My mother had approached me about a week ago wanting to climb a mountain. I put the word out to the hiking community and came up with Mt. Israel. A 52 with a view peak that had a great view. Sunday morning after my loop of Mt. Hale and the Zealand Hut, I was picked up and the 3 of us (Isis was included) were off to Center Sandwich NH for a day on the trails. I believe we were cautiously optimistic that the day would go as planned and while being a realist, I encouraged my mother to give it her best. I wanted her to have that same experience that I get when in the mountains and hoped that she would do more. We found the Mead Camp with no problem. The GPS lead us right there and after a few quick photos, we started out.
The leaves had over taken the trail and provided a slick coating and on the incline, I encouraged my mother to go slow and take small steps to minimize fatigue. She was receptive to the advice and moved along very well and was taken by the scenery. I smiled with each ohhh and Ahhh she gave. She handled her first incline very well and as we continued, my expectations for the day grew. We chatted on the way up about life and plans that I was forming and she gave her approval resoundingly. We came to her first water crossing and while Isis and I went first she, soon followed and followed my foot placement. Her first water crossing was also a success. As we continued, the forest was a brilliant shade of yellow, the winds were low, and the sun was bright. It was by all means, a perfect day for her first mountain experience. My mother, being in her sixties, was undertaking something huge and I was proud to be a part of it. I carry two poles with me that rarely seem to get used since I have the dog. I had offered them to her for greater stability to her one walking pole. My mother kept on going with just the one pole and was doing great.
We passed a few significant blow downs. Some were fresh and some were probably a few years old. Again, my mother went around or over them with no issues. She was smiling and laughing and enjoying her time out of the house and time spent with me. We had not connected like this in a few months. Given busy schedules and life in general and even though we lived close, it was still hard to get together. Isis was doing well with the slower pace and being patient with breaks. The trail began to climb and started throwing a few rocks in our way and I guided my mother over them by pointing out places to put her feet or things to look out for. I cleared some loose rocks so that she would not twist her ankle. One section in particular was slick with leaves to get around a pretty steep ledge and we took our time. My mother was in continued good spirits even though I could see the day was wearing on her. She made it around this section with no problem. The leaves were soon replaced with larger rocks and roots and again, we took our time and helped each other up. The trees were starting to give way to the view and my mother would pause and take it all in. This rejuvenated her and I saw the same look in her eye that I get. So much of my mother in her novice climb, reminded me of me as I had begun over two years ago. It was as if I was leading myself up the mountain and remembering all those that helped and coached me.
She navigated to rocky passes with careful patient footing and we were able to walk the flat sections with relief. Mt. Israel had one of those summits that took forever to get to (a little like Mt. Moriah) and as we made our approach, I stepped aside and let my mother be the first on the summit. The wind was blowing and it was chilly so we stayed just long enough to capture the moment and grab the view. My mother was blown away by what she saw. I was not only taking in the view. I was taking in her experience as well. We went back down the trail for lunch and got out of the wind. After the break, we headed back the way we came. My mother was slowing down and being a little more careful with her steps. Once we got back into the leaves, she struggled a little and I took extra care to coach her where to put her feet.
We came back to the section of steep rock ledge and I warned her to go where the path was worn and still had some leaves on it rather than where I was heading down the rocks. I met her a little ways down the trail to watch her footing. What I ended up watching scared the crap out of me. My mother fell and tumbled down the embankment of the trail. She was heading for some trees that I knew would stop her fall in the worst way. She came to rest face down in the leave. “Mom are you OK?” was met with a much delayed response. She was shaken and moving rather slow. I moved and put Isis around a tree with her leash and went to assess. There was a root sticking out and very close to piercing her temple. I quickly broke it away and tossed it. My mother was able to lift herself up and was unsure of if she could get up the embankment. Bracing myself, I offered two hands and asked her to trust me. She got her legs under her and was able to be upright with a little effort. Covered in dirt and leaves, she was shaken and OK. Nothing broker or strained. I had her rest and get some water. Brushed the dirt off her face and we each took stock of what happened. The leaves were slick for her and I offered the poles on my pack once again. They would provide her with greater stability and peace of mind. We slowed down dramatically after this and for good reason. We both were shaken up by the event.
I was remembering all the bad spills I had taken. The 3 times I fell when trying to get off Garfield the first time and the time I fell and face planted in the snow coming down the Jewel in the Presidentials on an unstable monorail with Scott and Gumby Hiker. I wondered if Scott was as concerned for me when I fell as I was for my mother. She was shaken and continued to slow down. Over thinking her steps and falling more. I encouraged her to continue to slow down and also keep moving. She began getting frustrated as she kept falling and I worried about her giving up and getting discouraged. After another fall, I again offered her the poles on my pack and she took them. For the last half mile, she was provided with greater stability using poles that essentially get a free ride on my pack. They are there if I need them (mostly for water crossings for me) and I guess I really needed them today. The poles are not even mine and I thanked the owner silently and smiled at memories. Everything happens for a reason and as I told my mother, there was a reason that these poles were still in my possession and perhaps this was why. She needed them more than I did and so many times I thought of just leaving them on his door step or arranging for them to be picked up but something prevented me and still prevents me. These poles gave my mother a little more confidence in her step and got her down from the mountain. I was pleased and very proud of her for sticking it out and holding it together. My mother was able to see her first summit view and mountain experience in many many years. This day was one that I didn’t think would happen and I was honored that she asked me to lead her.