I love the mountains. Whichever mountains. I've never met a mountain I didn't like. I spent many a summer as a kid driving and walking around various mountains in the Northwest with my mom and stepdad, spent a month in Switzerland hiking and working in the Alps, climbed small and large mountains in Guatemala, and hiked the sublime ridges and peaks of Glacier National Park with my Old Man on our honeymoon. I've never had the good fortune of living in the mountains for more than a few weeks at a time, but I try to get up into thinner air as often as possible.
Yesterday the Old Man, O, and I returned from three days with my mom and stepdad in Kaniksu National Forest in northern Idaho, my first mountain experience with a small child in tow. It was great bringing O. to a scenic log cabin retreat ringed by mountains in the Clark Fork river valley. It was kind of a drag that what looked on the website like a clear mountain lake directly in front of the cabins turned out to be a scummy pond, but that disappointment was offset by the train tracks within close sight of our cabin. (Freight trains clattering by at various points of the day and night might not be a bonus to most seekers of mountain solitude, but for parents of a three-year-old maniacally excited about trains, it's pretty cool.) An additional bonus: O. stayed in his grandparents' log cabin, giving my man and I some much appreciated late night and early morning time to ourselves.
We adults had a rough plan that involved a lot of hiking - a hike in the morning and again in the afternoon. The reality of getting four relatively laid-back adults and a willful toddler ready for a long hike foiled this rigorous hiking schedule, particularly because two of the adults (myself and the Oral Hygiene Queen Mother) are both laid-back (i.e. languorous to the point of pokiness) and anal (I come by my oral hygiene obsession by way of my mom, who is also a major source of my sunscreen fervor, my hydration fixation, and my need to have a snack packed at all times, not just for my child but for myself and anyone else who might decide to mooch). We ended up taking a pretty easy hike ending at a sweet spot on the Clark Fork river the first day and a challenging hike up to an old fire lookout the second day. The third day we wisely forwent that one last hike, preferring to drive to nearby Sandpoint, eat a big meal, and search for chocolate.
The hike to the fire lookout was really the highpoint and the low point of our whole stay in the Kaniksu. It was a beautiful hike, affording numerous vistas of the mountains, and views of the river valley and the tip of Lake Pend Oreille, and we knew it would end in a downright spectacular view. It was a private hike - amazingly, we didn't pass a single other party on our way up or back. For most of the way, it was a satisfyingly rugged hike, with plenty of up and down grades, but not so rugged that it made having O. along onerous. As we neared the end of the trail, however, the hike went from rugged to ridiculously steep. My Old Man, a beach kid by nature and habit, scored major mountain points and gained an even dearer place in my heart by carrying thirty-five pound O. on his back up this long, steep grade (in skate sneakers no less). The steep part went on and on and I found myself grumbling about the Forest Service guide book that had labeled this a "moderate" hike (moderate my ass, but then again, the only hiking I've done since O. was born has been in the ravines of Indiana's Turkey Run State park, so maybe my perception was just off). Finally, we reached the summit of the trail, where we found the decaying wooden fire lookout station and a three-sixty view that was indeed spectacular. I enjoyed it for about thirty seconds before the information that my beloved O. was approximately two feet from the edge of a towering precipice registered. I scooped him into my arms and shuffled him toward the relative security of the fire lookout, where he was immediately stung in the leg by a wasp. As he wailed, we all looked around and discovered a wasp's nest amid the rotting wood.
For most parents, this would be a major drag, but for me it was a nightmare. My dear Old Man is, alas, allergic to bee stings, and so there's a higher-than-usual likelihood that O. is also allergic. When I realized that my son had been stung, my heart began to pound hard, and when I saw the wasp's nest, I began to fear even more for my man. Nice view, thanks, but we're outta here
. Our little party made it down the mountain in about a quarter of the time it took us to hike up, carrying O. the whole way while periodically checking his leg for signs of swelling. When the extent of the swelling remained small after twenty minutes or so, we began to relax a bit, though my man was wracking his brains to remember how long it had taken his foot to swell to the size of a cantaloupe the first time he had a reaction to a sting. Luckily, I had packed an ephedrine injection in the snack bag (being anal sometimes comes in handy), so if O. had starting ballooning, or if (God forbid) my man had gotten stung, we would have had some kind of recourse. Luckily, no mega dose of adrenaline was needed. The day ended on a relaxed note.
When we got back to our cabin, I checked the guidebook and realized that the hike we'd taken was actually labeled "more difficult," the second most challenging designation. Oops, my bad. Well, we were hardcore, even if we didn't really get to enjoy the scenic fruits of our labor for more than two minutes.