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Last hike up Table Mountain

By Daris Howard

       I finished a goal that I wrote about in one of my stories 10 years ago. The goal was that I would take each of my 10 children on the hike to Table Mountain, which is just below the Tetons near Alta, Wyoming.
       I thought about the first time I took some of them up there, and I was already feeling past my prime then. But this time was even worse. And when I walked into church this last Sunday, someone asked me why I was limping. When I explained it was from blisters and told him why, he looked at me and said, “Hike that at your age! You're crazy!”
       Maybe it was crazy. The hike is a grueling 12-mile round trip, climbing thousands of feet, some of it across granite and slippery shale rock. But the summit has a beautiful view. And I
Writer/Professor Daris Howard of Idaho has hiked to the top of Table Mountain in the Tetons with each of his 10 children when they got to be at least 12 years old. Here he is at the summit in late August with his two youngest (15 and 13).
Courtesy of Daris Howard
usually only have to make the hike once with each child, then they usually decide they will never do it again.
       My youngest daughter turned 13 recently, so I decided she was strong enough to make the climb. I had also never taken her sister, who is only two years older, so the three of us decided to make a day of it on the Saturday before Labor Day.
       I checked all of my equipment the night before and found that my water purification pump had quit working since I last used it. That left no option but to carry extra water.
       We got up at five o'clock and drove to the trailhead, arriving just before seven. We stretched, used the restroom and headed on our way. The first part of the climb was quite strenuous with switchbacks out of the parking lot up into the canyon. This soon turned into an easier upward trail. But that just lulled a person into a false security, because once a person reached the point where they felt too close to the summit to turn back, the trail turned steeply upward.
       The sun wasn't yet showing above the mountain rim when we reached our first mile point, and no one had passed us, so I felt we were doing really well. But as time went on, people did start to pass us. First just a few, then whole families. The extra water in my pack felt like it weighed a ton, and my muscles were shouting “Stupid!” at me with every step I took.
       When we reached the point where the trail turned into steep switchbacks up the top of the canyon rim, I told my daughters it was time to cache more than half of the water and only carry what we would need to get us back to that point. My daughters readily agreed. We put the full water bottles into some brush and continued our climb. The higher we climbed, the more one daughter struggled with the lack of oxygen. We started setting a goal of 100 steps, then rest. A 100 steps, then rest. That later turned to 75, then 50, as the trail turned ever steeper.
       More and more people passed us, but when a man who looked to be about 80 walked by, I began to question if I was delusional, especially since he was smiling. I have to admit that I was probably still the second oldest person on the mountain that day, but I doubted I would be making that hike 25 years from now. And I definitely would not be smiling if I did.
       We made it to the top, had lunch, took pictures and then turned to go back down. As I stood and my muscles screamed, I looked down and knew there was no other option. I warned my daughters that the hike down seemed to go forever and indeed, I kept hearing, “Aren't we almost there yet?” more than I can count. But eventually we made it.
       For a reward, we stopped at a little drug store for ice-cream. As we sat and ate, I said, “Well, my job is done. Now it will be up to you to take your children up there.”
       My older daughter, wincing from the blisters on her feet, groaned. “When I get married, I think I will move to a flat prairie and tell my children that mountains only exist in story books.”
       I smiled and considered that maybe I should have thought of that years ago.

       Daris Howard, who grew up on an Idaho farm, is a writer and math professor at BYU Idaho. His website is darishoward.com.

(Posted 9/6/16; Opinion: General)

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