Sunday, August 9th, I participated in a club trip to Mount Arrowsmith. I had scheduled it in the before times, as a way to sneak in an extra day of weekend hiking with the promise that I’d take my two kids with me. They are always up for an adventure, and now that Hemingway is seven, I figured he was ready for the trip.
Total Distance: 6.7 km
Starting Elevation: 747 m
Maximum Elevation: 1585 m
Total Elevation Gain: 844 m
Total Time: 6 h 45 min
Problems started cropping up in the time of COVID. The club responded to the pandemic by reducing maximum participant numbers for trips. To shoulder a portion of the work, I sought a co-leader to allow for a larger group size. Three days before the trip, I had six participants signed up to go; on hike-day, I was down to one.
At the trailhead, the two groups formed into one; it seemed ridiculous for my single person to travel with my family. We were lucky to be hiking on a sunny but cool day. I was extra grateful for the temperature because I carried Octavia in my backpack (~60 pounds), and my legs weren’t exactly fresh; the day before, I had summited Sutton Peak (~1500m elevation gain). I was going to be hot regardless of the heat.
I don’t recall ever hiking Arrowsmith in the summer; mostly, I’ve summited on January 1st to kick off the new year, and once in the fall. As we started climbing, I took note of how dry the boot track was, and how slippery the dirt was for my son with his less-than-ideal shoes.
Slow and steady, the group worked its way up the mountain. Up the steep, dry dirt, beyond the gravel on packed earth, and finally breaking out of the trees. For quite a while, Hemingway walked in the front with a teen who joined us on the trip. At times we would hit a piece of terrain that left me scratching my head and wondering, “How did Hemingway make it up here?” As we passed more and more terrain, my mind drifted to another consideration: How was I going to manage the risks on the descent?
By the time we broke out of the trees onto the rocky scrambles (~1600m), I was weighing my options. Fortunately, here, another member decided that they had gone far enough and wanted to wait for the group. As a practice, the club doesn’t leave people waiting alone – I could see the opportunity, but how could I convince Hemingway to stop? Fortuitously, it’s here that Hemingway quietly told me, “I’m not comfortable with the terrain.” He was feeling stretched to his limit– I pounced. I proposed that I could stop here for the day; the perch made an excellent lunch location and offered just enough space for the four of us to eat and enjoy the sun and views.
We lunched for thirty minutes. While we ate, Hemingway bemoaned not making the summit, “I guess I don’t get my ice cream.” Usually, I pitch a deal at the start of a hike: no complaining, and after we can have a sweet frozen treat. What a learning moment! I explained that the ice cream was not contingent upon us making the summit, and reinforced how proud I was that he was able to tell me that he was not feeling comfortable with the terrain. I reminded him that objectively stating how he was feeling, with a cause provided, isn’t complaining. Later, we had a follow-up conversation about the expression ‘biting off more than one can chew’.
When the kids started getting antsy, I proposed descending slowly. As a group of four –free of the latent pressures of group travel—we started our descent. As the one with the most experience, I’m sure my perspective is skewed, but I think we had an okay time descending.
Octavia demanded to join in the fun, for a short time. Sure, in many places, I had to hold her hand to stop her from sliding uncontrollably. And, yes, she ended up completely covered in dirt when she used the gravel to butt-slide down some steep slopes. She was sure not afraid to get her whole body into play to climb up and over the trees blocking the route.
Of course, the fun doesn’t last forever and eventually, the novelty of slipping and sliding disappeared. Octavia had the luxury of hopping back into the backpack, but after about the fifteenth time of landing on his butt, Hemingway had a well-earned pout.
About 15 minutes to the old road, the two groups merged again and made our way back to the vehicles.
I’m happy the kids still enjoy joining me, and impressed by what they are capable of doing. But I’m even more proud that Hemingway is learning to express himself, and not let external motivations push him beyond his comfort level.
I think my friend Quinn Y. summed it up best when we talked about it afterwards:
“In a time where achievement is so paramount for those entering into the mountains, it’s great to hear [Hemingway] is beating it before the ego is too solidified.”
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