Take a Hike … Without a Map

Hello all. My name is Mark Heisten. I’m this week’s guest blogger. And I’m the father of two sons, ages eight and five, who have numerous bumps, scrapes and bruises (and early-onset wisdom) to show that they fearlessly get up close and personal with danger.

However, I must confess that I have been known to enable dangerous behavior and injuries within the house by playing chase down the hallway, wrestling next to the coffee table, throwing baseballs/footballs/tennis balls in the living room (sorry, mom). I am a parent, so one of my primary jobs is to keep the boys safe, right? But where do the “teaching moments” come in when one is so busy staying safe?

Me and my son at Lookout Rock.

One of those moments came a few weeks ago, while we were vacationing in Vermont. It was a warm and sunny afternoon, when my older son and I joined the Morrison brothers – Justin and Dan, on a sight-seeing visit to the top of 3,800ft Equinox Mountain. As with most of the mountains in the Taconic and Green mountain range, its rise and elevation are understated from the road. No dramatic spire. No rocky peak. It was a lush green quilt of maple, birch, pine, dogwood and ferns from base to top.

One of the few places where a trail was visible.

The excursion promised great views and a little bit of exercise before dinner. Why would danger cross my mind at all? A mountain with a perfectly good, paved road all the way to the top is no cause for alarm.

About three quarters of the way to the summit, we pulled over and discovered a trailhead with a wooden, painted arrow that said “Lookout Rock 0.8M.” It might as well have said “Adventure. Go for it!” Without hesitation, we hopped out of the car and set off through the woods.

No … we didn’t have a map. No … we didn’t have any water. No … we didn’t have any bug-spray. No … our iPhones and Blackberry’s didn’t work. In fact, only Dan had the right kind of boots for a real, Yankee hike.

Within the first half mile, we’d lost the trail … twice; and about one mile in my son slid off the side of the trail into a large granite boulder. We walked through poison ivy and fought off swarms of stinging flies. After an hour and a half, all four of us stood in the middle of a grove looking for any sign of the trail or the Summit or even Lookout Rock. Nothing. We circled the area looking for the trail line – using our own sense of direction, the shadows and the rise of the mountain. After ten minutes of truly feeling lost, we finally found a yellow stripe painted on a tree indicating the trail line and were off again. My son didn’t worry and wasn’t afraid. He enjoyed the adventure and the challenge of solving a complex and potentially high-risk problem.

By the time we found Lookout Rock and the Summit and eventually the car, we’d hiked nearly four miles through pretty rough terrain. We discovered a bear cave, a rock with graffiti from 1883, a memorial to a beloved dog and a giant sense of accomplishment.

Rock carvings from a similar excursion in 1883?

Mr. Barbo's gravestone near the summit of Equinox Mountain.

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