I am starting to think this is the worst idea I’ve ever had. Barely 20 minutes into our climb, I’m afraid my children’s first real hiking adventure may be over. It’s hot, nearly 30 degrees, and the humidity is intense – the kind of day we’d usually spend on a beach. But we are on the Crawford Path in the White Mountains, a shady, rocky trail that will take us uphill for the next two and a half hours so we can spend the night in one of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s historic high huts.
But right now, I have doubts that we’ll make it.
“Why did you bring me here?” wails my nine-year-old as he plops down on a rock, his face wet from tears and sweat. “I’m too little for this!”
I sympathize, but I don’t think Jack wants to hear the truth: You are here because your parents want you to experience the mental and physical (not to mention scenic) rewards of pushing your limits; because you can’t find anything like the AMC’s full-service huts in Canada (we don’t need to carry tents or meals, and we can borrow good hiking gear instead of buying it); because climbing a mountain in real life is so much better than scaling one in Wii life.
I want to give my kids a taste of that mountain high, but I have no idea if they can handle a major expedition. That’s why we’ve driven nine hours to this White Mountains oasis in New Hampshire, where we can try a small portion of the 125-year-old hut-to-hut hiking route.
My son is not in a listening mood. Instead, I offer water. Our incredibly patient AMC guide Julie Higgins hands him a Snickers (this isn’t the first meltdown she’s seen on the trail), encourages him to look for frogs, then sets off after my 13-year-old mountain goat of a daughter, Bethany, who is already out of sight.
Alone, and still catching our breath, Jack and I stare at each other. It’s hard to push your limits with someone who knows how to push your buttons. He wings his backpack at me in disgust and stomps off up the trail. Well, at least he’s moving.
Our New Hampshire adventure started divinely. Just that morning we had gazed up at these mountains from wicker chairs on the vast, wraparound veranda at the Omni Mount Washington Resort.
We felt like the Rockefellers – they were among the families that summered here when the palatial hotel opened in 1902 – as we strolled through the lobby, swam in the marble-tiled pools and fine dined in the fancy-dress splendour of the circular dining hall (old money does not want to be stuck at a corner table).
It’s hard not to be impressed when presidents, a prime minister and royalty have stayed here before you – Thomas Edison even flicked on the electricity when it opened. But the hotel doesn’t lean too heavily on past glories. An $80-million renovation by Omni Resorts has brought the grand old dame up to a new level of luxe: There’s a 25,000-square-foot spa with private mountain views, and hallways built wide enough for two women in elaborate hats and bustles are now wired for WiFi. Wandering these corridors of privilege, we saw a cyclist carrying his mountain bike down the grand staircase and hikers tracking dirt through the grand hall. The unpretentiousness of it all was as refreshing as the mountain air.
A few days later, we discover more of that can-do camaraderie at AMC’s Highland Center Lodge, a hotel/hiking base where we meet our guide. Julie draws three stick figures.
“Imagine yourself on a nice day, a snowy day and a rainy day. You need to make sure you’ve got clothes in your pack for all three,” she says.