Thursday, July 24, 2014

How the Shift from “Mom” to “Hiking Partner” Can Strengthen & Create New Bonds Between Me & My Son On a 7.5 Mile Rain-Soaked, Bouldering, Root-Covered Vermont Hike: Hiking Camel’s Hump, Vermont.

My 12 Year Old Son Pointing to the Southern Hump of Camel's Hump - Where We'd Summited The Day Before

Hike: Camel’s Hump Summit Loop, Vermont.
Length & Vertical: @ 7.5mile loop. @ 2,600 vertical. Via  Forest City Trail, The Long Trail, Burrows Trail
Location: east of Huntington Center, Camel’s Hump State Park, Vermont (north of Middlebury)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult.
Exposure: Mostly in trees, near summit exposed rocks.
Dogs: Yes. Leashed dogs at Alpine Level.
Kids: Stronger, older, experienced hiker kids only. Precarious exposures on The Long Trail and summit area.
Major Tip: Slippery rock, bouldering (grabbing rocks with hands), roots on trail, and some scrambling make this loop a fun but much slower hike. Plan more time per mile.

The Hike & The Story: As we drive up Camel’s Hump Road near Huntington Center, Vermont, my 12 year old, who is morphing quickly into a full blown teenager, and I peer to our left to see long lines of plastic maple syrup tubing along hundreds of Maple trees lining the road en route to our trailhead.

“Oh, look! Maple tree lines!” I trumpet. My son notes them too, but without much exclamation – gone are the days of Look Mama, Look!

Team Camel's Hump.
We pull into the Forest City Trailhead parking area on the right side of the road. The trees, ground is still wet from the morning showers we’ve waited out, and now, at 11am, the sun is finally peeking out from less threatening, greyish, puffy clouds.

Gear is gathered after a pre-pack at Grandpa’s barn – GORP, block of cheddar cheese, water, light-long-sleeve base layer, warm hat. Flip flops exchanged for Smartwools and my Saucony Trail Runners and his Keens. Our small and mighty hiking dog energized with a pre-adventure treat.
Welcome to Camel's Hump State Park

We’re off.  

My son, a 7th grader this fall, has taken to walking in front of me in public rather than next to me, shrinking down in the car seat when he sees girls if we’re driving somewhere together, and basically pretends he is motherless any time we’re around human beings who aren’t in his immediate comfort zone family.

Which, I concede, is a completely normal, next phase in boy-human growth. Though no one said I have to really enjoy it. Which is why I am SO excited to help us both shift a little to a next phase in our relationship – a thought of us as part of the same “Crew” -- working together towards a mutual Goal. All within in the healthy environment of Nature and Adventure in the outdoors. So in our case today, as a team we prepare for and summit Vermont’s third highest mountain with a reputation for being a tough mudder’s climb.

End of Forest City Trail
We head up the first 2 miles of the trail, following Brush Brook river’s rocky mini-falls, crossing multiple bridges, and starting the navigation of the slippery, rock-hop that defines the trail. Periodic chatter along the way about the cool rocks, captured lizards, and the mega-difference between our clear, highway-like hiking-trails in Marin County, California and the already noteworthy more difficult hiking trails in Vermont.

We are both in good shape. But the going is MUCH slower than the full-legged strides we’re used to on our California trail system.

Hitting the famous Long Trail with a sign that says: 1.9mi to Camel’s Hump Summit, I stop and say. Crap. To myself.

The Sign Doesn't Lie: 1.9 miles UP to go.
I had mis-interpreted Grandpa’s enthusiastic instructions on the route and confused his directions along with what I’d read in the guidebook. What I thought was going to be a 4.5 mile hike RT, 2,600 vertical, zip up and down the mountain, was actually going to be a much longer trip. (Note to self: Always double-check on Enthusiastic Grandpa descriptions and instructions!!!)

Ignoring my blunder with the personal knowledge we can definitely handle a few more miles, we turn and head north on the Long Trail, past Wind Gap, and begin to get massive views down valley and start bouldering in places, using our hands to scramble up giant slippery rocks. Everything is UP, including a big, grey cloud that’s blown over us as we hit a higher elevation and it’s time for a quick stop a long-sleeve layer and some grub. We’ve passed no one for a few hours. And we’re feeling a little exposed and starting to get worn.

Bouldering type maneuvers.
Scrambling UP with hands.
Trail opening  up to massive Green Mountain views.
So, it was also time for some confession time. Throwing Grandpa under the bus just a little but then circling around and taking the “blame” slash-“responsibility” myself, I confess to him that the hike’s going to be a leeettle longer than I’d thought as I hadn’t THROUGHLY double checked (though I had double checked what I’d thought was the correct info) and thus had gotten confused about the mileage to the summit via this route.

Eating chunks of Vermont Cabot Cheddar, picking out the chocolate from the GORP, and sipping at our water, I give him the choice: Turn back? Or, Stay on.

As his crew member, I’d made a mistake. We now had to stop, re-calculate, re-assess, and make a group decision.

His response: Shovel in more fistfuls of GORP. And, CARRY ON, the summit is our goal.

Hitting the “Bad Weather Bypass” trail, it’s confirmed we’re getting closer to the top and the adrenaline rush hits. The next sign is: Fragile Alpine Area. We leash our 13lb. dog who continues to have plenty of hiking energy as usual and – woohoo – summit bound baby!

Bad weather bypass.
Stubby trees and rugged alpine tundra vegetation poke out amongst the giant grey slabs. There are sounds of giggling girls peeing in the trees nearby – who we, embarrassingly for them and my teen, bump into as they scamper ahead and flip their hair – and then. Boom. Summit.

Summit of Camel's Hump. Annie, Aspen the Dog & Hayden. 4,083 feet.
A college student from Vermont sits against the summit-of-the-hump-rock. She’s ranger for the summer, clicking-off on her counter the numbers of us making our way up. I saw #120 when we arrived @ 1:30pm. Today she’s walking around in her socks and dispensing valuable advice, including a re-confirmation of the loop home for us. Sitting near her is a dude from San Diego, on day 6 of a Long Trail hike, all beard and scruffily. "Hey, you’re from California!" he exclaims like long lost family members. He’s excited to connect and we chat about the West Coast/East Coast lifestyle differences for a while.
Summit. Camel's Hump, Vermont, USA

After hours of No-Service, I’m able to text all our loved ones “Can you see us Waving at you???” in a cheeky hello from almost 4,100 feet high.

Heading back, we take the Burrows Trail down, a dense, virtual staircase of rocks and roots with no views. It’s the “quick” way home and still slick and treacherous for wobbly ankles. It also has a LOT of people on it. At the end of this trail, we have one last mile to our car at the Forest City parking area, and my son jumps in front of me and starts power hiking on the easy, flat trail. Our feet tired, and we have a sweet moment of bonding over lovingly cursing Grandpa during this last mile. We are kicking-butt.

I will always be Hayden’s embarrassing mom. Always.

But I also want to be kicking-butt with him on the trails and other outdoor and life adventures and work together to make those summits, overcome and be flexible about shifting the plans, and have a blast doing it.
Well deserved creemie celebration for the team.

And, to celebrate, a ceremonial stop at the creemie stand for some Maple Creemies with sprinkles on the way home. Always.  -Outdoorsy Mama


  1. What a great adventure and bonding experience with your son! East coast mountains are similar yet very different from the west coast ones. Oh, how I miss REAL maple syrup...mmm :)

    1. Hi Lora! it was a great day for both of us in so many ways, thank you :) - really glad we stuck with it and got to bond over laughing about East Coast slippery roots and rocks! boy, do i hear you about the Maple Syrup…. have you ever had it drizzled over a fresh cup of snow??? a favorite ;) ;)