“My mother and I climb mountains”

“My mother and I climb mountains.” Debbie Mitchell’s oldest child, Jen, wrote that sentence on a school assignment when she was eight years old. Jen, now 29, rediscovered the sheet of paper not long ago when she going through a box of things from her childhood.

Debbie has climbed mountains with all four of her children. The first summits were the easiest, especially for the children, as they could ascend a peak without taking a step. Debbie carried Jennie up Mt. Willard when her daughter was two months old. By the end of Jennie’s first year, she had “climbed” Cardigan and the Belknap peaks.

Jennie enjoyed her time in a backpack. At age two, she accompanied her mother as Debbie pursued a goal of climbing all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks. But when younger brother Jason was two, he wanted to walk the trails himself. The family slowed to his pace. Jason, now 24, is a paramedic; he considers that he learned about teamwork and effort, both key parts of his job, on the family hikes.

Huts have been the center of the hiking experience for the two younger Mitchells, Keri, 10, and Emilie, 8. The family takes advantage of AMC’s three-day and five-day specials, often starting out and ending at the Highland Center. Debbie has learned to let the alpine experience work for her when she plans family hiking trips: “You have to keep them occupied when they’re in the woods,” she says. “You don’t have to work so hard when they’re above treeline.”

Ten-year-old Keri likes the ridges and wants to hike from Madison to Lakes to Mizpah as soon as her mother will let her. (Next year, says Debbie, when Emilie can handle it better.) One day, Keri has told her mother, she wants to work in the huts.

Debbie and her husband joined AMC when Jennie was born. They hoped to find like-minded hiking families. “We did a couple of group hikes” with Jennie when she was a baby, Debbie recalls. The groups were welcoming, but the Mitchells were often the only hikers with a small child. Now that her children are older, Debbie is trying to bring her experience as a hiking mother to other families. Three years ago, she became the treasurer of AMC’s Narragansett Chapter, and last year she became involved in the chapter’s new family trips committee. “Rock climbing at Lincoln Woods filled up completely,” she says, but getting parents and children onto the trails has been harder.

Early this season, Debbie and Keri hiked up one of their favorite mountains. The peak was still covered in snow, and the weather was, shall we say, brisk. Keri noticed another girl on the trail who looked to be her age, and who did not appear to be having a good time. Debbie noticed her daughter taking this in. Hiking along, they talked about how comfortable Keri is on trails, how experienced she is, and how much the two of them enjoy the experience together.

When her older sister found the piece of paper with “My mother and I climb mountains” written on it, Keri spoke up: “I like going up mountains, too.”

Debbie Mitchell’s family hiking tips:
• Try to hike trails before you take children on them, or familiarize yourself with the hike by reading maps and guidebooks, and by talking to other hikers.
• Be prepared: Have the right gear, know the forecast, bring enough food and water.
• Bring an extra change of clothes, or at least extra underwear and socks: Young children are going to wet their pants in the first half hour, you can just count on it.
• Be ready to turn around if you have to. There’s always another hike.

Learn more
… explore AMC’s Narragansett Chapter in Rhode Island on the Chapter website and on AMC’s website.
… search family trips and chapter activities using AMC’s trip-finder.
… read another post in the Outdoor Mothers series.

Photos: Debra Mitchell.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.