Aug 08 2008

Profile Image of Walt

Backpacking with Kaylee

Posted at 9:14 am under Blog Post

Although Kaylee had camped in the woods in years past, she had never climbed a major mountain or backpacked any significant distance. A few days ago, we changed that. With walking stick in hand and an adult pack tugging at her shoulders, my 11-year-old granddaughter followed me and my dog up the Emily Proctor Trail, deep into the Breadloaf Wilderness.

While the trail ran flat in places, it was a steady uphill climb for the most part – three and a half miles to the Emily Proctor Shelter. Halfway up the trail, we forded the headwaters of the New Haven River. Usually an ankle-deep stream, it was a torrent thanks to all the rain that had fallen in previous weeks. We crossed barefoot to keep our footwear dry. Kaylee’s pants were wet to mid-thigh by the time we reached the other side.

About a mile shy of the shelter, the wet, muddy trail steepened considerably. I started huffing and puffing; Kaylee bore it all stoically even though her sneakers were soaked. “The shelter can’t be that far ahead,” I kept saying, but secretly I feared that we’d taken on too much of a hike and my young woodswoman’s spirit would be broken by it.

The two fiftyish women hanging out at the Emily Proctor Shelter were surprised when Kaylee popped into the clearing with girlish buoyancy. They had hiked up the trail earlier so they knew how hard it was. Kaylee and I chatted with them briefly, then found a tent platform not too far away where we set up camp for the night. I cooked dinner on my stove. Kaylee wanted a campfire but I pointed out that the surrounding woods were so wet that it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Kaylee noticed how fast the clouds were moving overhead. I explained how they gain speed as they cross over the mountains and how quickly the weather can change as a consequence. She soon found out for herself. When she left the tent to pee around midnight, the sky was full of stars – more than she’d ever seen before. Her second time out, she was in a dense, boreal fog. At daybreak the sky was partly blue, then dark clouds appeared out of nowhere and it drizzled.

Ours was an easy ascent to the summit of Mt. Wilson only a few hundred feet higher than our camp. We perched at the lookout around mid-morning. There we watched some clouds roll over the ridge then drop into the valley below. “Amazing,” was all Kaylee could say. That’s when I knew that the difficult climb the day before had not been in vain.

I patched Kaylee’s blisters as we descended the Emily Proctor Trail and tried to lighten her pack when it started digging into her shoulders. I made a mental note to get her real hike boots and other appropriate gear in the near future. It was now clear to me that she was into backpacking.

After recrossing the stream, we fished for trout without success. That, fatigue, and the threat of rain made us change our plans. We had intended to camp a second night along the river, but hiking out and having dinner at Friendly’s suddenly seemed like a better idea. The flash floods that struck the area the next day assured me that we had made the wiser choice.

“You’re lucky,” the two women at the shelter had said to me. I had agreed. You can’t beat the company of an open-eyed child on the trail. The sense of wonder that one feels in the wild erodes over time, but the fire burning strong in young hearts can rekindle it. I only hope that my creaky, old knees hold up as I backpack with Kaylee in the years ahead. After all, she is just beginning to explore the world and I want to be there for as much of it as possible.

No responses yet

Comments are closed at this time.