By Ben Nephew
After I posted the photos from this hike, Joe asked me to write something about the trip to give an example of what you can do with your kids in terms of hiking. Both Steph (my wife) and I are obviously big fans of getting outside with the kids as much as possible, which can be hard to do these days with work schedules, trips to see family (which often provides opportunity), and trying to fit in our own exercise time.
Given the popularity of organized sports these days, we are always debating if we should get Gavin; our 7 year old son, more involved in team sports or allow more time for hikes and other disorganized activities. Gavin and I were lucky enough to be invited up to our friend’s condo in Loon Mountain New Hampshire to go hiking this past weekend. Rory is one of Gavin’s best friends, and the Weston’s happen to also like to hike quite a bit. Rory’s Dad, Liam, has much more hiking, backpacking, and climbing experience than I do, so he is probably more suited to provide advice on gear preparation for hikes with small kids. He had a full survival kit in his pack, which became a bit of a problem when Rory asked to get out the bivy bag!
For hikes similar to this Osceola trek, it is best to slowly work up through shorter hikes to build both mental and physical endurance, as well as interest. While it can really slow things down sometimes, allowing kids to explore and get distracted during hikes is helpful in stimulating interest. At least with Gavin, I’ve found that he favors more technically challenging routes, and is more motivated the harder the trail. However, I would like to keep the risks reasonable and not experience massive failure on a hike that is beyond his ability.
For this past weekend, after some feedback from my trail running friends and a lot of guessing, we picked Mount Osceola. The other option was the Flume Liberty loop, but that went out window with the unsettled weather forecast. The Flume loop is more dangerous when wet, and has more exposure, elevation, and mileage. The goal was to find something challenging, as well as possible and fun. The Osceola route from the northern trailhead of the Greeley Pond trail is about 7.5 miles with 3100’ of climbing. This would not be Gavin’s longest hike in terms of mileage, but it would be more climbing than he has ever done. Rory had already done the Franconia Ridge loop, so I was confident he could handle any of the options. With a forecast of 40-50F and potential for rain, we packed rain coats, plenty of warm clothes, and hoped for some luck with the weather. The gear available today, even for kids, is so nice that it is hard to justify bad weather as an excuse not to head out.
The first 1.3 miles on the Greeley Pond trail were easy, and the boys were excited to be in the woods. We then turned onto the Osceola trail, which climbs about 2k in just 1.5 miles to East Peak. Not long after we reached the start of the steep section, it started to rain. Rory and Gavin didn’t mind it much, and Liam and I tried to figure out the right time to get their raincoats on. Even when the rain got harder, the boys had no thoughts about heading down. However, as the climb went on and on, Gavin started to tire, and the pace lagged. Rory was great about staying with us, but I started to wonder if we might need to turn back at East Peak.
As the rain picked up, and we had been hiking for 3 hours by the time we summited East, I looked at Liam, and it was clear that we were both thinking of heading back down to the car. As I went to tell Gavin, I realized he had started walking towards the main summit. He still didn’t seem to be that excited about hiking, but he clearly wanted to get to the main summit, and we followed his lead. I didn’t ask him if he was OK, I just let him hike along at his own pace. While he was still tired, he turned things around completely on the summit ridge trail, and was back to having fun as we climbed a near vertical chimney in the rain.
By the time we reached the cloud-shrouded top, the boys were having a blast, even with the complete lack of views. You couldn’t see more than 30 - 40 feet. To be honest, if it had really started to pour at that point, 4 hours from the car, things would have gotten a bit rough, but the forecast was for afternoon clearing. That didn’t happen, but the rain during the descent wasn’t that bad. The boys had a great time on the descent, taking their time on the steep, wet terrain, and there were no major falls. On that trail, with the amount of chatter that was going on, that was impressive.
It would have been a major accomplishment just getting to East Peak, but the boys thoroughly appreciated completing the entire hike. The next day, when Gavin and I were enjoying a much easier hike up Welch and Dickey mountains with great weather and incredible views, he admitted that he was scared on the Osceola hike. I was even more impressed with his effort.
Kids can tolerate more than some people give them credit for, and challenging them to do something that they might not be ready for can have many benefits, even if they struggle and/or fail. They will not only survive the ordeal, but they will be better for it in the long run. Persistence and resilience require training, and long hikes may be ideal training for both. I’m just wondering what kind of hikes we are going to be doing when Rory and Gavin are 12 to challenge them.