Trying to get a group of teenagers to do anything with their parents is like herding cats. They always have something else to do, and they disappear just when you most want to pin them down to a schedule. So, it came as a shock when not only did both of my sweetheart Susan’s “homeboys”, Matt (18) and Daniel (13), want to go for a hike with us on Memorial Day, but Matt’s friend Ryan wanted to come along, too. Truly a day to remember!
Now, when you get a group of teenagers to agree on something, the key is to strike while the iron is hot…and promise them food. A quick wander through the Delorme Gazeteer for Maine found a whole bunch of trails, with an interesting looking loop trail going up Pleasant Mountain, right behind the Shawnee Peak ski area. That promised some great views, as there are both mountains and lakes all over that area, and it’s not too long a drive from our house, perfect for a day trip. A quick search online found a variety of information about the trails; in particular, Backpacker Magazine’s site had some excellent trail information and maps (if you hike in Maine a lot, it’s also worth having the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide; they have books for other areas, as well) . Armed with that information, we headed for…no, not the trails, the grocery store! Sandwiches, chips, fruit, pepperoni sticks, and more filled up several bags. It’s hard to overestimate how much three teenagers can eat after an hour or so of hiking up a mountain!
At the trailhead, we loaded up the packs. The addition of Ryan had stumped me for a few minutes, as we were short a hydration pack, and on a hot day regular hydration is important not only to performance but to enjoyment. However, a GoLite Jam had recently arrived for testing, and one of its claims to fame is that it can be shrunk from its 3050 cubic inch size to daypack size. This seemed a perfect time to test that out, particularly since there was a lot of food to be carried. It worked perfectly, feeling small and solid on my back without flopping around.
At the trailhead, we took a few minutes to make sure everyone’s hydration system was working correctly, that trekking poles were set to the right lengths. Then, we were off, with Barley the dog leading the way.
And lead he did, at speed. Matt and Ryan decided to try to stick with him, flying up the trail with the typical speed of teenagers. Susan, Daniel, and I decided that with over 5 miles of walking and a lot of climbing involved, it was smarter to take it a little easier. Besides, we didn’t want to get to the summit TOO early…being there at lunchtime was the goal!
Up the Ledges Trail we went, stopping along the way to take in the view at each overlook. It’s a steady climb over a well-maintained trail, and a great chance for Dan to learn to use his birthday trekking poles before he got into really difficult terrain (more on that to come!).
About an hour and a half of steady climbing, and we reached the summit. The views are spectacular…but on this day, with smoke pouring into New England from a forest fire 300 miles away in Quebec, it was difficult seeing the nearby mountains, much less the White Mountains that normally are easily seen in the distance. It was a sobering reminder of the importance of paying careful attention to any source of flame; late May is typically a very dry season, and a campfire, cigarette, or carelessly thrown match can have huge consequences.
We were at no risk of causing fires; on a hot day, a cold lunch (or, in Barley’s case, cold water) was much more appealing than lighting anything! We spread out across an area of rock, enjoying food, conversation, or just staring off into space. Typically, getting teenagers to sit still for 5 minutes is a chore, but a leisurely hour later, nobody seemed to be in a hurry to leave, not even Barley (who was all too aware of the bounty of food spread out on the rocks in front of him, and hoped to scrounge some). Still, there were several miles to go, so we packed back up and headed down the Bald Peak trail to complete our loop.
The first mile or so was great, but then the trail turned steep, and things got exciting. The Bald Peak trail is VERY steep, and in May, before it gets heavy summer use, still has lots of nice, slippery dry leaves on it from last fall. It became a very slow, careful trip down, and we were all thankful that we’d brought our trekking poles. Putting the tips down ahead of us gave us stability that saved us from several slips and falls.
Since hindsight is 20/20, I can tell you that it would be much better to climb UP Bald Peak Trail, and DOWN Ledges Trail; it’s safer to climb really steep sections than descend them.
Near the bottom, a beautiful brook ran through rocks along the side of the trail. Matt had used up all of his water, so a quick stop to fill up was in order. I was carrying my SteriPEN Adventurer Opti, a wonderful way to make sure you’re getting safe water in a few seconds; shortly after, he and Ryan were drinking fresh, cold water. Carrying some sort of water filter/purification system is a good idea, even if you don’t expect to use it; if you run out of water, you don’t have to be thirsty and miserable the rest of the trip. For the roughly 4 ounces the SteriPEN weighs, it’s easy insurance to carry.
By the time we got back to the road, everyone was happy to take an easy walk along pavement back to the cars, then pile in and head for the nearest ice cream. Nothing like a good hike to make you enjoy something cold like that…and it’s nice to know that you’ve burned the calories off before you eat it! Back at home, I suggested more hikes, perhaps overnight, and got enthusiastic responses from all three boys. Now, to make sure I have big enough backpacks that they can carry all of MY stuff…
David: Gabel Mont Blanc Lite external lock trekking poles. Relatively inexpensive, light, nicely balanced. Require a certain amount of fiddling with the mechanisms to keep tight, and are a little noisy. Good value pole.
Susan: Osprey Raptor 14 hydration pack. Designed specifically for mountain biking, but works great for general hiking as well. continues to impress us by the way it “disappears” on our backs; there’s never a feeling of the water sloshing around.