Climbing Mountains: A Rite of Passage
Inspiring A Love Of Hiking In the Little Ones
For many of us who spent our former years chasing wilderness experiences, the simple act of bagging a peak was likely the gateway into a life outdoors. I can look back at the mountains I climbed as a young lad as a set of ridges leading right to my place in the world today which is why hiking became our steadfast outdoor stepping stone as we learned how to engage the outdoors as a family of three and then four.
For all of us with young kids, a walk has become a ritual - whether to put the newborn down for nap time, to offer space for the toddler to get their energy out or for the family to spend time together outdoors. From my experience living in a flat coastal town our rituals became monotonous with the altitude changing in tens not thousands of feet. Yet the early attempts we made at taking on bigger weekend trips often ended up in chaos leaving us wondering if it was worth all the effort to drive to the trail head, walk a little ways in and have some kind of family emergency force us back down to the safety of a car seat, nursery rhymes and a rhythmic car ride to ease us all back into a state of relaxation.
Yet we couldn’t give up, knowing that the mountains had imprinted life defining features on our values. It was of utmost importance for our family to experience time in the mountains together so our kids could also be shaped by their relationship with these unmovable masses. So we kept at it taking on more and more and by the time our oldest was four he was climbing himself - at least for some of the trail.
While we have climbed peaks in the White’s, the Rockies, the Southern Alps and the actual Alps, our most rewarding hike was in Texas of all places. Guadalupe Mountain stands at a stout 8,749 feet and is the tallest peak in the state. Guadalupe National Park is overshadowed by Carlsbad Caverns National Park, just an hour to the North, but those that have the time can loop between Carlsbad, Guadalupe and now White Sands National Park in a long weekend, a National Park smorgasborg that may be impossible anywhere else in this vast country.
Like most , we stumbled upon Guadalupe by chance after visiting Carlsbad and it was here that our oldest son, Alfonso, four at the time, truly began to show signs that our efforts in the early years of his life were beginning to pay off. Whether for a kid or an adult a first time trip walking through the Carlsbad Caverns is truly mind bending and it was this experience that solidified our son’s growing interest in the outdoors. So days later parked in the shadow of Guadalupe Peak, we asked our son if he was ready to climb and he agreed.
We struck out early for our family - on the trail by 8 AM, something that took years of sacrifice to accomplish - sleeping in a van just ten minutes from the trailhead also helped. We packed light, almost too light, but the 7,000 ft of vert ahead of us required it. For once, our oldest climbed and climbed with nothing but eager curiosity spilling from his mouth. Questions about caves, about mountains, about animals led us into weaving intricate stories as our legs pushed us further up the trailhead. A low cloud pushed in enclaving our view to just our imagination. By the time we stopped for an early lunch I was feeling ready to turn around, my dad alarm bells sensing the cold as too much for our one and four year olds to handle with our limited layers, but Alfonso demanded we push on to the top.
After climbing the first 2,000 feet on his own, he agreed to ride in the carrier, but as soon as we punched through the clouds, he was back on his four year old feet almost running to reach the top. I was as exhausted as I was stunned. We made it to the top of Texas six hours after we left our van behind. The moment was truly unforgettable and our son was changed forever. He heard the other hikers cheering him on, wowing as they hiked down and we pressed forward. He was by far the youngest hiker at the top of the peak that day - perhaps that month or year.
While we have continued to chase outdoor experiences as a family and new peak experiences are most certainly ahead of us, this will forever be etched in my mind as the day my son got hooked on hiking. And while we have struggled since and it is by no means a no hassle process to take on challenging and easy hikes alike, we now have that peak in our ridge of experiences to come back to as the trail ahead steepens. Wherever you are in your outdoor journey as a family, I encourage you to press forward knowing that one day the shared experience will be worth all the time you put in.
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We welcome you to check out our blog for more inspiration from a list of Ten Tips For Hiking Responsibly in the Days of COVID-19, get inspiration in the blog For A Teen (From A Teen) or helpful tips on 5 Tips To Nurture Your Partnership in light of social distancing.
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