This past weekend we took an unprecedented second camping trip in a year. A group of friends from church wanted to take an early-fall getaway to Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, and we were delighted to go along. For most of them it was their first time camping since their kids were born, so we were extra-excited to help reintroduce them to the joys of outdoor living.
Since we had to be back on Sunday for various things at church we planned and packed for just one night, and we got everything together in between when I got home from work at 1:00 and 4:00, when we hit the road. Zion settled in for a nap and Harvey played on the electronic device. Lijah didn't fuss the whole time: for the middle third of the trip he slept.
It took us quite a while to get through Concord center, but once we got past the Rt 2 rotary we zipped right along. When Lijah was quiet Leah and I enjoyed the sensation of driving into fall.
We left the highway and followed smaller and smaller roads into New Hampshire, through and out of the town of Jaffery, and then we rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of a big mountain.
A few wrong turns and confusions later—I had our site number and reservation number, but I hadn't actually paid any attention to the name of the campground—we found where we were supposed to be. We were the last ones in, and we were warmly welcomed by screaming girls as we pulled into the site. As happy as we were to see our friends, though, we had to ignore them for a couple minutes as we variously nursed the crying baby and worked to put up the tent before it got all the way dark. Those things accomplished, we joined the rest of the crowd (7 adults and 10 kids, counting Lijah) for dinner and marshmallow roasting.
Away from the fire the night sky was pretty impressive: southern New Hampshire is more rural and remote than most of the places we hang out, and there were a whole lot more stars in the sky than I'm used to. I tried to take some long exposure shots and I bet they would have looked good, but sadly I accidentally deleted them from the camera—flipping through quickly I thought they were all black and assumed a kid had taken pictures with the lens cap on. Oh well.
We slept as well as can be expected for a first night in the tent—the boys actually did great, not waking us up once all night—and when four of us (all but Zion) were awake we were happy to lie around and chat for a while: real vacation relaxation! After a while screaming alerted us to the fact that our friends were up and about, so we headed over to our combined fire-pit for a big communal breakfast.
The propane stove was going for oatmeal but I had my big cast-iron skillet so I built up a fire to cook some bacon and scrambled eggs. The bacon was well-received by the kids... and I ate the eggs. After I was done cooking the kids had a great time playing with the remnants of the fire, gathering sticks and piles of leaves to dump on it and fanning it to produce impressive, if brief, conflagrations. And Elijah just sat in his little play seat and took it all in.
Somehow a plan emerged that involved us all climbing Mt Monadnock, so after a period of preparation we got in our cars and drove a couple minutes to the trailhead, where we joined about 900 other people with the same idea. We took lots of pictures as we hung around waiting for everyone to be ready to hit the trail; I'm not sure what Zion was thinking in this one, but I like it.
Once we got started, though, I know for sure what he was thinking: "I don't want to walk." I know because he told me. We didn't plan on a hike so we didn't have the kid-carrier backpack along—but there was no way I was going to just haul him up the mountain in my arms! Happily I had a sweatshirt that I wasn't wearing (thanks to the startlingly hot weather) and I was able to tie it into a passable sling. Of course, having Zion against my stomach was about as warm as wearing a sweatshirt, but needs must.
Up and up we went! The path was flat at first but even that was too much for a couple young members of the party, who headed back to camp with one adult as the rest of us pressed on. Soon it turned dramatically upward; good thing we're good climbers with lots of practice!
The more fun-looking pitches even tempted Zion out of my arms for an attempt on his own; he was soon back with me every time.
I do work to keep other people out of my photographs, but in that last one you can see the reality of the situation: there were lots of other people climbing along with us. Lots. I likened it at the time to a pilgrimage route. While being in such crowded conditions wasn't my favorite—it wasn't just the most crowded mountain I've seen, it was the most crowded place period that I've been in for months!—lots of other folks had kind words for our party as we struggled ever upwards.
Even we have our limits, though, and when, after two hours of hard climbing, we reached a sign that told us we'd made it half-way... I called a halt. I could go no further—other members of the party could do what they wanted, but I was heading back down. Leah and Harvey decided to come with me, along with one other family, while two more families kept going towards the top. We definitely made the right decision for our circumstances, even if we did have to replace our summit photograph with something a little more arboreal.
We were all tired—well, all of us but Leah—and besides, with just one day of vacation we had other things we had to do! Although Leah did manage to combine one of her other tasks with walking down the mountain.
(Nursing while hiking gets more impressed comments, by the way, than even hiking with small children!)
Eventually—eventually—we made it back to the trailhead and then to the parking lot, where we let the kids sit out the last several hundred yards of walk while I fetched the car. But by the time we got back to the campground they were bursting with energy again and ready to take on the playground.
Well, mostly bursting anyways...
When we were bored of the playground it was on to the nearby pond, where the mountain that had so recently defeated us was peacefully reflected.
The plan was to catch frogs, but even though I noticed one close enough to touch neither he nor any of the other amphibious denizens of the pond were molested in any way. It was still pretty, though, and fun to explore.
Back and the campsites the kids enjoyed some quiet pursuits.
We stayed for dinner, pretending we didn't have to leave for home just a little bit later. Our boxed mac-and-cheese was no match for the fancier dinner options.
As we packed up our tent the kids brightened up the gathering dark with glow-sticks. Zion brightened up several portions of his skin as well when he broke his open, but he got cleaned up before I managed to take a picture. Here are some of the other kids running around.
Then home, with the kids falling asleep within minutes of getting in the car, leaving Leah and me to chat peacefully all the way home. Now that was a vacation.