Taking a Hike – Hiking with Kids

Find other activities to break up a hike.

Find other activities to break up a hike.

When I learned on September 22nd that my injured knee was going to need many weeks’ treatment with a wonder drug called rest, and that, consequently, I was facing another “Taking a Hike” column without actually taking a hike, I quickly thought “I’ll write about hiking with children” …

You can read the rest of my October “Taking a Hike” column at The Hour (Tips on hiking with children) and Hersam Acorn (Hiking with children: Be brave!). My wife liked it; you may too.

As for my knee, it made steady progress for a month. I got to take a couple of short, gentle hikes without problems. I got back on my bike. I did a little wood-splitting. Then, this past weekend, I felt the progress stop, even reverse. I am now being very cautious again. Even so, I am optimistic that November’s “Taking a Hike” will be back on the trails, gentle ones.

Lost in the Adirondacks

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

I have badly neglected the Hike List part of this site. In fact, I’m not sure that the list as it is currently conceived and structured is particularly interesting or useful. I am going to have to rethink it. But, in the meantime, I have added (under New York) notes for a 2010 backpack in the Dacks. It was in the company of my youngest daughter, then 10 years old. I don’t think she will ever forget it. I know I won’t.

It was the second afternoon of a three-day trek in the West Canada Lake Wilderness (nearest hamlet, Inlet). We had camped the previous night beside Brooktrout Lake, six miles into the wilderness from a trailhead at the end of miles of dirt road. That second day, we had hiked about ten miles and were on the Cedar Lakes Trail toward – most appropriately – Lost Pond. It was not a good trail, not wide or well-defined. In particular, its blazes were faded and erratic. There were blowdowns, fallen trunks that I suspect had taken blazes with them. We lost the trail once or twice, but soon found it again. This happens a lot when you hike in the woods, even in familiar places. Then, a few hours before sunset, we lost the trail and didn’t find it again.

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

Using the amount of time we had been hiking on Cedar Lakes Trail, I calculated we were on a particular half-mile section of it. If we bushwhacked north, we would – said the map – run into either Lost Pond or Otter Brook in no more than a quarter-mile, and from either of those features the Lost Pond spur trail would be easily found. Everything is simple on maps.

We followed the red needle of our compass into the woods. It was no easy procession even for a grown-up. The forest was a jumble of spiky blowdowns, ankle-snaring brush, and face-smacking twigs; but we did reach, and cross barefoot, a stream I took to be Otter Brook. The spur trail had to be just a short way ahead. When it didn’t show in the dusk, I was not too worried. We found a space in the forest’s clutter and made camp. We had planned to overnight at Lost Pond anyway. Snug in my sleeping bag, I studied the map by flashlight and fell asleep confident that we would find the trail quickly in the morning by walking north, uphill.

But the trail didn’t show in the morning either. We tried re-crossing the brook to search the south side again. We thought we saw blazes on trees, only to find they were natural stains. We crossed back to the north side, this time not bothering to take our boots off for Otter Brook. I did not fear for our lives. We had food, and shelter from the rain that was starting to fall. My wife knew our route and would raise the alarm when we did not call her that afternoon. But I did fear we would need help to get out, and for the first time in my life I blew my whistle and hollered. No answer. I knew I had to stay calm if I wanted Marjorie to do the same, and to her immense credit she held together, breaking down only once, and briefly, when she slipped on a streamside rock and hurt her tush.

Trail found!

Trail found!

Then, suddenly, it was over. Trying a northerly search again, we saw a vaguely linear thinning of the forest, and wondered if it might prove a trail. We followed it west, hoping. Its trail attributes grew – width, continuity, and eventually a rusty marker tacked to a tree. Four or five hours later, we were bombing down 1-90, and, boy, did it look good.

A.T. Journeys – Trail Stories: A Trail Unbroken

AT Journeys Nov-Dec

I have enjoyed AT Journeys, the magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, for eight years now, first in print and now electronically. It is old-fashioned in a nice way. Its articles assume the reader is prepared to, well, read; it’s cleanly presented; it showcases fantastic photographs; the ads don’t overrun the content. Anyway, early in the summer, I sent the magazine a short article about how the AT became a part – a small but valued part – of our family life since we came to Connecticut. I am delighted to say they have just published it as A Trail Unbroken (their title). If I have set this up correctly, clicking here should open a PDF of the relevant pages. I hope you enjoy it.

The Acropolis of the Log Drivers

Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park As promised, August’s article for The Hour was about hikes my youngest daughter and I took in Quebec this summer, and in particular the slog up L’Acropole des Draveurs to “the best views east of the Rockies”. As usual, I have linked to the new article on the Taking a Hike page, and made another older piece (in this case May’s “Blazing the NRVT”) available in full via the drop-down menu. The views in the Charlevoix region of Quebec really were magnifique and I will post more photos on Facebook this week (“McWilliams Takes a Hike”). In the meantime,  to the left is another view of L’Acropole’s splendid cliffs.

The Old Man of Hoy

Mountains of Hoy from Stromness, OrkneyMy most recent trail time was all about trail building. My impending escapes are all about trail maintenance. Mostly I have had my head down in front of a computer. Now, working a bow saw and loppers, even typing words, is just fine, but I have a strong desire for a long, mind-clearing, limb-stretching hike. I’ve decided to take it in the Orkney Islands.

I can’t go to Orkney, of course, not physically. It is 3,000 miles away – planes, trains, automobiles, days and bucks away. But I can go in memory. What use are memories if we can’t call on them when we need them? To help me along I have an Ordnance Survey map and not as many photos as I should have.

Stromness, Orkney IslandsThe hike took place in mid-July 2011. It was just me and my youngest daughter. Since she was born with the millennium, she was 11 years old then – just. Our trip to Scotland had brought us to Stromness, the second biggest town of the Orkney Islands. The islands are 10 miles north of the far-north coast of the mainland. Stromness was a beautiful place to leave from – a lively harbor town of winding streets and alleys. We could see the mountains of Hoy from our campground on the edge of town, across placid Hoy Sound.

We got to Hoy on an open passenger ferry. I realized on board that I’d left our camera in Stromness, I hoped in the trunk of the car. We planned to do a circuit of the northwest of Hoy, camping overnight at the hamlet of Rackwick. This divided our hike into two unequal parts – a long moor and cliff walk, and a shorter glen walk. I asked Marjorie which she wanted to do first. She chose the wild side. I think that summed up her approach to the hike. She was positive, but also had a let’s-get-this-over-with determination.

The things I remember most:

  • Sweating up the steep, midge-infested hill called Cuilags.
  • Being dive-bombed by “Bonxies” (Great Skuas) between Cuilags and the cliffs.
  • The mist coming down before we reached the cliff edge, and being left with palpable but invisible chasm just to the right of our steps.
  • Descending from the mist to see the Old Man.
  • The fantastic place-names of this once-Norwegian isle – Lounders Fea, Tuaks of the Boy, Geo of Hellia, Aikel of Flett.

The Old Man of Hoy, Hoy, OrkneyThere, hiking has served its purpose again – renewal, and in this instance second time around. I’ll have to do the limb-stretching later. Oh, and in case there is any doubt, the Old man is the sea stack in the picture to the left (taken from the ferry back to mainland Scotland two days later).

Hiking with Children

“My kids loved going on hikes! They always chattered eagerly as we got our gear ready, and again      in the car to the trailhead. They walked briskly, alert to everything around them, breaking off only to clamber on rocks, study a sunbathing snake, or ask if we could stay out a bit longer today.” Or:

“The announcement of a hike brought about an atmosphere of sour acceptance, and filled the car with tense silence all the way to the woods. I got tired of stopping on the trail to urge the kids to keep up, of answering ‘how much further is it?’ again, and of laces being tied for the 50th time in 100 yards. Things only livened up when someone screamed when she nearly stepped on a snake.”

Take your pick. Hiking with kids can go either way, often on the same hike.Sentinel Mountain

I got thinking about this after listening to a man last week who took his young children on truly great adventures. I’ll return to him in another post. Right now my train of thought is running to Sentinel Mountain.

A while after our youngest daughter was born I took the older girls away for a few days to give mom peace and quiet with the new arrival, and to give the “big” girls a break from our baby-dominated home. (There was nothing in this for me, you understand.) We went to Maine – mid-coast, then Acadia National Park, and finally Baxter State Park. I considered my daughters – at 7 and 5 years  – too young for Mount Katahdin, but wanted to climb something with them. So we set off for Sentinel Mountain. It was a rough trail – lots of roots and rocks, and of course a climb. We talked about the bears that were surely in the woods around us. It all became a bit too much for the younger girl in particular. There was sobbing (hers, not mine). But here’s the thing. When we clambered onto the summit, and the trees finally gave way, the girls broke into fulsome wows, and looked over the miles of empty country they had walked with immense pride.

Which brings me to my simple advice about hiking with children – do it! Take them with you. Look after them (stops, compliments, even food and water if they have been good), but make it clear that they had better get on with enjoying it, because no amount of whining will make you turn around. They will rise to the occasion.