The Delicate Art of Taking a Hike

It’s said that a kid can ask upward of 300 questions a day. Perhaps something to keep in mind when planning an overnight backcountry camping trip with a seven year old in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

But here we are: Day 1. Kilometre 1. Question 51 (give or take).

“How far is this hike, Daddy?”

Long answer: Sahale Glacier Camp sits on the terminal moraine of its namesake at nearly 2,348 metres above sea level. To get there, we’ll follow what feels like endless switchbacks nearly six kilometres up to Cascade Pass, then a progressively steeper trail up through alpine meadows along the Sahale Arm that leads to a final joint-jarring scramble over loose rocks up to the campsite. All in, it’s a nearly 10 kilometre huff (20 clicks return), with an elevation change of 1,219 metres.

Short answer: “It’s going to be a while, buddy.”

Question 52: “Why are we going here, anyway?”

“Because it’s a challenge,” I reply. “An experience. … And remember the photos that I showed you online? The views from the top are incredible. They call them the American Alps.”

Some background: There was a time when I thought mountains were good only for skiing. And, during that time, I did a lot of it. Which meant little time to stand awestruck by my surroundings. I grew up in an age rife with ascending ski technology: tow-ropes, (pre-Magic Carpet era), T-bars, platters, chairlifts, gondolas, snow-cats, snowmobiles and helicopters.

I’ve used all to get up a hill.

I first tried walking up one in 1992. It loomed over Alpbach, a speck of a ski town in the Austrian Alps. I turned around within minutes, telling my companions that my knees were too sore. And maybe I shouted, “Mountains are good for only one thing!” as I limped back to town.

I was certainly thinking it.

I summited a bar stool shortly afterward.

Times change. We get older and the adage says wiser. Although I can’t say I love lugging a 34-kilogram backpack up a mountain, I do enjoy the accomplishment of reaching the top.

And those views, man – they just mean more when you’ve earned them.

At our glacial pace, it took about six hours to reach the campsite. By then the glorious summer weather had shifted. Not surprisingly, the higher we climbed, the colder it got. And then the wind picked up. A lot. Soon the mountain was enveloped in fog that denied view in any direction; we couldn’t see the next tent, less than 18 metres away.

Shoulders aching, legs burning, I slid my backpack on the ground at our rock-ringed site and collapsed on a smooth stone ledge. My son sat down and we stared into the clouds. Then it started to rain.


“Yeah, buddy?”

“I hate hiking.”

No question.


This essay originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.

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