It’s been a hiking kind of summer. I’ve taken Girl A and E on many wild hikes. Seven thus far, with seven more to go, the idea is to hit all hikes that bear creek water. Not bears. It’s been loads of fun. Despite the adventure, beauty and overall amazing vistas, the girls have one goal, find a salamander.
Easton Canyon has been by far most
adventurous, treacherous. The winding trail leads to the spectacular falls.
Because of the heat, I waited until after 5pm to venture out. We had done this before, and getting down from the trail at dusk was never a problem.
Being the by now seasoned hikers we are, the girls have their routine down. Wear long pants, hiking boots, toss water bottles and snacks into a backpack I would carry.
They need free hands of course in the event they spotted frogs or salamanders. We also brought along a friend Clara, a smart, outdoorsy girl who also loves salamanders, snakes, frogs and all things slimy.
Before we set out, the girls have ground rules for me.
Girl A detests the way I dress, it doesn’t matter if I am going to the store, a business meeting, the White House or a hike.
“Mom, stick to the monochromatics. No florals, polka dots, stripes, colors. Please! You’re so embarrassing.”
Girl E: “And no talking, singing or commenting on the trail of any kind.”
So I wore a white T-shirt and black yoga pants. To my credit, unlike the girls who suddenly felt the need to not wear hiking books, I wore my giant waterproof hikers that I bought for skiing trips.
I let their lack of proper footwear go because I really didn’t think we would get into the trail very deep. So, slip- on tennies with no socks. And Girl A went with shorts.
Off we go.
Along with the video, the girls read this place was brimming with salamanders, so they also brought little catching nets and containers.
Here they are, filled with hope and excitement.
A couple of fun signs and 20 minutes of upward climbing later, all the girls are bored.
“Where’s the creek.”
“I want to see Salamanders. Another dud hike.”
“Mom why do you always bring us, promising amphibians and all we see are water bugs?”
“Was that a bogus website?"
"Guys, we read it together. It said salamanders... like many."
“Mmmm, hmmm.” This is E’s way of saying, you are so full of #($*.
“Lets just keep moving. I want to see the falls,” pipes in Clara.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” A whines.
Pretty soon ALL of them have to go to the bathroom so we find a tunneled detour to take care of business. I always carry toilet paper.
They kick dirt over whatever, well, like cats do. I found that interesting.
We keep moving and suddenly the dirt hike ends, just ends, and we encounter rocks. Big ones. Okay, boulders. Miles and miles of boulders. First we have to navigate the creek over other huge rock cropping settled in the water.
The girls shoes and legs are now soaked, but they don’t care. Because... they might find salamanders. But they don't and it's a crushing blow.
“Girls, get out of the water, walk along side the creek! Like me.”
I am avoiding going in but then almost fall in because there really isn’t a “side.”
Once out of the cesspool, we start climbing boulders.
By now of course I am carrying all the waters, bags, backpacks, sweaters, salamander trap contraptions. I also am making mental and physical markers because frankly we are in a canyon surrounded by mountains, boulders, giant trees, brush and no paths!
I am also concerned there might be mountain lions. As we know Liam Neeson could tear one apart. I am certain I don't have that skill.
And I am guessing there will be no possible way to find our way back in the dark.
The girls are scrambling up the boulders like real pros. They keep checking on me as though I may have fallen into some pit.
“You okay, Mom?” "Need a hand?"
“Girls, I hiked Pikes Peak barefoot. Give me a break.”
I sounded exactly like a parent not wanting to sound like their parent.
Meanwhile a few people are making their way down. This party is clearly over.
“Girls, maybe we should head down, (while I still know how to get back), and see it another time.”
“No way! We are almost there.”
Entire families are leaving now. Church groups. Summer camps. Militia.
The girls are still light footed and running forward.
“Just keep your feet in the footprints… I keep telling them.”
“Listen!” E whispers.
We all freeze. It’s a harmonica and a sitar. And we hear water. Splashing water.
The girls make a mad dash up the rocks. I’m terrified they will fall.
“Girls! Stop. Wait for me. Stop!”
They don’t listen. I catch up.
And now we are back in three feet of rocky water, which we have to cross to get to the falls. We go for it, and then finally hit dry land. And it is quite a site. And worth the rock climb.
At the base of the falls were four musicians from another era playing lovely music with the sitar, guitar, harmonica and a bongo. They nodded to us, but clearly were in their own world playing variations of George Harrison's Bangladesh.
I felt relieved to see them. At least we were not alone. But then again, these dudes may have been there for 30 years. Hard to say. They did have a water stick.
The girls went wild and jumped into the water. Especially A. She would have walked all the way to the falls.
“Stop! Don’t go any further”
The other girls stayed in the more shallow area looking for critters, using a net, and a magnifying glass.
I was too afraid to take the musicians photo but one of them offered to take ours, which was super nice.
The sun had long disappeared behind the mountains. It was getting dark. Fast.
All I could think about is how the frick am I going to find that trail miles away. Liam Neeson most likely would grab hold a healthy vine and swing to the top of the mountain, carrying all the kids. I picked up a twig.
“Okay kids. Follow me!”
And I lead them to a dead end, a stone wall with disgusting expletives scratched all over it.
“Lets try this way,” Clara says.
We follow Clara, she is right. We are back on boulder way.
Meanwhile I kept checking my phone for a signal. None. Did I really think I was going to call Liam Neeson and get tips? Or better, get him in person?
Pushing up over the boulders I see footprints and felt better.
The problem with hiking in the pitch dark is there is no way of really knowing where you are going. Images of all those Blair Witch movies with people going round and round and end up where they started float about. But I never let the girls think I’m anything less than an expert.
I charge out front.
“Okay. I got this. Everyone get behind me.”
Somewhere I lost the confidence of E. She was getting extremely scared.
“We’re lost!” She sensed something wasn’t right. Plus by now this whole thing rang sinister, which will frighten any child. Shadows, noises, gloom. Except apparently A, who was enjoying all of it. E has always leaned toward the macabre and believes evil exists. Not A. She would more expect to find a gingerbread house than a witches hut.
E flies into a panic, her heart starts to race. I comfort her.
“We are not lost," I say. "We are almost down.”
“I don’t believe you!”
“Let’s just move as quick as possible.” Oh, WRONG THING TO SAY!
E freaks out again.
“Quick! What does that mean, Mom? Is someone following us? HELP!!”
Then I trip on a rock.
“Oh my god, Mom! Are you okay? Oh my god, we’re going to end up like James Franco!”
Now, her fears escalate. She hadn’t thought of that. The only adult, me, impaired, possibly armless, out of commission, leaving three nine-year-old girls to find civilization.
They did not see 127 Hours, but word gets around the schoolyard. Stranger, how did she even know who James Franco was?
I explained over and over the real story of how the hiker got trapped, how that could never happen. We were nowhere near Utah. This helped a bit.
Then I see more consistent footprints and markers. I feel more and more confident. I make sure the girls see my confidence.
“Girls, there’s my special markers. We are close.”
“What the hell is a maker?” E shouts.
A explains what a marker is.
“Mom, that was really smart.” A hugs me and points to a small pile of rocks I set up.
This girl is fearless. In fact, she is on a mission. Takes control, heads out front with the flashlight.
Typically she is comforting E, but I got that job. So her finely honed hiking skills get us to the 2nd creek we encountered.
“See, E, Mom was right. We walked through this area. It’s where we saw the frog. She made markers.”
“I don’t care! I spit on markers! I want to go home.” E is sobbing.
Again, I pull an arrow from my Neeson quiver, lean down and hold her tight.
“E, I will not let anything happen to you. Ever. You are my girl. You are safe with me. I am strong. I will get us all back home safe and sound.”
She hugged me, then cried some more.
Carla slips on a rock and falls.
“Oh, I think I broke both my ankles. Possibly my arm too.”
From my mental Liam preserve or maybe it was Nurse Jackie, I knew to elevate the legs and wrap them or something.
“Oh Noo! Mom, we are doomed!”
Carla stands up and is fine.
“You’re okay honey. You wouldn’t be able to stand up if they were broken. You’re arm is fine too. I’m thinking bruised.”
We carry on.
She says, “Ooooh, if we have to go much further my legs are going to give out.”
This sends E into a full-blown anxiety attack and she yells:
“Everyone stop talking! Just focus. Focus.”
“Honey, we are okay, almost there.”
I knew we had one more creek to pass before we reached the dirt trail.
I was growing concerned. I did not have a penknife that turned into a helicopter that would then lift us to safety.
Meanwhile, A is out front holding the flashlight and paving our way in the inky night.
“There’s the path, Mom was right. Her markers worked! I got this now!!”
A was so delighted.
“Turn off the flashlight, it’s freaking me out!! And stop talking about markers!”
I pull E closer and told her we needed the light as the path was rocky and I didn’t want any spills.
“Mom, did James Franco ever grow his arm back?”
I let this go and instead focused on Clara’s amazing find. A perfectly heart shaped rock she had found.
“It brings me great comfort. I don’t know why. E, do you want to hold it?” Then Clara started to sing.
“I don’t want your rock and please stop singing. Everyone focus.”
“Honey, we are on the path back.”
Then from Clara, she whispers to me:
“I don’t tell this to many people but I am afraid of the dark.”
Now I am holding both of their arms, death grip style, 15 lbs. of gear strapped on my back, walking in wet boots with mushy socks, while A is ahead skipping along with the flashlight.
At this point, Liam would pick up all three kids and run up the trail. I could barely walk myself. Now I had swamp blisters.
We trudge another 15 minutes. The moon rises.
“Look at that moon!” I shout, hoping to get E’s mind off her Titanic fears.
It was a crescent moon, bright yellow, low in the sky and beautiful.
“No! Don’t look, just focus!”
“But E, it looks like a banana. It’s funny. I bet only a gorilla could actually reach it,” says A.
So we ignored the moon and carried on.
“Look,” I yell. “The entrance!”
All the girls hobble forward. As we near the gate, E notices it’s closed, locked, a giant iron gate.
“Aaaahhhh! Mom! You are so wrong. All the time!”
“Honey, we can walk around it.”
“Here’s a perfectly fine path to the car.” A says proudly, holding out her flashlight, 100 feet of dirt and there is the car.
After washing their feet and throwing everything in the trunk, E finally relaxes and is asleep before we get home....
When E dashes to her father, clinging his legs and retells the entire ordeal with great flair and drama that reach horrific proportions. When E was satisfied that she conveyed the extreme level of danger she was in and efficiently pointed out my incompetence many times, she could finally eat.
I placed an entire cooked chicken on the table along with some fruit. Five minutes later, I looked at their plates, nothing was left but a few chicken bones and crumbs.
But lesson learned, be sure to enter unknown canyons long before sunset. Or take Liam Neeson with you.