Sunday, July 22, 2012

Denali National Park: Conquering Our First Mountain

 The second day at Denali was also our oldest's 14th birthday. In honor of my boy's special day, we figured it would be cool to at least attempt a mountain hike. We had done small hikes before, all less than 2 miles total, in consideration of our little girls' abilities. And because the park ranger and all other hiking guides rated this trail as STRENUOUS, the Mister and I came to an agreement that should the girls balk at the difficulty during the hike, he and our 14 year-old would go ahead and summit while I herded Sophie and Olivia back down.

We parked the car at the Visitor Center parking lot, directly across the street where the Spruce Forest Trail met the Park Road. We took a turn to the Taiga Trail and headed towards the Mt. Healy pathway.

The bridge crossing Horseshoe Creek about a quarter mile in. Up until now, everyone was in high spirits.

Once we officially left the Taiga Trail and merged on to the Mt. Healy Trail, the climb started. The grades seemed a constant 15-20%. I, in my state of being NOT FIT, was huffing and puffing already.

A mile in at the first bench, 500 feet of elevation covered.
This was the point I thought would be mine and girls' turnaround.

After a quick snack and drink break at the first bench, we headed up again.  That is the top of the Mount Healy Overlook trail straight ahead.

 The warm weather and steady sunshine, and perhaps, my little one's laziness prompted many of these moments. She would walk ahead, plop down in the middle of the trail, and say, "I'm tired. Break time."

At that point, I urged the boys to go on ahead of us.  As my men disappeared from view, blazing ahead, I made the crucial decision to dangle a bribe for my girls, not wanting to cut the hike short just yet.  Earlier in the souvenir shop, Sophia and Olivia had fallen in love with these big wolf puppets. The bribe of wolf puppets suddenly lit a fire under their tushies and we headed up the trail, energy renewed.

This was a serious trail. Everyone who we ran into on their descent was drenched in sweat, and trying to catch their breath. Above is a milder (much shorter) portion. 

There were great resting rocks for us to have a drink and a snack. Believe me, we all needed them. There were very steep sections that required us to use hands, knees, feet to scramble up some boulders, and narrow paths that sent terrifying visions of my children careening down the side of the mountain. Throughout our hike, I waited and waited for their "I don't want to do this anymore" so we could head back down to safety, normal heart rates, and steady breaths. But they didn't flag.  They kept trucking little troopers. 

Sophia was assigned the duty as the trailblazer, keen to alert us of any "dangers" (loose rocks, large roots, narrow paths). For the most part, I let Livy follow her sister unless the path was very narrow or there was a steep drop off the side. We sang songs, joked, laughed, and even caught sight of a spruce grouse with its chicks within the trees. We giggled at the thought of their dad's reaction to see how far up we've come.

Meanwhile, father and son were having a great walk. 
I can't believe it's been 14 years since this special guy came into my life and changed it forever.

 They reached the tundra, past the tree line and boulder field, and made their way to the steep switchbacks. Ten minutes from the very top, a gust of wind and a sudden wave of vertigo caught my boy by surprise. Deciding they had climbed high enough, the boys headed back down, fully expecting to meet us at the parking lot below.

Instead, just a short while later, Mister said he heard children's voices around the bend.  He couldn't believe the girls had made it that far. We climbed up together to the boulder field right before the switchbacks to take a break and enjoy the view. The red is where the boys got up to, and the yellow is the highest us girls reached.
 It wasn't the summit, but it counts in our book. A hard 2.5 miles up. Another 2.5 miles down. Five hours round-trip. Fam Och's first mountain.

On our way down.

The Mister and I laughed about how we had grossly underestimated the girls' hiking prowess. This hike  opened up a bunch of other hiking options in the Chugach area we had previously classified as "too hard" for the family to undertake.  And despite all the other cool and fun things we did during this trip, this particular adventure got the unanimous vote for the Ultimate Favorite Part.

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