On our second day we hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail that climbs from a mountain pass up over several peaks. After a few hours on the trail we headed back. A sweet older woman stopped us on our descent from the last ridgeline towards the car. She shivered in her light denim jacket, panting from the steep climb.
“How far to the end?” she asked hopefully, camera in hand.
We directed her to the nearest pretty view rather than sending her on a 2181 mile stroll to Maine.
She wasn’t the only visitor unprepared for the mountains. Swinging around a sharp corner on the road to the pass, we spotted a man on the shoulder, gasping on hands and knees, head almost on the ground. Carl swung the car around.
“Are you okay?”
The face that looked up was not a man but a boy of 12 or so with a cherubic baby face, curly brown hair, and panicked eyes almost as round as his face. He hauled himself upright and hurried to our car window. Did we know where the _____ trailhead was? We glanced at our map. There it was, several miles up the road. Was he alone? No, he was out on a backpacking trip with his dad and a friend of his dad’s.
“Where are they?”
Well….they weren’t here. His dad’s friend had injured his leg. His dad was helping the friend out, and had sent the kid ahead to the parking area to start the car. He’d decided to take a shortcut, lost the trail, and here he was, lost, just emerged from the forest on a random stretch of mountain road.
We put his pack in the back and set off to the trailhead.
“That’s it! There it is! There they are!” His father, the friend, and a crowd of backpackers clustered in the parking lot. Concern on the father’s face changed to happiness and bewilderment as we pulled in and he spotted his son in the backseat. When we left, Dad was alternating between relief, calling thanks to us, and chewing out his son for leaving the trail.
I can only imagine the concern a parent would feel following his child up the trail and arriving to find him missing, and unspotted by any of the backpackers already gearing up in the lot . However, why would a dad send an inexperienced kid off alone in the mountains over a non-serious injury (the friend was limping around the asphalt with a hiking staff when we arrived)? As far as we could tell, the boy didn’t have water in his pack. He didn’t know to stay on the trail and could have easily turned in the wrong direction. Rather than stumbling across the road he might have been lost in a national forest in near-freezing temperatures. While there are situations and terrains where one might have to send a woods-wise teen ahead, sending one without great judgement off alone without water in a non-emergency situation in a frigid, rocky, and steep environment full of drop-offs is beyond me.
Some parents don’t learn their lessons. On our way back from a later hike we passed the boy hiking…alone again. At least he was on the trail.
Appalachian trail map found here