What’s All This Small Hiker Stuff, Anyhow?

Feb. 1, 2011
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Solomon Pease

Jonathan Pease

Many readers ask me why I write so much about not-technical stuff. I reply that thinking about people and solving people problems can be quite challenging, and they may help us solve real technical problems—and then help us learn. Thus:

When our kids were 3 and 5, we decided to get them out for some serious hiking. We hiked them up Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire, and they really seemed to enjoy it. We shortly promised them, “You keep hiking like that, and next April we’ll take you down to the Grand Canyon,” which is some of the best hiking in the U.S.

They kept hiking, and they were good sports. (Education comprises so many things you never can learn in schools.) We also had to be careful to not wear them out or get them too miserable.

We took them backpacking to the Grand Canyon, hiking down the South Kaibab Trail from the south rim. When we came to some big dropoffs, hundreds of feet below the trail, at first we held little Jonathan’s hand—because he was not even 4 years old!

Very shortly we decided that this little mule was an extremely surefooted hiker, and we bade him a “Hike along!” and for sure he was very careful. (We already knew that.) After a while we saw him, about 15 minutes ahead of us, 300 feet below us, waiting at the mouth of the tunnel to the bridge over the Colorado River. It was quite dark, as the tunnel had a bend, so he waited for us. We did eventually catch up with him.

(No, we never saw Jonathan trip or fall. And who did turn his ankle? Me. I absentmindedly bent the hell out of my ankle, turned it, while carrying a 70-lb pack full of equipment and water, but it did no harm. I had no trouble keeping going.)

More Hikes With Kids
When our granddaughter Amelia was about 4, we went on a hike along a nice woodsy stream in Mill Valley, Calif. It was a good trail, and she was obviously a good hiker. But when the trail ambled up to 10 and 15 feet vertical above the stream bed, I got a bit nervous.

Now, a really nervous Nellie could have screamed, “Be careful, Amelia!” But I realized that easily could have had the exactly wrong effect. So, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t say boo. I wasn’t really nervous, but I was hiking behind her, and watching, and she continued to be a very competent, careful hiker. Even beside a little dropoff. No problems.

When Jonathan was about 12, we went for a walk on Candlestick Hill, which overlooks Candlestick Park in San Francisco. We circled around and followed a narrow trail, about 55 feet up. It circled along an old quarry, overlooking the ballpark. I’d never been there before. I was getting nervous.

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The trail got down to an inch or two wide, and I decided that, 55 feet above the ground, we would be better off to keep going than to try to turn around. I had confidence that he could follow me okay. And we made it. And it’s a good thing, because if I would have tried to hold his hand, and one of us would have fallen, we would both would have gotten wrecked. I don’t want to go back there, not even with a rope. Or two ropes.

A couple years ago, we took a four-hour day hike up above Reno. On the long, hot, slow hike back down, Amelia exclaimed, in a well-feigned sigh, “Oh, this so bad, I can’t walk any more... (sigh)....” And then she ran down the trail a couple hundred yards. I like that kind of attitude!

Memories Of Nepal
Back in 1997, we were ascending above Sekethom toward Ghunsa in Eastern Nepal, to get to Pangpema, the 16,000-foot base camp for Kangchenjunga. The trail was high and steep, with big dropoffs.

We came up near the tiny village of Amjillasa. There was a gravel-slide slope with some parts of a trail across it. For 100 yards above us, gravel was trying to slide down, and for 60 yards below us, the gravel slid down to a dropoff we could not see, but it was many hundreds of feet above the Ghunsa Khola.

We had to hike along a narrow trail out to where the trail ended, take one long step, take another long step, and resume the trail. Ahem. I don’t usually like that.

My wife took her two walking sticks, eased along nice and slow, and with the hand of one sherpa ahead, and one porter behind, she walked over just fine. I just hiked carefully, with my one walking stick, and got across just fine.

But one of the young (slight) women on this trek was pretty uncomfortable with this. (I don’t blame her. I was, too.) So one of the tough strong porters threw her over his shoulder and carried her across! So there’s another advantage of being young and not hefty. No, I did not get this on my camcorder. Sigh.

Hiking is good exercise for young people, but we have to be careful to not overdo it, nor wear them out excessively and discourage them. Just like other projects in life.

Comments invited! Beast rgrds. [email protected] —or:
R.A. Pease, 682 Miramar Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112-1232

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