My boys and I are high in the mountains, higher than most of the peaks around us, higher than some of the clouds that float slowly by, leaving shadows on the land far below. We’ve been climbing steadily for a couple of hours, gaining nearly a kilometer of elevation since we set out, early in the day. Here, above the treeline, the terrain is rugged and and the land feels alien, forbidding. The silence is broken only by the far away sound of water running, a myriad of small waterfalls streaming down the steep sides of Mount Albert Edward as the last of its snow melts in the sun.
I am exhausted. We have been climbing for a couple of hours, sometimes through sections so steep that we pull ourselves up using roots or rocky edges, and sometimes through sections where the rocks are so unstable that we have to be careful not to start little slides behind us. We have climbed a long way. When I look down, the lakes we passed in the morning look like tiny jewels, glittering sapphire and emerald pools. It seems inconceivable that we could have climbed so high in such a short period. But there is a long way to go yet. We still have to tackle the ridge, a section that looks deceptively flat and easy.
I am exhausted. But I’m happy too. I am out here in the wilderness with my two older boys, something I’ve been waiting for a long time, something I wasn’t sure would ever happen.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve hoisted a backpack and hiked any distance. I was worried about my knees. I was worried about my feet. I was worried about my aerobic capacity. I was worried I was too old.
I was also worried about safety. In my twenties, I spent time every summer backpacking, but always with people more experienced in the outdoors. I never felt confident enough in my own outdoor abilities to take my boys when they were smaller. It’s only now that the boys are strong enough and experienced enough in the wilderness themselves that I feel confident about being out here with them.
And they’ve been amazing. They’ve carried heavier backpacks than mine, they’ve set up the tent, filtered the water, helped cook the meals. They’ve watched out for their mom the whole time, one of them always hiking behind me to make sure I don’t fall too far behind. And they’ve been amazingly patient with me, even as I’ve slowed them down.
They are strong and fit and could be moving at a much faster pace. And today, they both really want the summit, having had to turn back because of snow on a previous hike.
Even though I’m tired, I keep going. I’ve stood on this summit before. This time, I want it for my boys.
As we make the final ascent, my worries fall away. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. Certainly I am nowhere near as fit as I was in my twenties and I have had to take this hike very slowly. But I’m not too old for this kind of adventure. And the possibilities for new adventures with my boys open before me.
There is a wonderful sense of triumph in summiting a mountain. But as we sit atop Albert Edward, I am filled too with pride in my boys, with excitement for them, and with a delicious sense of possibility for all of us.