My daughter and I recently had the pleasure of sharing 3 nights in the Stanley Mitchell hut with the Edmonton ACC Junior section. In the beautiful Yoho valley. We set off from the Takakkaw falls parking lot around 1100AM, amidst a light sprinkle of rain. Only an hour after we'd planned to get started. In family hiking this counts as an early start. The junior hikers ranged in age from 5 to 9 and the parents ages ranged from "I don't know" to "I didn't ask."
The youngest little boy (5) did a super job. In fact at one point along the hike; the steep section after Laughing falls, as I sat admiring nature (see: catching my breath), he went streaking by me calling, "feel my hair, feel my hair, my hair is all wet!" I think he might have run the entire hill! I certainly couldn't catch up with him to feel his hair, wet or not. In fact, if it wasn't for his charming tendency to run around without any pants, I would have thought him a hiker of twice his age.
During the hike, requests came for stories, and I obliged by telling our small crew all of the ancient Greek mythology that I could remember. Unfortunately it's been a long time since I read the classics and I could only remember 8 or 9 of the 12 tasks of Hercules. Therefore, at one point Hercules may have been battling man-eating venus fly traps (á la Mario Brothers) and for his 11th task, by request, Hercules barely escaped death at the hands (or tentacles?) of a "booger monster"! (I'm not saying who suggested this idea, but I'm sure her parents recognize the narrative style.) The purists among you are shuddering, but you try recalling something you read in school 20 years ago, while hiking up a 30 degree slope, with an 80lbs pack, and 3 young children firing questions from all angles!
Needless to say I wasn't the first to arrive at the hut.
By the time I did arrive, the faster hikers of our group had already politely evicted a group of three 20something hikers who were hanging around the hut hoping to jackle an open bed. (The rain had gotten heavier). We later realised our error, as a dry bed could have been bartered for a considerable amount of free child care.
Everyone settled in quickly and I only had to move my daughter's sleeping bag 3 times based on her changing notions of who she wanted to sleep beside.
Food was prepared, I don't remember much of the details except everyone seemed to be concocting more elaborate, and better smelling dishes then what I'd brought (my daughter agreed, and refused to consume my meger offerings). The crew slowly settled down to sleep... and that's all I remember. I'm sure good times were had by the parents once the children were off to bed, but honestly, I fell asleep while putting my daughter to bed. Us old people need our rest.
The next day dawned bright and early, somewhat earlier then normal for a few of the group. Three of the more ambitious fathers had decided to get up at 4:00AM in order to scurry up the near-by peaks of the President and Vice-president and return in time for the family centered events planned for the afternoon. The rest of us awoke at a more civilized hour and, after a leisurely breakfast, moseyed up to the Isolated meadows behind the cabin. This turned out to be a serendipitous choice as, from the comfort of the meadows, we were able to watch the three black ants (the ambitious dads) zip down President to the col and then up Vice-president. Not sure if you could hear us calling to you from across the valley, but I assure you it was all positive support. There were absolutely no sarcastic wife comments.
The kids played, as kids do. Climbing rocks, throwing rocks, putting rocks down gopher holes, and adding rocks to unsuspecting parents packs. One child, who shall not be named, decided that water directly off the glacier was an ideal swimming temperature. Her father, anticipating this insanity, had a change of clothes near to hand.
On returning to the cabin a pickup game of baseball commenced using a tennis ball, a quarter round of firewood and a field liberally sprinkled with gopher holes... Surprisingly few injuries occurred.
In fact the closest thing to an injury occurred when a mom accidentally launched the firewood bat into the outfield at an alarming velocity. I totally believe her that it was coincidental that the bat impacted the ground 2 inches from her oldest child feet. Not at all a passive-aggressive attack.
After baseball came the Olympics, a decathlon style event including javalin, discus, rock throw and...butt darts ?!? Actually butt darts was my best event, I seemed to have a talent for the clenching. All events were performed in a sporting arena liberally decorated with gopher holes... Injuries occured; in the final event of the afternoon a young hiker was pile driven into a gopher den, nose first, by his mother in a valiant attempt to win the wheelbarrow race. It's all good though because the judges awarded our team extra sympathy points, and I think the kid was okay too. A moving awards ceremony ensued, with beautiful handmade medals for all participants.
After the medal presentations, it was time for chores. A terrifying number of young, soft, unscarred little hikers decided to help with chopping wood...Injuries, except for mental anguish on the part of the supervising dads, were once again absent. In fact one young blond boy showed a considerable amount of skill with the axe. Given his Viking ancestry this should not be surprising. We were just lucky he didn't don the horned helm and set fire to the cabin.
Evening rolled slowly in and once again the young hikers played musical bunks, based on some sort of complex formula parents were not capable of understanding.
The next morning dawned bright and fair. The majority of the group headed out to the toe of the President glacier for some waterfall gazing. Being as we are a equal opportunity group, two moms took this opportunity to go back up to the Isolated col and traverse across to the Whaleback ridge. However, on this occasion, there was no visual confirmation from the remainder of the group. Therefore, for all we know, these two ambitious moms could have marched briskly up, out of sight of the cabin, then sat down with a bottle of wine to enjoy a much deserved child free afternoon.
The rest of the group arrived at the foot of the President glacier without incident. Once there, because apparently insanity is contagious, a whole bunch of the young hikers decided a glacial melt pool was the perfect swimming spot. Only one parent was foolish enough to join them.
After a refreshing swim, and a short break for lunch, "Ice School" was in session. The young hikers were all issued ice axes and roped togather in what one father described as "a midget chain gang, on their way up to the mines".
Off they went, axe in hand, onto the snow field. "Step, step, stab. Step, step, stab." Or as one young hiker ("Shades") interpreted it... "Step, step, Dab. Step, step, Dab."
After ice school, the young criminals escaped the chain gang and assaulted the unsuspecting fathers with snow. The fathers beat a hasty retreat, leaving the 18 year old nephew to hold rear guard. He was summarily executed by firing squad.
The afternoon produced scattered rain showers, but the kids enjoyed some craft time indoors. One of the younger hikers, with all the charm and dainty size of a cabbage patch doll, asked if I could supervize her carving with her knife, and soon we had three, wee little angels hacking away at sticks with an unnerving intensity. Girls with pocket knives, my Grandmother would faint! To be fair, they also had ribbons in their hair, woven bracelets and were carving their ribbon batons. But they also had knives!
Later in the afternoon two of the more senior, less ambitious dads, decided that they'd had enough of the younger crew showing them up. So they decided to scramble up to the Isolated col during a break in the rain. This accomplishment was also not witnessed by the larger group, so it is entirely possible these two tired dads simply hiked back up to the meadows and had a nice long nap.
I heard a rumor later that one of the ambitious dads decided to run up Isolated peak in the evening, this smacks of showing off, but color me impressed!
Later that evening, after the wee ones were tucked snug into their sleeping bags the parents again enjoyed the comaraderie of a beverage and a game of... I don't know what. See I was upstairs, once again fallin asleep with the kids (remember, the old guys need more sleep then the young folk). Later in the night I was woken by my daughter who was sobbing from a nightmare; in which the other kids were all crafting amazing projects without her. Oh to have the problems of a 9 year old.
The next day was chilly and overcast. After a quick, but thorough, cleaning of the hut, the crew fragmented. Some returning down the main trail and others straggling up over the snowbound Iceline trail. And so, we bid a fond farewell to our new friends and old. Hoping in grace that we might all come togather again to share in the joy of allowing our kids to run around playing with knives and hatchets, enjoy a quick round of butt darts, and hike insane distances carrying heavy packs. As a friend once said, "It's best not to think too deeply about anything you really enjoy doing, least it turn out to be totally ridiculous."