I took my 9-year old son on his first backpacking trip last weekend. We were out for 2 nights and covered a total of 22 miles, with plenty of climbing and challenging trail surfaces – and beautiful landscapes to reward us!
We started our adventure by climbing Mount Rogers, VA for a few miles until the path intersected with the Appalachian Trail. Once we got on the AT, it was a different feel than any other trail. There are more people – although it’s remote enough not to be swarmed – and there is a palpable mystique. Hikers we met were friendly and encouraging to my son – everyone understood how challenging it is to carry a heavy pack for many miles, especially for someone that young.
On day 1 we hiked 6 miles mostly uphill until we stopped for the night at Thomas Knob, the highest point of the AT in VA. It was cold and windy that night and my son had trouble sleeping because of it. In the morning I showed him the map and possible bail-out options if he was really having a terrible time. We talked about what continuing meant and how leaving early might make him feel, and as we got moving and he warmed up, his spirits lifted and he decided to stick to our plan for the big day ahead. We were rewarded with gorgeous landscapes and the legendary wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.
On the second day we hiked about 12 miles of rolling technical terrain over 8.5 hours. It was by far the hardest thing he’s done yet, and the last hour especially was a struggle, but we made it to our spot for the night at the Old Orchard just in time to set up camp, find water, and make dinner before dark.
On our last morning, after hiking about 1.5 mile, we said goodbye to the Appalachian Trail and finished our hike for about 2 miles on the Fairwood Valley trail. This was mostly downhill and other than a stream crossing, smooth terrain, so our adventure ended a little faster than expected. After celebrating in the parking lot, we drove 2 hours to make it home in time for pancakes and bacon for lunch.
During the trip, I was struck by the variety of landscapes and trail surfaces we moved through: dense forests, rock gardens, mountains, hills and valleys, with all shades of green, big skies, cold and heat and wind… I’m taking all these landscapes with me as I work on a new crop of paintings… so stay tuned.
Thank you to Into the Backcountry for the excellent trail recommendation.