I share this story of climbing Camel’s Hump in Vermont as part of the Celebrate Travel blog carnival, which this month honors Earth Day and the first successful North Pole Expedition with tales of adventure. This month’s carnival is being hosted by WanderMom – stop by and check out the stories from other travel bloggers.
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So the first thing you need to know is that while I consider myself an adventurer, I don’t actually have tons of evidence to prove that this is true other than the simple fact that I’ve gone a bunch of places with my kids. Sure I’ll get up and go at a moment’s notice, and yes, I did travel with a one-year-old for 13 months but our peregrinations were to the safe confines of places like Austin and New Haven. We never spent a night without running water or even in a country with a culture markedly different from our own. And although we love to hike and bicycle, we aren’t a big camping family. My husband Matt prefers the comfort of a bed to sleeping in a tent and up until now I’ve been too lazy to borrow all the gear we’d need to spend a night sleeping under the stars.
Before you cry “poser” I’d like to say that I believe that adventure is in the eye of the beholder. For me, a critical criterion that makes an trip an adventure is at least a little bit of fear – of the unknown, of danger, or perhaps simply of flying insects. This means stepping outside of your comfort zone into a place you’ve never been before emotionally, even if you have experienced it physically. And so it was that I discovered my own adventure on a Vermont mountain that I’d hiked many times before I had children.
Camel’s Hump was a day hike, but it certainly felt like an adventure to 10-year-old Tommy and 7-year-old Teddy. Although we’ve been climbing mountains with the kids since they were babies, this was the longest and hardest hike we’d ever attempted with them: About 12 miles round trip, with some steep climbs on the way up. It was a warm day and the forest wore its late summer green and we met a few friends on the way up including this satisfyingly fat, chartreuse fellow.
The reason Camel’s Hump is a well-known mountain in Vermont is that the top is above the treeline and has the distinctive dromedary-like shape. There’s rare arctic vegetation on clinging to the rock here and a National Park Service ranger is perched there all summer long to warn people off walking on it. It is very popular because of the 360-degree views that it offers, and can feel a bit like a parking lot on summer weekends.
But the day we were there, only a couple of other groups joined us and we had it mostly to ourselves in the company of the bearded ranger and a renegade chipmunk.
I had forgotten just how exposed the top is, how it has edges that one can walk to, peer over, and, hypothetically, fall off of. I was surprised to feel my chest clench as we wound our way up the last bit of path. Alarms were going off in my brain, telling me to get the boys down off that mountain, pronto. Of course, having worked so hard to reach the peak, all they wanted to do was get as far away from me and as close to the edge as they possibly could.
Trying to look casual, I glanced at Matt. He didn’t seem bothered in the least. But I couldn’t stop myself. “Teddy!” I called out sharply. “Come away from there, back toward the middle. Stay on the painted rock, that’s the trail.” My voice sounded strange and thin to me, and Teddy looked surprised before obeying – sort of. He changed his course and headed for a different edge, this one a bit further away.
For the next twenty minutes I found myself haranguing the boys and Matt as I like to think I’ve never done before, calling them both back from the edge until they all started to mock me by standing or sitting deliberately close to it.
An unreasoning fear had me in its grip and I felt taunted, alone. I snapped some photographs, yelled some more at the boys. Matt looked at me wonderingly and I could tell that he had no idea why I was so frightened. Had he asked, I’m not sure I could have told him. I tried to breathe, to enjoy the view, but it was impossible.
I almost cried with relief when we started our descent.
The return hike seemed twice as long. Tommy became convinced halfway down that we’d someone gotten onto the wrong trail despite the fact that we were going down the same way we came up. At some point we stopped for a break and to make some headbands out of bark. We drank water, and the boys danced around in their funny headdresses.
I realized that without any real discussion, they had all forgiven me for my primal lapse.
I also realized that this was probably the first of many times I will watch in utter panic from behind as my children approach the edge and peer over. “Don’t you think you should come back?” I’ll call to them “It’s not safe.” And they will laugh and say, “But that’s what makes it an adventure Mom!” And they will be right.
Like this post? You might also enjoy our Celebrate Travel carnival from last month, when we honored National Umbrella Day.