Kids in the Woods

I grew up exploring the creeks, ponds and dense woodsy patches of small-town Western New York. Annual summer vacations entailed family expeditions into Northeastern Canada, the St. Lawrence Seaway and sometimes a train museum or Cooperstown. No,we weren’t carving summer turns in the Tetons or bagging 14ers, but every morning I heard our old canvas tent unzip a new day, it was an adventure of the highest order. 

A child’s sense of what’s wild doesn’t recognize elevation or rapid class. Everything is awesome and daring and the best ever. Just as a towel tucked into our collar allowed us to rocket through the ozone, sometimes all it takes is the thinnest of tree stands or a few boulders on an Adirondack summit to scar a child with a permanent sense of wanting to see what else is out there. My buddy Kirk is doing what he can to make that happen for his kids. Seems he’s half-way there. 

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I know that most of the focus here is on the big boy west coast trails. However, those of us here in the East have our share of fun outside as well. I am lusting after some time in Acadia, the White Mountains, and the Great Smokies. However, due to the commitments of my day job and the two kids we raise these haven’t been possible yet.

We do have the Adirondack Park. This is the six million acre playground that is a day’s drive from anywhere in upstate NY. There are forty-six peaks over 4,000 feet tall and many others just shy of that. I have been taking the boys there since birth. I know that to a west coastie, a 4,000 foot climb is a foot hill. However, many of these have steep elevation gains and conditions can turn on a dime. I have been on Whiteface in May and had a snow storm whip through and freeze my eye lashes.

Our latest trip took us to the Central region of the park. Although I would have loved to be in the Lake Placid/High Peaks, it was Ironman USA week. This is when the prices are tripled and the Euro donkeys are everywhere. As a loud mouthed ginger American it is best to avoid the drama.

I have tried to gradually introduce the boys to climbing, paddling, and hiking. There have been no Bataan death marches because I believe that turns them off. My older son, at 12-years-old, has been bitten by the bug and is craving a 46er patch, which will signify his summiting of all the previously mentioned peaks and result in recognition from the ADK. The younger one, 11-years-old, is game too but needs a little motivation to get going.

For our climbs, we chose Blue Mountain at 3,759 ft. and 2, 500 ft. Chimney Mt. I chose both for distinguishing features that would appeal to the boys. Blue has a fire tower at the summit, which allows for breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding lakes and all the way to the high peaks.  We had an 80-degree but clear day so our views were unspoiled by fog and cloud cover. This has happened to us before. After a two hour slog up rocks, it sucks when you can’t see anything.

I knew that the heat would be an issue, so I broke the budget and bought Camelbacks for the kids. It was amazing how a little cool, new gear can get them to forge on without complaining. The stops to retrieve their water bottles were eliminated. We had lunch on the summit and a great view from the fire tower.

We also met the perfect example of the “how not to climb with kids” family. They were from New Jersey, judging from their accents and dad’s “New Jersey Trail Series” t-shirt. Mom was clearly a motivated “mom-in-motion” type with her running skirt, tank top, and straight out of Title Nine running hat. We first met them while taking a rest to the side of the trail. Mom was pushing her pre-teen daughter to pass us. I could see the competitive fire in her visage. I had chosen the spot on purpose because I knew there was a steep push waiting for us in the next section of trail.

As luck would have it, we came upon the suburban gold medalists not longer after our break. Daughter was now crying, son panting, Dad clearly impatient and Mom drill sergeanting all of them. I thought the daughter was done and we passed silently, trying not to make eye contact. Miraculously, they passed us again about a half an hour later. Daughter had rallied and was temporarily tear free. The smug look at me from Ms. Steinem of the Hills told me everything I needed to know.

We came across them again just short of the summit. Daughter was alone this time, crying again. Mom had violated the “no man left behind” credo. It turned out that Dad was just around the corner and waiting. He heard the smarmy comment made by my wife and was probably embarrassed. We did see them later on the summit, a little less cocky.

The Chimney climb was a bit more adventurous for my tribe. Just finding the trailhead required driving through some banjo-themed backwoods. We made it there and I would hope that if you go you have a sturdy ride that will not break down. Or you’ll be in for a sturdy ride. (Sorry.) Although it was only 2,500 feet to the summit, the gain was over a mile, so it took some work. The majority of the trails in the ADK region are glacial rock so things get slick when it rains. We scratched and clawed our way up. The young one was pretty crabby until we made it to the namesake formation, a fantastic collection of boulders and peak debris with an unknown number of caves, crevices and chances for bouldering. The boys spent at least an hour scrambling around, Mt. Marcy revealed itself in the distance.

What I took from the latest experience is this: With a little planning, outdoor novices and kids alike can have a great time in the woods. I chose the climbs for their relative ease and reward. Climbing for hours to get to an obstructed and tree-filled summit can be un-fulfilling and enough to leave doubters second-guessing the appeal of the great outdoors. Spend a little money (Camlebacks, head lamps, etc.), do some extra planning, and the next generation will not wilt in front of an XBOX.

Kids from Jersey notwithstanding.

 

Rafters Gone Wild river event honors all things white trash


Last year my wife and I went off to Sequoia National Forest for a long weekend. Clearly tens of thousands of others had the same idea.

On County 521 in Kernville, we couldn’t help but notice a miles long riverside camping rave underway along the river. Tents were hastily erected stake to stake in treeless roadside culverts, garbage was piled to the side of already burping dumpsters and more than a few errant inflatables were bouncing and floating aimlessly into traffic, not unlike many of the revelers. Barbed-wire bicep tats and bad suspension lifts. A Barstow beach party.

It looked a lot like this.

We snaked our way up the mountain without verbalizing the collective fear that our campground would reflect the scene along the river. It did.

I’m not going to pretend that camping hasn’t long been as much of an excuse to commune with illicit substances as it has been a reason to cook s’mores. Guilty as charged. But at what point do we cross the line? Is there even a line?

I’d like to think what happened in Sacramento was a bit much. We seem to be having a harder time cooperating in groups these days. Add to the mixture of machismo and Pabst an additive of the unrestrained, un-walled great outdoors and there’s a good chance someone is going to end up in the fire.

It’s for these reasons that I no longer camp with groups of people, unless I know they’re part an organization that is outside for the outside, not as an excuse to rage-drink their shitty job/lousy marriage/money troubles into a blur of nature trampeling stupidity.

Sad thing is, there’s no stopping it. We can only distance ourselves from it. Like the skiers and boarders who deem resort trails the domain of noobs, I suppose I’m at the same point with developed campgrounds. Have your flush toilets and couch fires, I’m going camping.

Why aren’t you wearing a Wild Fire Tee?

Not only are these shirts seriously cool, they help the firefighters and supporting organizations of the numerous blazes tearing through the Centennial State. A number of artists and marketing firms rallied to assemble a collection of crag-and-bar-ready designs that have genuine purpose beyond collecting fish taco debris and chalk dust.

Pony up sucka.