4:30 am on a Sunday. I outsmarted my 4:45 am alarm so I can slowly wake up. My mom is still sleeping on my couch in the living room and my cat is going wild trying to chase her own tail. I quickly dressed and made myself presentable before waking my mom. We ate, we finished packing, we got on the road at 6 am.
Today is a big day for my mom. Her first real winter hike. Sure, she hikes through the state forest but that is a stroll. This is considered strenuous by most. The Kinsmans are gorgeous, right next to Cannon (another mountain I will climb) and across the street from the Franconia range. The views are supposedly striking. My mom is nervous, terrified even. She has a great internal struggle going and needs this hike more than anything. Physically I know she can handle this hike, but mentally it is questionable. My mom is scared of her own shadow. She doesn’t go out of her comfort zone at all, and her fears control her. I fear falling, but don’t let it hold me back from what I love. She fears heights, falling, not being in control physically… She allows her fears to control everything she does. Today will begin to change this, or not. Lets see.
We arrived at 9 am which is a good time to start our ten mile day up North and South Kinsman. Seeing how many cars were in the lot we opted to ditch our snowshoes. I like snowshoeing, but not up mountains. The time change happened which means we have daylight till 7:30 pm now. Mom could barely breathe she was so nervous. I tried to get her to look at the scenery around us, but even that terrified her. The path had a moderate incline, not difficult at all but she thought it was. “Will it get harder than this? I can’t do it if it will be harder than this,” she said. Of course it will be harder, but I knew she could do it so I lied and said this was the worst of it. I knew it would get steeper, we weren’t even going up the mountain yet. The only way to tackle these climbs is to take it one step at a time. Don’t think about how hard it will be to get there, don’t look up at the difficult parts of the trail when they come. That’s discouraging, enough to make me cry. Just keep moving. Look back at the beautiful views you are working hard for, you deserve it.
At Lonesome Lake something wonderful happened. The lake was totally frozen over so we walked clear across to Lonesome Lake Hut. That saved a good 1/4 mile which is always welcome. We rested there and ate a yummy homemade brownie I bought at a scout bake sale. It melted a bit which made it better! Starting up the Fishing Jimmy trail it was nice. No uphills for a good mile, my mom relaxed some. At one point we died laughing at the chocolate all over her face. We passed by several hikers who were friendly and supportive of my mom on her first hike. Hikers are in general the kindest people you will ever meet.
Then the steep stuff happened. Icy and steep. Mom isn’t sure-footed, she made the mistake of looking up. There were tears. She was afraid. I went first and she watched my footing carefully. I coached her through the exact steps. At times I went back down, then stood behind her and gave her a gentle push up. The momentum she required to get up the steepest sections. I was working twice as hard as usual, but luckily I had a few breaks. My mom fell behind and I would have the lovely opportunity to stop and snap a photo or two, enjoy the view, or listen to the birds. No wind, sunny skies, and the temperature was perfect. A picturesque winter day. Despite the 7 feet of snow underneath our feet there were sure signs of spring all around us. I smiled at thoughts of carrying less gear up the mountains. My pack is today is about a 1/4 of my body weight (25 lbs) thanks to overpacking to put my mom at ease. At the same time this is great training for the backpacking trips to come!
Around 1pm, after a great struggle to get mom up the mountain we reached the summit of North Kinsman, the smaller of the two Kinsmans. With less than a mile to South Kinsman my mom wanted to press forward before eating. The mountain appeared very far away, when in reality it would only take about 45 minutes to get there. About half way there she could no longer handle it. I recognized this behavior from when I was a teenager and I got hungry when doing strenuous outdoor activities. I wouldn’t meltdown quite so much, but I would complain non-stop. She begged to give up. She told me I could lie about reaching the second summit. Being dishonest with you and myself is the worst thing I can do. I will never lie. I couldn’t believe that my own mother would suggest that I lie about something this important. I was furious at her, tempted to tell her to wait while I completed the hike. It wouldn’t take me that long, 30 minutes at most, then 15 minutes back. I almost completely lost my temper, but you shouldn’t fight fire with fire. Instead I suggested that we sit down and eat. Lets face it, I was starving too and nearing the end of my patience. I am the most flexible and patient person on the planet, that’s hard to do. Middle of the trail, we sat down and ate. She calmed down, her thoughts started rationalizing.
Finally the summit of South Kinsman was reached at 2 pm. Gorgeous. I stared out at the view and couldn’t take my eyes off of the mountains in the distance. It made every last mental struggle I dealt with today worth it. On the way back when we once again climbed up North Kinsman my mom vocalized what I am always thinking, “We have to climb this again? This is bull***.” I never liked backtracking up a mountain I’ve already hiked. I love loop trails for a reason, but the option wasn’t available today. Back down Fishing Jimmy finally we were able to butt slide. She loved it, especially after meeting Meagan and Kevin on the trail. They called my mom an inspiration and boosted her confidence. If you guys are reading this, thanks for saying that! No matter how many times I told her I was proud of her she didn’t hear me. Taking on the Kinsmans as a first winter hike is truly incredible for anyone, let alone a 58 year old woman. She smiled for the first time, she was having fun, enjoying the view. She even said she loved winter hiking more than summer hikes!
My hips weren’t giving me issues today. I was a little sore, but there was no pain to speak of. I feel like I am making progress finally. Today was successful, it tested me in ways you couldn’t imagine, but in the end my new winter hiker found happiness in what she was doing. If we didn’t make it to the summit of either peak, and she found the happiness and joy in winter hiking I would have considered the day a success, but we made it to the summit of both Kinsmans. Physically if my mom couldn’t do it, I would have allowed her to turn around. I pushed her to her very limit mentally, and sometimes you have to do this for your hiking buddy. It’s tempting to give up, go home and live in complacency for my mom. I refused to allow that. She made a huge step in overcoming her fears and I couldn’t be more proud to call this amazing woman my mom. Even writing this I am tearing up with intense pride for what she accomplished. It wasn’t about the hike, it was about the emotional journey she embarked on.
Hiking Tips: I got a new water reservoir for my birthday! Thanks to my brother and sister in law for this lifesaving equipment. It was the best thing ever, on past hikes I’ve always dehydrated because I didn’t want to have to stop and go through the hassle of fishing around for my water bottle. It takes far too much time. This is probably why I was in pain. Now I can drink and walk. So worth the $28 for a 3 liter Hydrapack. This brand came recommended as it does not have a plastic aftertaste. Highly impressed. My food storage methods are way too heavy. Try to find lightweight containers for food and lighten your load.