Shoulder Tops to Mountaintops: Father’s Day Memories Born from Hiking

When my youngest daughter, Margaret, now 22, began outgrowing the stroller and child-carrying backpack, she struggled to make the smooth transition from getting a free ride to using her own two legs, especially when it came to hiking, something our family did frequently. Lifting her up onto my shoulders sufficed for the occasional neighborhood walk or stroll along a beach, but when we were struggling up Estes Cone in Rocky Mountain National Park or working our way down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, I wasn’t always keen on adding another 40 pounds of loose, wobbly weight for more than a few hundred yards.

Whether we were battling boulders and a current on Zion’s River Walk or working a dusty trail in Yosemite, eventually Margaret would begin tugging on my arm, begging for another ride. “I’m tired,” she would say.

“Margaret,” I would reason, “I hauled you for half a mile this morning. You are just too heavy to carry.”

Always one for the dramatic, she would flop down on the trail and cry out, “But I’m too heavy to walk!” Her older sister, Katherine, would then roll her eyes in disgust.

[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
Margaret eventually grew into her “trail legs” and trudged along behind her big sister up Glacier Point in Yosemite, around hoodoos in Bryce, and along narrow cliffs in Acadia. In 2008, Katherine headed off to St. Lawrence University, and our extended family vacations to national parks came to an end. All that was left were memories and reams of photos filling cardboard boxes, photo albums, and computer files.

But as they grew into adulthood, both now living eight hours away in Boston, at least one other thing remained: a love for adventure and exploration. My wife is fortunate to have a family home in the Adirondacks, and it is a blessing to be able to meet up with both of them and head into the High Peaks region for some wilderness adventures. Like my wife and me, Katherine and her boyfriend Doug are aspiring 46ers, and while Margaret is still somewhat of a reluctant hiker, she’s usually willing to head out on the trail with us when she can.

A recent excursion to Tabletop Mountain near the Adirondack Loj produced stunning views of peaks rising like stark, bluish-green islands above a sea of clouds, and an April trip up Esther Mountain after a heavy, late spring snowstorm offered breathtaking vistas of Whiteface’s peak in a winter wonderland. The obvious thrill in both those moments was the visual beauty. But, the precious gifts occurred the night before, when we shared in the inventorying of gear, the loading of backpacks, and the prep of trail food. By 10 p.m., the car was jam-packed for adventure. And after eight to 12 hours of battling boulders, bugs, and fatigue, we trudged out of the woods for a laugh-filled meal somewhere in Lake Placid before heading back to the house at Lake George.

With everyone’s separate and busy lives these past few years, I can’t always spend Father’s Day with my daughters. Often, I have to be satisfied with only a brief phone call from each and a card. But this Father’s Day, I will cherish the memories of family treks into the wilderness and the hope for more adventures with my daughters in the future. Standing above the clouds on Tabletop last fall, I watched Margaret, now a grown woman, stare out at the regal Mt. Marcy towering above the clouds. These days, she is definitely too heavy to lift up onto my shoulders, but I am happy to carry the weight of that moment and the memories of all our adventures together for many Father’s Days to come.

[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
[Photo: Stephen Pierce]