Sometimes seeing the world from a child's eyes can rejuvenate your spirit. Erica and I took our 7-year-old nephew, Kamden, and our two dogs, Keel, and Hero, for a hike through the trails on Sitting Bear Mountain. The Sitting Bear for which the mountain is named is a gigantic boulder that resembles the shape of a bear from certain angles. While Sitting Bear had been a favorite destination for Erica and me when we were younger, neither Kamden nor the dogs had ever been hiking in the mountains. This was going to be a true adventure!
Erica is the greatest companion on any trip. She always plans ahead and packs so as to guard against potential catastrophes. We loaded up the car. Kamden and the dogs were completely psyched. The dogs panted and stuck their heads out the car window. Erica cranked up some travel jams and got us underway. Kamden asked a lot of questions.
“Are there bears up there?”
“Will we see them?”
“Are there caves?”
“Well, not deep caves.”
“Will there be salamanders?”
“Can I keep one?”
“Is it going to be cold?”
The one question he asked over and over?
“Are we there yet?”
The drive up is about an hour of curvy mountain roads and switchbacks. Because you have to drive at a slow speed, the trip seems longer than it is. We finally arrived at the parking area near the trailhead and gave Kamden the safety lecture before getting out of the car.
“The trail is mostly pretty safe, but there are some very dangerous areas. You will need to pay attention and stay close to us when we hit the scary spots.”
We had to talk Kamden out of carrying his stuffed bunny and football on the trail. When we exited the car Kamden and both dogs were as excited as if we had just pulled into Disney World. The dogs went into a sniffing mania in this world of new scents. They tugged at the leashes so hard that they almost jerked my arm off.
Erica and I strapped on our day packs and directed our little traveling circus up the trail. Kamden found a stick he planned to use for a slingshot but later decided to throw it down the side of the mountain. The first leg of the trail was fairly easy. Periodically, we cut the dogs loose and let them run free. They are pretty well trained and always stay close. We met a few hikers on their way down from the mountain and greeted them. Folks on the trail are always so nice. We found a big campsite with a fire pit and stones around it to sit on. Everyone took a seat to rest, sip water, and have a bite of smoked gouda.
When we left the campsite, the trail became narrower and steeper. We talked and laughed and goofed off. Kamden took a time out from hiking to wedge himself between two trees growing close together. Placing his right hand and foot on one tree and his left hand and foot on the other, he shimmied way up. Erica and I were impressed. This little guy should be a gymnast!
We got back on the trail and reengaged in earnest hiking. Erica and I were getting winded, but Kamden skipped along like it was nothing. At this juncture, I appreciated Keel tugging on the leash as it helped propel me forward. Finally, we reached what I consider the difficult part of the trail. The dirt path dead-ends into a wall of rocks about 20 feet high.
The wall is not vertical but does require four points of contact to scale. Erica and Kamden went first and climbed their way up the grade. The dogs and I followed behind. I felt like I was driving a mule team as Keel and Hero charged forward. I held the leash in my right hand and climbed using my left hand and both feet. It was fairly intense!
At the top of the grade was another freaking grade! This time, instead of a wall of rocks, it there is a single, flat, boulder about ten feet long and situatedat a 45-degree angle. The best way to navigate the boulder is to sit on your bottom and scoot up backward. At the top end of the rock, the trail becomes a dirt path again and immediately forks. The right fork leads up to the Sitting Bear. The left opens onto a ledge that overlooks Lineville Gorge. The drop from the ledge to the bottom of the gorge is roughly 2000 feet! The view is spectacular and a bit terrifying, especially if you are a 7-year-old boy. I remained on the trail to manage the dogs and Erica carefully took Kamden to see the view. When they returned, I asked Kamden what he thought about it.
“I didn’t like it.”
“It was amazing but way too scary.”
“I totally understand. You are one brave guy!”
We traveled up the trail and checked out the Sitting Bear. It is HUGE. Rock climbers use the Sitting Bear rock for climbing practice. We rested for a bit, had a little more water, and headed back down the trail. The hike back was pretty uneventful other than one wrong turn. When we finally made it back to the parking lot everyone was bushed. We loaded into the car with no fanfare. Erica put on quiet spa music and we drove back down that long and winding road. Kamden and the dogs were asleep within seconds. Our trip ended with barbeque sandwiches at a roadside place and discussions about where we would go for our next hike.
Until next time, happy trails, Aging Heroes!