Chris Woodside on the ridge between Mount Lafayette and Mount Garfield, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Last week I climbed five mountains, mostly in fog and mist. The White Mountains of New Hampshire always take me back to myself. There, I meet writers and aspiring writers. But most important, I meet, again, myself.
I remembered another trip I’d made in 2003, ten years ago, over the same ridge.
Elizabeth was 14 and Annie 12. Their schedules had grown complicated, and they had other interests. But I squeezed in one last all-girl trip by — I admit it — promising to take them to the outlets in North Conway, N.H., afterward.
They were both seasoned hikers now. Our talk flowed effortlessly as we puffed up inclines.
It was a cold fall weekend, and we stayed in huts in the White Mountains, the kind where they serve meals and you sleep on bunks. The second morning we climbed Mount Lafayette and then hiked eight more miles. Near the end, Elizabeth got mad and ran ahead while Annie started crying because I had decided it would be O.K. to push them to tackle one of the most challenging ridges in that range.
We walked into Galehead Hut just in time for dinner. As we settled in among the other hikers at the dinner table, the girls smiled across at me. We were in that amazing place parents and children so rarely reach: we were on the same level. Later, as I wandered around the hut in my baggy pants and headlamp and watched them in their drab long johns and fleece jackets, I knew that these trips had given them not only strength but also, for this night at least, a lack of self-consciousness that is rare in young teenagers.
Now we laugh about our early missteps. But as I look back over the trip diaries, I see that the debacles were the point. Every year we slogged up to vistas you can see only if you’re willing to walk. And each year they could walk a little farther. We made it in and out of the woods together.
Annie says that rain-soaked treks eventually seemed as normal to her as Disney World did to her friends. Elizabeth tells me that she can’t yet quantify the inner strength she might have gained but that she definitely learned to eat food that had fallen in the dirt — and eat it fearlessly.
Read more about those all-girl trips in the article I wrote about them for The New York Times.