Yesterday my son Alex (age 8) and his best friend Alden (age 9) completed their first 4000 footer climb in the White Mountains. We have set a soft goal for them to complete the 48 4000 Footers by the time they enter high school. I originally got into blogging years ago when I started Adventure With Alex to share trip suggestions and tips on hiking with infants and toddlers. When Alex was too big to carry up mountains I suspended that blog to focus more on Northeast Alpine Start. Now that he is embarking on this endeavor we will share our trip reports and lessons learned here. Our hope is to help others on similar paths learn from our successes and our mistakes as we work on this challenge together. So without further ado here is my report on our first 4k and some of the challenges we needed to manage, like pooping in the woods and arcophobia (fear of heights), and how we managed both.
July 21st, 2020 Mt Jackson (Elevation 4’052)
Around 9 am we pulled into the AMC Highland Center for last minute use of facilities. Everyone was encouraged to try and “go” even if they didn’t feel they needed to. Alex would later share he was hesitant to use the public bathroom after a few months of exercising increased awareness due to COVID. By 9:20 we were on the Webster-Jackson trail.
We passed the Elephant Head Spur trail and minutes later Alex started to complain about stomach pain. I let him know it could be early hike “nerves” since he was questioning his ability to climb a bigger mountain (his previous biggest hike was Mount Chocurua via Champney Falls Trail), or he might need to make a BM. He decided to push on.
By the time we reached the short side path to Bugle Cliff he told me he had to go. We found a bit of privacy about 200 feet from the trail and I coached him on the methods we use for handling this necessity of nature. Despite feeling like he had to go fear of someone seeing him prevented him from success and he decided to get back to hiking. He reported the stomach pain had subsided a bit, so maybe it was just nerves.
When we reached Flume Cascade Brook the discomfort was back and he wanted to try again. We again found some privacy 200 feet from the trail and brook and had another failed attempt to have a “movement”. Back on the trail we continued up to the Webster/Jackson split, and took the Jackson branch.
About a mile from the split the trail steepens and we were faced with the second big challenge of our trip.
My wife has pretty acute arcophobia (fear of heights). The AMC White Mountain Guidebook describes this section of trail as “ascends steep ledges, with several fairly difficult scrambles”. This would be considered “Class 2” terrain by the Sierra Clubs hiking classification system (occasional use of hands necessary). The boys and our dog Jack were handling the scrambles with just a bit of coaching and spotting. My wife Michelle though was quickly experiencing a lot of emotional stress as a result of her arcophobia.
I could see in her face and by her body positioning she was stressed. What might feel like casual scrambling for many was something very different for her. I tried to offer some help, but I also knew she sometimes does not like me talking to her while she figures out how to make progress. Only 100 feet from the summit she was ready to quit, close to tears, and terrified of the prospect of having to come back down this way. My son and I encouraged her to finish the next 100 feet with us as there might be an easier way back down.
On the summit the celebration waited while both Michelle and Alex rested. Alex was a bit distraught as he knew his mother had been scared on the last section. After some hugs and talking we ate some lunch and I consulted the map. It was 12:50 pm. It had taken us 3 and a half hours to summit against a “book time” of 2:25. That extra hour was due to two lengthy attempts at having a BM, and multiple more small breaks that are not part of my usual hiking pace. For future reference I’m noting that we averaged a “Munter Rate*” of 3.
While the shortest way back to the trail head is back down the Jackson branch, I knew my wife would really struggle with some of the “difficult scrambles” she had made it up. I looked closely at the contour lines under the Webster Cliff Trail and the Webster branch. They were not as close as the contour lines under the Jackson branch, which meant it should be a less steep option. This would add a mile to our trip, but likely be less of a down-scramble than the Jackson branch. As a group we discussed this option and reached consensus that we should add this mileage, and likely an hour to our day, if it meant less technical.
We left the summit of Jackson at 1:12 pm and started down the Webster Cliff Trail. Soon after leaving the summit we reached a bit of a scramble, but it was not as bad as the scrambles at the end of the Jackson branch. We slowly negotiated it then hit the relatively easy walking ridge that connects over to Mt Webster. A mother Quail and two of her chicks held us up for a moment while they sat in the middle of the trail. Just before reaching the Webster branch trail junction Alex told me it was time, he had to go.
We made our way off trail to a secluded spot. With some effort Alex was finally able to move his bowels. We buried his waste and packed out the used wipes in a Ziploc and rejoined Michelle, Alden, and Jack on the trail. Relieved to not have stomach pain anymore we ate some candy and started down the Webster branch happy to be heading in the direction of the trail head now.
At 3:50 we reached the beautiful cascade and pool that is part of Silver Cascade Brook. I couldn’t resist a quick swim and jumped in. The water was cold and crisp and while I would be hiking the rest of the way in soaked shorts and trail shoes it was 100% worth it.
The rest of the way out was a bit slow going. Michelle’s right knee was hurting, feeling worse than her left knee that she injured a few years ago. This was her first significant hike in a few years and we both regretted not grabbing any of the pairs of trekking poles we had sitting at home. We will not forget them next time!
As we closed in on 8 hours of hiking I was amazed at how well the boys were doing with the final “slog” part of the day. Their conversations about Fortnite and YouTube had them laughing and giggling for the last couple miles. Alden would often check on Michelle as she was being extra cautious for the last bit of trail. We reached the parking lot at 5:40 pm, had a round of high-fives, and headed straight for ice cream.
Lessons Learned (What would I do differently next time?)
- Earlier start time. A typical Munter rate of 4 would have this round trip loop take 4.5-5 hours (close to book time). Assuming a slower rate of 3 would get us closer in our planning to the actual 8 hours and 20 minutes that it took. I would prefer to hit the trail closer to 7 am.
- More encouragement to have a BM before hitting the trail. Kids can be very shy about doing this in the woods, so talking about it before hand can help make them more comfortable.
- Pack a trowel… burying waste without one is not an easy task.
- Trekking poles for Michelle on every hike
- Pure water instead of hydration mix for the kids, both kids felt regular water would have been better on nervous stomachs.
- Dog food for Jack… we remembered snacks for him but he didn’t get his breakfast in the morning so was probably really really hungry. We will be buying him a dog pack soon, any suggestions?
Both boys were really proud of their accomplishment. The idea that there are 47 more of these mountains to attempt felt slightly overwhelming. We decided we will also start working on the “52 with a View” list so that we can have some lighter days mixed in with the big days. Alex has already climbed Mount Willard, Potash Mountain, and Mount Chocorua from that list.
Coming soon we will be sharing our gear lists for these climbs and how we tweak what we are carrying. Stay tuned!
View the Garmin Connect GPS Activity HERE
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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