Friday, July 22, 2016

THANK GOD the Highpointing Record is About to be Broken

Alex is back from camp -- she recently posted a South Hancock trip report.  She will soon post about our Alpine Trail Maintenance training session with the AMC, and next week she will write about whatever hike we decide to do next week.  :)  After that, she's off on vacation with her dad and Sage.  This summer is flying by!

There will soon be a new Facebook Page dedicated solely to the girls' fundraising efforts for Global Fund for Women.  Please "like" the page, spread the word, donate to GFW, and watch over the next few years as the girls hike each of the 48 highest mountains in New Hampshire during every single month of the year (not all within the same calendar year). 

(Scroll down for the 8/19/2016 edit at the bottom of the an nutshell, yes, Sage could still break the record, but that's not her plan).

A couple days ago, I discovered that the "youngest girl" record for highpointing the lower 48 is about to be broken by a twelve year old named Lucy Westlake .  I believe she's probably heading toward her final mountain, Utah's Kings Peak, right now, as I write this.  I congratulate her ahead of time on her accomplishments!  It is always wonderful to see other young women out there on the trails, doing amazing things.

And -- THANK GOD.  I say that from a completely selfish point of view, because this past month has been messing with my head.  I was happy to read about Lucy because, as some of my friends and my girls' father can tell you, I have been struggling with the financial and ethical implications of my girls going for Gannett, Granite, and Rainier all in the same summer next year. 

You see, the girls and I found ourselves in a strange dilemma after summiting Hood last May.  Without meaning to, Alex (13) and Sage (11) had come close to breaking the record for youngest girls for highpointing the lower 48.  That fact was NOT a blessing...we have never done anything hiking-related or mountaineering-related in order for the girls to break a "youngest" record.  Both Alex and Sage have broken NH "youngest" hiking records over the past four years, but only accidentally -- we hike all the time, so these records were broken as a happenstance.  I've expressed my ambivalence regarding "youngest" records for our family in previous posts.  See The Youngest Whatever and Our Next...(and Last..?) Highpointing Attempt.

I have to interrupt myself here to emphasize that all the remarks that follow are very personal and they pertain to MY FAMILY ONLY.  I am not judging others' parenting decisions and I acknowledge and respect that other families have different opinions and perspectives.

Back to us -- when all that's left is Gannett, Granite, and Rainier, and when tons of people start writing you to ask if you're going to go for it...well, that starts to mess with your head and with your decision-making process.  I'm not proud to say that I brought it up with the girls and introduced that factor into our planning discussions for next summer.  I felt that if we could get all three out of the way in one summer, next summer, then I would not have to deal with another year or two or three of emails/messages asking me if we were going to try to break the record (which is currently set at age 17, assuming Miss Westlake hasn't reached the summit of Kings Peak yet).  We'd just get it done, and then I could relax and the pressure would be off.

However -- my gut told me attempting all three remaining peaks next year just for the sake of trying to break a "youngest" record would be superficial and foolish, because we are not mountaineers -- we are hikers.  There's a difference.  We can hike anything, anywhere, during any season, we can be out there for weeks with full backpacks, and we can be completely self-sufficient.  Mountaineering is a different sport. 

We can't climb a glaciated peak without a guide.  Could we learn how to do that kind of thing on our own, here in the Whites, during our notoriously freezing and crazy winters?  Sure, if we wanted to.  The girls haven't shown any desire to do that, though.  They want to get back out there every week and hike something, and they both itch to do another thru-hike, but they haven't asked to take crevasse-rescue courses or ice-climbing courses or practice with roped travel on a regular basis.  If we DID do technical climbs on a regular basis, if we were used to that kind of thing, and if I thought the girls were ready, then we would go for Rainier, etc. next year, but, for us, that decision would/should be independent of whether or not there was a record to be broken.

I personally feel that, for us, continuing to highpoint simply means continuing a family tradition we started in 2010.  The girls and I started highpointing because I wanted to do something with my children to take their minds off the impending separation between their father and me.  My girls were already hikers, and they loved to camp, so we took off on a six-week road trip the summer of 2010 and highpointed almost everything east of the Rockies.  When we returned, we moved to NH fulltime, away from our Somerville, MA house (that their father kept), and the girls felt invigorated instead of sad.  We've taken a highpointing trip every summer since.  It's always been about the adventure, appreciating the different landscapes, sleeping by the trailheads, etc.  Also, highpointing, up until this year, has never cost much money.  If you buy food at grocery stores and camp along the way, highpointing is actually a great way to have a fairly cheap vacation.

Now, we're almost finished.  Now, we can no longer go unguided.  Now, the feel is very different.  It's still good, but it's different.  And, this year for the first time, this hobby of ours costs a lot of money.  I am not rich.  It costs quite a bit to pay for a guide service for three people, plus airfare, etc.  The guides deserve to be paid and paid well, absolutely.  What I am saying is that our highpointing used to cost almost nothing, and now, it most definitely costs.

So, up until a few days ago, I was trying to figure out that IF we tried to do all three next year, would we be doing that strictly to try to break the record?  Would that be the right motivation for us, ethically speaking?  Does that kind of motivation fit within our values?  Could I even afford to do that next year?  Life would certainly be easier if we waited a couple of years so I could save up some money.  Also, the girls would more easily be able to carry 40 or 50 pound packs (required on Rainier) if they were, say, 17 and 15 instead of 14 and 12.

I had gotten to the point where, if the record-thing was not a factor, I knew I would want us to wait a couple of years.  But then there was the record!  Which, before this year, has never been a factor for consideration, and I did not want it to ever be a factor.  Also, for me, claiming a youngest record if we depended on guides to get to the largest summits and back just wouldn't feel right.  I'd feel like we'd cheated, because we hadn't been self-sufficient.  AGAIN -- this is MY take on it for OUR FAMILY.  I know I'm probably a silly purist.  I know others certainly don't feel that way.  But still, that's how I would feel about our own accomplishments.  I explained a bit about the "cheating" feeling I had on my trip report for Hood. 

In the meantime, messages from people kept coming.  People offering to help, people offering route suggestions for the remaining peaks, etc.  And I appreciate the good intentions, and I appreciate the offers.  But still, it messed with my sense of making sure we were doing this for the right reasons.

A few days ago, I had just written a long, heartfelt, "what is the right thing to do, financially and ethically, for my kids" message to a friend of mine when I did a few google searches and found the news about Lucy Westlake.  THANK GOD THANK GOD THANK GOD.  My immediate feeling was one of great relief.  I felt like a 20-pound burden had been lifted off my shoulders. 

My reaction was telling.  I now know that, even if Miss Westlake for some reason does NOT summit Kings Peak tomorrow (but I am sure she will), we will wait a couple of years before doing Rainier, Gannett, and Granite so I can save up some money and the girls can get used to shouldering 40 or 50 pound packs.  We need to do this for the right reasons, for us, and the record thing should not even enter into it.  That's how I feel, deep down, when it comes to my children.  If the girls want to become the youngest developers of an iPhone app, or the youngest CEOs of a billion-dollar company, or the youngest in the state to score a perfect score on the SAT, then they can go for it with all their hearts.  But mountaineering...climbing...for our family, pushing forward strictly to get a youngest record does not sit well with me.  It doesn't mesh with what I feel is important for my kids.  Again, that's me.  Every parent has to make an honest assessment regarding this kind of thing for herself.

Bottom line -- I do not want "youngest" motivations to ever again even remotely enter into our decision making for any mountaineering or hiking goal we undertake.  I am greatly relieved I can now get that possibility out of my head for planning purposes.  I fear such a motivation might introduce a level of summit fever or subconsciously cloud our judgment when we're out there doing our thing.  For us, I am all for "youngest" records if they happen by accident, while we're doing things we would have done anyway, regardless of records. 

We will finish highpointing the lower 48, but we will likely wait a couple of years before tackling Rainier, Gannett, and Granite so I can save money and so the girls can be a little taller and stronger for those 40 or 50 pound packs.

A sincere congratulations again to Miss Westlake.  She supposedly is going to tackle Denali next year at the age of 13 -- be safe, Lucy.  Learn and have fun.  And congrats on your triathlons and running records -- those are amazing!  I'm guessing we'll see you on an Olympic team in the not-too-distant future.

***Edit (8-19-2016) -- Turns out that if we went for it next year, Sage could still break the record after all.  She'd be 12 years and a few months old, younger than Miss Westlake when she finished her last peak.

To be absolutely fair to my daughter, I sat her down and explained the situation.  I told her that I would support her either way, since I didn't want to prevent her from doing something if she truly wanted to do it.  I'm pretty sure I managed to ask her in a way that did not make her feel pressured in either direction.  Sage's response was that she'd like to wait a couple of years.  That she definitely wants to finish highpointing the lower 48 -- and before her older sister goes off to college -- but that she would enjoy Rainier more if she had more time to get used to carrying 40+ pound packs.  That for her, what was important was that we had a good time, and that the three of us finish together, no matter when that may be (as long as it's before Alex leaves for college).  She really wants to get back to thru-hiking, and if we don't highpoint next year, that means we have more opportunity and time to thru-hike a 250-mile or so trail.  That's what she'd truly like to do next year..thru-hike something...and so we shall.  :)  I'm proud of her for making this decision, which I feel is sound.***

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