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Hiking: Better Than Disneyland

by Mark Mozer

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Hiking: Better Than Disneyland by Mark Mozer

The view was breathtaking, high up on a great bouldery slope, looking several hundred feet down onto the aquamarine alpine lake below. A couple hundred feet above us lie a glacier, sprawling beneath a rocky, serrated skyline.

As we look down, one of my partners had eyes as big as saucers, looking just like a kid who'd just been told to eat his eggplant souffle'. The other chattered about a "hike of death", as he scrambled up the huge boulders, ever on the lookout for large spider webs between the rocks. They acted like little kids, but, come to think about it, I guess they were.

You always see differently through a little kid's eyes. The spider spotter started yakity-yakking about "rainbow spiders" making colored webs between the rocks. Sure enough, looking down through the webs at a steep angle, the morning sun's light was refracted, so as to create a delicate gossamer rainbow across the web.

The difference between kids is always fascinating. As we ascended the glacier, The Thinker, age nine, wove a tapestry of future adventure, excitedly chattering about returning some day with crampons to climb high up the slope, and then ski down. His little brother, The Hulk (age seven), added his two cents to the conversation: "You know, Sonic the Hedgehog (Saturday morning cartoon) isn't real." He's saving up his brain for college.

No civilized ski hill can match up to glissading down a snowfield in a solitary, wilderness setting, a ride much more dearly- earned than by merely shelling out the price of a lift ticket. The older kids took running leaps into space, alighting on the steep snow, sliding to a stop as the slope gentled out down below. The little guys just slid down, spinning around, eventually coming to a stop on their bottomsides. The cold, icy snow nicely subdued the hot sun beating upon us, both from above and below as it reflected off the snow and ice.

And we had it all to ourselves. As much as outsiders might be buying up pieces of Montana, there will always be solitude available in the high country, for those willing to pay the price of lugging a little equipment a few miles.

Down-climbing is always scarier than climbing up. Even though we were only on boulders, rather than cliffs, expansive vertical terrain has a way of gradually overdosing its frightening effect, and so, while their eyes widened looking down on the way up, coming down they nearly popped out of their sockets on springs. Indeed, some of the rocks were huge, and and even a short fall would have been a nasty proposition, especially for a little kid. But no real problem, just provide a little encouragement here, lend a steadying hand there.

Life poses its difficulties, such as down-climbing huge boulders, and startling surprises, such as setting foot onto an occasional tipsy rock, not to mention the drudgery of a six-mile walk back to civilization. Too many parents get too focused on everyday kid problems such as homework and chores, so that their kids become problems more than people. I'd much rather take on parenting struggles that are chosen and challenging, coaxing the kids out to the edge of their courage and stamina, struggles that define them as gritty little persons, rather than problems. Establish a kid's personhood, and everyday problems should pass by in stride.

Severing one's umbilical to civilization, and forging out into truly wild country creates an incomparable bond with your children.

It's family living as it ought to be: none of the trappings of civilization for the relationship to stumble over. No rooms to clean up, no homework for either parent or kids, no schedules to meet, just simple shared tasks of necessity--getting up a long steep trail, taking fish off of hooks, staying warm and dry, climbing down-down-down a steep boulder field. You feel one with your kid, taking his hand to lend some of your energy, encouraging his weary little legs, and strengthening his spirit.

The outdoors is the best place in the world to show your kids that life is adventure, not hum-drum. And it's nearly free for the taking: used equipment can be purchased for a song. The main investment is sweat and patience. The dividend: an incomparable bonding. But start young--don't wait too long, lest you drift apart, and the gap between you become impassable.

About the Author

Mark Mozer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who promotes family outdoor activities. You can see more of him at his The Adventure Bonding Pare


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