Standing in the dusty parking lot, waiting for Alex to attach a few straggler items to the outside of his pack, I had a stern talking to myself. “Jenna, while the hope is Cas will hike the entire way in, you need to surrender to the fact that at one mile in, you’ll be gaining 40 pounds.” This would be Cas’s first backpacking trip where he’d be on his own two feet…for the entire way.
Every year for the past ten years I have attempted to get access to the Alpine Lakes Wilserness Enchantments and for most of those years, I’ve been unsuccessful. Access is dependent upon a lottery system where you must choose specific dates and choose a zone (four zones total) where you will be camping for the entirety of your stay. I support this system completely because it limits access, allowing for less exposure to degradation (aka àssholes leaving cliff bar wrappers for the goats to eat). This year was the second year where a group of friends shared their passes. Leading up to this trip, Cas had always been attached to my back while I carried a front pack. The Enchantments are everything their name implies. I’ve been to many parts of the Alps, and the Enchantments hold their own. Alex and I couldn’t think of a better trip for Cas to look back on and say “I hiked into that place when I was four, no big deal.” Even if he didn’t remember the details, this trip had the potential to help Cas acquire the confidence he needed.
*Just a brief interruption: I believe children are people, fully capable of feeling everything adults do with the caveat they are unable to assign labels to those feelings (however, I know many adults who can’t name or cope with their feelings). Their reactions are valid and their responses are justified. When I pay reference to Cas’s character and the emotions that help shape it, it is with the utmost sincerity and belief that he is a whole person, not a lower link in the hierarchy chain of society.
Five miles with 2500 elevation gain would take Alex and I two hours by ourselves. With Cas, we figured doubling that would be sufficient. His three foot frame has to work so much harder to step up onto logs and cross creeks and his stride is so much shorter. We mentally prepared ourselves for the slowness and came up with an aresenal of trail games to distract Cas from the seemingly endless task. We buckled our top straps and tightened our waist belts to form the obligatory muffin tops and headed into the forest.
Mile one came and went without a single “how many more minutes until we’re at the top?” For a brief moment Alex and I fantasized about our son’s future as a professional mountaineer and all of the elite apparel and gear we’d be receiving from his sponsors. “Mom, Arcteryx just gave me this entire wardrobe and it’s all in women’s small, who could it possibly fit?” Just then, my fantasy was interrupted by a piercing sound that many parents recognize as a whine, “I’m tired.”
By the third mile and numerous rounds of I Spy, Cas was in serious need of a break. I know what you are thinking, “you haven’t given your four year old a break? Monsters!” Breaks were offered but this kid was proving to be a beast. At this point this three foot person with a bowl-cut was passing full grown adults on his way up the mountain. My dream, I mean his dream, was looking promising as he nipped at the heels of sweaty, panting adults. Cas decided a five minute break was all he needed. Six skittles, one chunk of homemade jerkey and a gulp of peanut butter; he was ready to charge on. As we passed hikers, Cas would greet them with “I spy wif my wittle eye, something gween .” Tree, leaf, moss, this tree, that tree, this leaf, that moss?
The heat began to nag at us. Day time temperature high was 89 degrees and we were just about there. Soon Cas’s will to hike began to melt and we were nearly out of power pellets (skittles). Each switchback felt like one insult after the next. As we reached the top of a shelf overlooking cascading peaks, Cas dropped to the ground and started to cry. Pure and utter emptiness. He was mush and Alex and I were the mashers. A group of five hikers were lunching on the other side of the shelf when they heard Cas’s yelps. Two older women walked over to Cas and said “we feel the same way.” They attempted to consul him by assuring him the end was near, just another half mile and he’d be at the top. Cas had already been told that by another group of hikers two miles prior to this. While I held Cas and tried to coarace him into drinking water, I couldn’t help but laugh at the lady’s statement. How many times have I been told, “you’re almost there, just another mile” and the true distance was much further. Some hikers feel an innate need to say it, while others feel desperate to ask. Most of he time, the distance is inaccurate and even if it is accurate, people move at different paces. This was Cas’s first exposure to this backcountry phenomena and I felt compelled to let him believe it. Once his tears dried up and he ate the last of the skittles, Cas uttered the most dreadful words “can you hold me, mama?” Oh dear god. This was a six day trip which meant we had six days worth of gear and food for three people stuffed into two packs. Alex and I are proficient packers with years of practice for various trips, but fitting one more persons junk, even if they are only four, makes it so much more difficult. My fifty pound pack pulled on my shoulders, but it was clear, Cas was done. “Surrrrre.”
Alex and I rotated carrying the 40 pound pile of butter for twenty minutes until we decided Cas should try to finish the last 1/4 mile. With minimal whining, Cas slowly trudged on. As we peaked over the last hill, the forest opened up and we saw blue. Cas yelled, making some guttural beastly sound that clearly came from the bowels of his exhausted state and said “that was easy.”