It became much more fun when there were four of us instead of just the two, and we couldn’t wait to introduce both grandsons (there were only two at that time) to the high country we loved. They had been good campers since the age of two, but children were not allowed to backpack until the age of seven, so only the older brother went first. To illustrate our enthusiasm for the long hike, I made a quilt showing everything we might see (excluding the bears!) As children do, he became an instant expert when we got on the trail, and after a week of sleeping under the stars and catching the small silvery trout which waited for his hook, he was ready to go home and impress his younger brother with tall tales of the weeks’ events.
Two years later, both boys were able to go, and as sometimes happens with all of us, the things you have most looked forward to become a little scary when you finally get to do them. The older brother was in a state of high excitement, but the seven year old approached the start of our journey with trepidation. This hike was in Desolation Valley, and would eventually take us to 9600 ft. elevation. We joined a small group in a boat which took us across the lake from civilization to the trailhead where we were all on our own. Dr. Advice and I had climbed in this area a number of times and though we would cover a lot of territory, it would be an easy hike for the boys. We paired up with me walking with the younger boy who gradually seemed to become more comfortable both with his pack and with the whole adventure.
Though it was August, as we climbed we ran into snow, which became a little deeper as we progressed. In the mountains you become used to looking for landmarks, and there are many along this trail including the lake where we would be spending our first night. The lake lies at the base of a group of rugged peaks which resemble nothing more than a moonscape. Quite recognizable, and not too far from where we started. We learned years ago to carry a police whistle in case of emergency, and though the boys each carried their own sleeping bags plus their whistle, Dr. Advice and I divided the rest of the gear. I could see a familiar dogleg coming up ahead, and told my small companion that we would take it and catch them up as the trail straightened.
However, all trees look alike in the forest, and all trails look alike under a blanket of snow, so when I realized we were not coming out in the same spot I had hoped for, I blew my whistle and we listened for an answering tweet which came right away, but on the second try there was no reply. Not to worry , I told my little friend whose blue eyes were getting larger and more concerned; we will recognize those crazy moonscape mountains in no time. By this time, I was getting a little worried myself, and did not follow the second rule in mountaineering: stay where you are and wait till you are found.
By this time it was afternoon, and we had climbed atop a large rock to see if either the lake or the craggy peaks were visible. My small partner was in a state of despair, and in no mood to play games such as blowing our whistles and yelling for help. He worried about where we would sleep or eat, and I assured him we had all the right stuff to survive the night if it should come to that (which it would not of course). We blew whistles and counted to ten, and after a few minutes of this activity, we finally heard the welcome answering call.
It seemed we were about a quarter mile above the lake, and they had been waiting for us to arrive for some time, with the older boy also anxious about sleeping and eating. They actually DID have all the food, and we had the small tent in case of a sudden rain squall, which happens frequently at that elevation. So we climbed (slid) down and they climbed up, and we set up camp for the first night in the Wilderness.
The rest of the week went well, and the rocks were bare of snow which made climbing easy. The boys were delighted with the small alpine lakes where they could bathe and fish, and once they were convinced that no one else was there and could not see them, they stripped off their clothes and jumped in the icy water.
That trip took us to Dick’s Peak at 9600 feet, and was a great introduction to the pleasure of wilderness camping and gave them a good foundation for many years’ of enjoyment.
My little trail partner has become a wildlife biologist, and his older brother has the avocation of horses, fishing and hunting.