We have a Mountain to Climb!

I’m sure your kids have never complained about going for a hike in the woods, but mine do.. every single time.  So why all the hiking?  By now you might have noticed that most of my itineraries are centered around us doing a hike or five wherever we go.   However, I’ve learned the most important secret in the history secrets to hiking with kids.  Are your ready?  Here it is.  Once they are on the trail, they will stop complaining.  Every. Single. Time.

It’s all in the presentation of the task.  Kid’s love stories of superhuman hero’s and great epic journey’s.  They watch characters overcome incredible odds in their favorite movies.  Giving them the opportunity to accomplish their own great adventure, will not only inspire them to greatness, but will allow them the freedom to enjoy it without judgment.  They will create games, splash in the creeks, play in the mud, climb on the trees, and sometimes even stare in awe at the views.  And they will return stronger, more confident, and with a more adventurous spirit, ready to take on the next of life challenges.

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2010, Mt. Rainier National Park – Hiking the switchbacks up the Rampart Ridge Trail

Let’s talk about Mt. Rainier, one of my most favorite National Parks.  Why?  The hiking. The woods.  The smells. The views.  Everything is beautiful here, the hikes are challenging, and there is just so much to see and do!  We camped at the lovely Cougar Rock campground for three nights which gave us time for two very full days of exploring.

We kicked off our first day with the challenging Rampart Ridge Trail, a steep 4.6 mile loop!  Though the twins were only six at the time, they not only hiked up the endless switchbacks, but climbed on trees, dunked their heads in running streams, raced to the top, and made up silly games along the way.  Everyone completed the grueling uphill portion of the hike, we had fun doing it, and at the top we were rewarded with this priceless view of Mt. Rainier!

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2010, Mt. Rainier National Park – View from the top of Rampart Ridge Trail

After a long, lazy lunch we set out for our second hike of the day, a lovely romp along the famous Wonderland Trail to Carter Falls.  Although the waterfall was beautiful and well-worth the hike, our favorite part was crossing the Nisqually River!  This river was formed from the runoff of melting glaciers and so it is very wide and shallow with lots of boulders to climb around on and mud to play in.  The kids found endless ways to play on it’s rocky banks and we soothed our aching feet in the icy blue runoff waters from the mountains glaciers.  (If you like science, be sure to check out Rock, Ice, Life for a lot of ‘sciency’ information about this river and other features in our Northwest National Parks.)

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2010, Mt. Rainier National Park – Fun on the trail.  Fun on the river.

We began Day 2 at the visitor center in Paradise.  The paradise area of the park is well.. paradise.  It was still covered in snow in July, so we especially enjoyed the cozy visitor center while we explored all the exhibits and learned more about Mt. Rainer.  Our first hike of the day was the Nisqually Vista Trail, a 1.2 mile loop through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the park.  Although the hike was fairly short, it was exhausting trampling through more than a mile of snow!  And once again, although the kids were less than enthusiastic about a morning hike, once they were on the trail they had a lot of fun.  I mean, it’s snow!  Kids love snow.

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After lunch in Paradise, I overheard some strange mutterings of “No more hiking mom!” but I assumed they were somebody else’s children and we rode the Mt. Rainier Shuttle bus to our last hike in the park.  Comet Falls.  320 feet of breathtaking splendor!  The trail was only about a 4 mile round trip loop, but the hike to the Falls is a strenuous and steady 1.8 mile uphill trek, and half-way through a thirty day camping trip, not to mention spending the last couple days on the trails, the kids were a wee bit exhausted.  Once again, they approached the trailhead with all the exuberance of turkey’s on Thanksgiving.  Shocker.  I have to give them credit though; this time they came up with a whole host of alternative activities, but in the end what were my options?  Let them spend this beautiful afternoon in the wilderness sleeping in a tent?  No Way.  I found ways to get them laughing at me instead of dwelling on thoughts of quitting, and before they knew it, we were a quarter mile into the trail, they were resigned to finishing the hike, and suddenly they were just enjoying the simplicity of the moments, as children do.

Our path to greatness… setting out for Comet Falls.
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Climbing our mountain.
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A little rest…  I’m going to assume that look means “you’re taking another picture” instead of “why are we doing this?”
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Getting closer…
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Our first incredible glimpse of the plunging Comet Falls.
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We made it!  Standing at the base of the falls we could feel the pounding water through our feet, the powerful spray on our face, and the thrill of accomplishment running from head to toe.  Amazing.
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If the kids had given up before we even started, they would have missed this single irreplaceable moment.  This moment to learn that the most rewarding things in life, are often the most challenging.  It’s not something that can be learned through words; it has to be experienced.  I will never, ever forget that day.  The smiles on their faces.  The adrenaline that returned them swiftly back to the trailhead.  The laughter on the way home.   And for this reason, Mt. Rainier will always be one of my most favorite of all National Parks.

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

One Lost Wedding Ring and the Best Trip Ever

What is your favorite park?

It is an impossible question…  and one the kids get asked often.  But, all the parks were established to preserve an incredible part of the country, and not just any place… but the highest! The deepest! The longest!  The most!  The best!  There is something magical about all the parks.  Something that transcends the efforts of getting there.  We’ve now been to 27 National Parks; we’ve spent the night in a tent, hiked a few trails, gotten dirty, explored a wilderness, learned something new, and seen something amazing there.  We’ve learned a lot about these parks, and we all have fond memories of each stop along our trips for unique and various reasons. So, how do you pick the very, very best?  Your most favorite?  How can you rank the dense wilderness of Sequoia against the vast sun-beaten grasslands of the Badlands?  Can you even compare the alpine meadows of Glacier with the glow of an Arizona sunset on the walls of the Grand Canyon?  Or choose a favorite between the Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone or the Great Bat Caves of Carlsbad or the flowing Volcanoes of Hawaii?  I don’t know that you can.

We do each have a few favorites through.  It’s like books.  I don’t think I can pick my most favorite.  But, I can pick my top three, hmm… or maybe I’d have to go with a top five.  Either way, there are a handful of parks that I hold very near and dear to my heart, not just for their beauty, but for some of the experiences we’ve had there.  Three of my most favorite are included in the Northwest Itinerary:  Rainier, Olympic, and the Redwoods.  So, although I can’t pick a favorite park, I think I can pick a favorite trip.  Not only does the Northwest Itinerary include six incredible parks, but it also includes some other locations that make this itinerary special:  the beautiful Lake Chelan, the pristine San Juan Islands, the culturally unique cities of Seattle and Portland, and the absolutely breathtaking Oregon coastline.   Not to mention that in between stops, you are driving through some of the most magnificent and productive forests in the world.

But every trip has its valley… even the Best One.  I lost my wedding ring on this trip.  It wasn’t a diamond or a family heirloom, thank goodness, but it was mine.  It was a very simple, plain, white-gold band, the one I was married with, the one I’d been wearing all those years we struggled through the early part of my marriage, and through all the happy times we shared while watching our family grow.  It was heartbreaking.  I believe I lost it somewhere in our campground at Lake Chelan, and after hours and hours of looking for it, driving away was torture.  But there’s more.  That was also the summer that we were trying to keep a flailing business partnership afloat.  I’m not sure if any of you have ever been through a business partnership “break-up,” but I think it may be as emotionally draining and devastating as divorce.  You face some of the hardest issues among our personal relationships:  the loss of loyalty, trust, and friendship.  The stress level and phone calls were enough to make us all think about driving home early.  I’m so glad we didn’t.

There are always reasons not to go, not to plan, not to spend the money, or not to take the time.  But, I’ve never yet felt that one of these trips wasn’t worth the effort or the sacrifice of being there, because this is the thing that is most important:  the time with your family.  Now it is three years later and when we look back, we don’t see the things that went wrong.  We remember the great eagle that swooped over our dashboard while in the San Juan Islands.  We remember how it felt to be standing under the powerful spray of Comet Falls after accomplishing a strenuous two mile hike up the foothills of Mt. Rainier to get there.  We remember the first time we walked over the rim and gazed at Crater Lake.  We remember our first Fourth of July in Bend, OR, a town we would come to call home.  We remember the breathtaking views overlooking the Olympics Mountain range and the laughter of following the Twilight Trail in Forks.  We remember that incredible Museum of Flight in Seattle.  We remember the salt-water taffy in Seaside.  We remember throwing ourselves down the great sand dunes of the Oregon coast.  We remember our last hike of the trip, walking through a dense fog in the middle of the Redwood forest.

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I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all have valleys in life, just like every trip will have it’s valley.  Don’t let that stop you from taking them!  And more importantly, don’t let it stop you from finishing them.  Our first business disintegrated that summer, and I lost my wedding ring.  But, we just deal with the difficult times knowing that it’s only a low point, and that we’ll hike out of it soon enough, and onto our next mountain.  My brilliant husband has built up a better company and I’ve inherited a beautiful heirloom ring from my Great Grandmother.  And, now that I look back, I kind of like the thought of my plain gold band buried somewhere near the shores of Lake Chelan.  Maybe someday, some imaginative child will dig it up out of the mud and play a little game called “The One Ring.”  One can only hope.

Happy Autumn!
~Cassie