Some Things In Life Have To Be Earned The Hard Way

Awhile back I wrote about passing on skills and knowledge to the younger generation and this past weekend I had a chance to do just that.

My oldest nephew and I had talked about climbing Mt. Katahdin for a couple of months and this past Friday was the day it was to happen.  I advised him a few weeks ago to start walking his pack up some local hills to at least familiarize himself with the weight and help build a little endurance.  Alas, the siren call of Youtube was too much and he didn’t heed my pearls of wisdom.

We left Thursday evening and drove up to a small campground just outside of Baxter State Park where we set up tents and spent the night in preparation for the big climb.  I got a chance to test my new steel water bottle and I used the pot stand with my alcohol stove, which worked better than the Sterno in my opinion.   The tents did their job and kept the rain off and when we woke up the next morning it was dark and grey.  First lesson:  it ain’t always sunshine when you’ve got a big task ahead of you.


Below:  stove, pot stand and steel cup making coffee for me in the morning.



Below:  LL Bean makes a good tent.



When we got to the trail head it had cleared a little, but they were calling for an 80% chance of rain and I knew it would be a good idea to get as far up the mountain as we could before it started raining in earnest.  Second lesson:  waiting around for things to get better is rarely a good strategy.



My nephew worked hard climbing the mountain.  He told me later that he wanted to quit, but using a combination of taunts, threats, praise and commands he kept going.  When we set out he was pretty sure he was going to smoke me going up the mountain, but that’s when he learned that someone who works out every day (me) is going to be in better physical condition than someone who – even though he’s younger (him) doesn’t work out – and he had to pay the price.  Third lesson:  when Uncle Jarhead says get outside and hike your pack up some hills you’d better get your ass in gear if you don’t want to suffer on the real climb.



It took us a little over three hours to reach the summit, which is fairly decent time.  We took the Abol Trail, which is the shortest and steepest trail, but I’ve climbed it before so I knew what to expect.  On the drive up we had a good conversation about life and other things and at one point I told him, “You can know in theory what something might be like, but until you actually do it and experience it you can’t really know how it’s going to feel or exactly how hard it will be.  For example, tomorrow we’re going to climb Katahdin, but you’ve never climbed a mountain much higher than 1500 feet and while you might have some idea of what tomorrow will bring I don’t think you fully understand the sheer size of it.  Tomorrow evening you will.”

The next evening he told me, “Uncle, you were right.  That was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but now I know.”

But you know what?  We reached the summit and he got to taste the feeling of success that comes with working damned hard and achieving a goal.  Not to mention we packed the right gear and were comfortable when we got to the top and hung out for awhile savoring the feeling of having done something tough.

Check us out in the photo below:



It was harder going down that it was coming up and it finally rained on us as we descended, but we’d beat the rain to the summit.  The last lesson he learned that day is that the summit is only half the trip.  Getting down can be just as hard if not harder than climbing up in the first place.

We had a great time on this short trip and my nephew learned a few things about camping and sticking with a goal even when he wanted to quit, which made bagging the summit that much sweeter.  We really connected on this trip and I’m happy that we got the chance to do this together.  There’s no better teacher than experience and this was a good experience for both of us.

A few years ago I climbed Mt Washington with Mrs. Jarhead and when we got to the top I was standing there panting and sweating with my pack cutting into my shoulders when a little fat kid walked around the corner eating an ice cream and looking at me like I’d just landed from outer space.  There’s a road up that hill and any schmoe with a car can drive to the top.  (Huge pet peeve:  bumper stickers that say, “This car climbed Mt. Washington.”  Who cares??)   Not on Katahdin.  If you’re at the summit you got there the hard way:  by walking your ass up the side just like everybody else.  In other words you earned it.

Hats off to my nephew who earned Katadhin the hard way.

-Jarhead Survivor