GET OUT: Parental Payback

By on August 9, 2016

A familial mountain outing of glory, defeat and swollen elbows.

‘The parents’ walk along the shores of Snowdrift Lake while their daughter reflects on the pain of her hiking childhood. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

‘The parents’ walk along the shores of Snowdrift Lake while their daughter reflects on the pain of her hiking childhood. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When I was a small child, the mere idea of hiking with my parents was a form of torture. A fourt-foot pipsqueak, I was dragged around through dense vegetation on myriad Teton journeys. The early morning dew covered my body in a wet, itchy mixture of plant matter and water droplets. Although my clothes eventually dried out, the soft squishing in my shoes throughout the day reminded me of those first hours of torture.

Now that I’m an alleged adult, I actually still hike with the parents in the heat of the summer. Though I seldom have days off, and one long day of walking each weekend is really all their old legs can handle. On one such hiking day, my father suggested going to Lake Taminah up Avalanche Canyon. I agreed but warned him that a large avalanche a few years ago had made the trail much more difficult than it was when he used to slog me up there.

“What do you think, I’m old now?” my father replied. “I’m game.”

So my mother, father and I commenced our journey from the Bradley-Taggart parking area on one warm mountain morning. We veered off onto the social path and began picking our way up Avalanche Canyon. During this time my father kept saying, “See this isn’t that bad! I can even still use my hiking sticks.” (The sticks, a new addition to my father’s hiking arsenal, mysteriously find a way to graze various appendages on my body when my dad is using them.)

A couple miles into the canyon, the walking life intensified. The trail turned into a mass of giant logs tooth picked on top of each other. My mother and I forced my dad to put his hiking sticks away, and it’s a good thing we did because soon after, we had to be nimble.

A large female moose munched in a clearing just ahead on a knoll. From the moment she saw us, her ears flicked back and her agitation ensued. The brown beast began walking towards us. Meanwhile, my parents looked at me like I was some sort of moose whisperer. I envisioned a room full of angry siblings should anything happen to the bloodline. We carefully picked our way through a collection of deadfall and finally made it to the creek, which was a moose-free zone, but mucky. I walked atop logs over the muck when I heard a giant splash. It was not the moose, but my dad who fell up to his arm in mud. He writhed, attempting to release the upper section of his body from the giant mud pit.

When I finally saw his hand, I realized his palm had been slightly impaled by a stick in the mud. We performed some quick first aid and cleaned the wound when I noticed my mother, stalwart and without complaints, bandaging up a few small gashes on her legs. The crew continued up into the abyss and finally got above the slide path, pass Shoshoko  Falls and to Lake Taminah. The lake is nestled in the nook of peaks and whitebark, and while we were all wounded to a degree, it felt good to be there.

We wearily agreed we didn’t want to go back the way of the lurking moose and endless bushwacking, so the prospect of adding another 13 miles and coming out the south fork of Cascade seemed heavenly. I stopped for nothing other than to jump in Snowdrift and Kit Lake with dad. When we made it to the top of Avalanche Divide, we enjoyed our first actual snack break to celebrate life on a real trail.

Everyone was feeling the glory of the trail, soaking in wildflowers and enjoying sporadic berry patches. Then my mother got hungry and tired. She started worrying about things such as a ride back to our car at Bradley Taggart. At the forks, I offered to run out, get the car and pick up at the boat dock. At some point during this conversation, my father fell, walking sticks and all, hitting his elbow.

“Don’t worry,” he told me, “it’s just an olecranon bursitis from an inflamed bursa sack.”

I had no idea what that meant, but his elbow was the size of a baseball. He assured me he would be fine, and I left him on the trail with my mother to follow our set plan.

They were tired when I picked them up, but in good spirits.

“This has been a long day,” my dad said. “We’re going to have to pop it.”

While many would be concerned if their father had a giant sac of fluid hanging off his elbow, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment on the way home. Finally, I had made my parents tired from hiking, enabled them to experience those brief moments of glory—and payback—I once felt as a child.

Not to worry though—I tell them how much I appreciate my childhood boot camp quite often. PJH

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