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Climbing Mt. Monadnock with the Kids

Posted on June 08 2009

My wife and I love to camp, and until we had kids, we were avid hikers. We once spent six weeks driving across the country from campsite to campsite, and were able to visit 15+ national parks. We lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for a summer, working on field crews doing animal surveys (salamanders for me, birds for my wife), and at the end of that summer I was probably in the best shape of my life. Once the kids arrived on the scene, however, the frequency with which we participated in these activities dropped to near zero.

Our one and only camping trip in the past 5 years took place last summer, and after a smooth first night, disaster struck on day 2 when it started raining and our tent sprung several leaks. Needless to say, we packed up camp and raced home rather than roughing it through a wet night with with a 2 and 4 year old in a tent. This past winter, we were desperate to find a solution to our camping dilemma, and we decided to do the unthinkable and buy a tent/pop-up trailer (see picture at right). This weekend, we took our maiden voyage.

Our destination was Swanzey Lake Campground in SW New Hampshire, and we chose this spot due to its proximity to Mt. Monadnock, billed as the second most frequently hiked mountain in the world after Mt. Fuji. The campground was nice, and I have to admit that I love the pop-up. We were sandwiched in between tenters and seasonal RV folks, and owning a pop-up seems to have put us into some sort of weird limbo between these two groups (a position I’m not too comfortable with quite yet). The kids had a blast, and Jack the dog made himself at home on his first camping trip.

The highlight of the trip was our hike up Mt. Monadnock. It’s about two miles from the visitor’s center parking lot to the top, and we figured that we would go as far as we could until the kids got tired. Amazingly, we wound up making it well above the tree-line, and to within less than a quarter mile of the summit. My son revealed a rock climbing skill that I didn’t know he possessed, and he seemed to thrive on the steepest portions of the trail (see the little red speck on the image to the right!), and wain when the terrain flattened out. I’m proud to report that he climbed over 1500 feet up the White Dot trail without any help from me or my wife. My daughter, who is only 3, also did an amazingly good job for her age, though my wife and I took turns carrying her for a good chunk of the hike (both up and down). I was very thankful that I had just finished a marathon training cycle, as I don’t think I would have been able to handle the steep hike with a 35lb child in my arms without the punishment I had just put my body through. I’m not sure I would recommend this hike to everyone that has kids – it does get quite steep in spots, but I’m glad we did it and it provided huge confidence builder for my son. I keep trying to put myself in the shoes of a 5-year-old boy climbing what must have seemed like Mt. Everest – I’m sure he’ll never forget the experience!

My only regret from the hike is that we didn’t reach the summit. We made it to within about 10 minutes of the top (less than 1/4 mile) according to passing hikers (though they clearly didn’t understand how much longer things take with small kids!), but the last bit was steep and the kids were getting really tired. We opted not to push it, and turned back down, taking the White Cross trail on the return trip. It was easier coming down than going up, and my daughter actually wanted to walk much of the way. My son preferred to slide down the rocks on his butt, and a few other passing adult hikers tried to emulate his technique with questionable success – I think it helps to be a 5-year old with seemingly zero body fat when attempting something like this.

Anyway, we reached the bottom with burning quads and headed into Keene, NH for a well earned ice cream. I think the incentive of a banana split at the end was a major motivating factor for the kids, and I was happy to oblige given the effort put forth and surprising lack of complaining from either of them (they’re at an age where complaining/whining/fighting are standard forms of communication). I think these kids like to camp and hike, which makes mom and dad very happy, and hopefully this summer will be filled with further adventures like this!

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