It was a grand idea, really. A half-day expedition up into the mountains with a friend and her daughter. The two girls could wander through the meadows, Sound of Music style, picking flowers and spinning in ecstasy. As we packed into the car on Sunday morning, the blustery wind and scudding clouds gave me pause. “Be prepared for 40-degree weather and strong winds,” I told my wife with typical hyperbole. The girls sang in the backseat as we climbed higher through a landscape of rocks like crumbled dough, green hills, and grey clouds racing past us. As we rose, the temperature dropped. Fifty. Forty-five. Forty. Uh-oh.
When we arrived at the campground/trailhead, snow was spattering the windshield and swirling in paisley swoops across the parking lot. My dashboard beeped a warning and a snowflake symbol appeared as the temperature dropped to 37. In late May. While the mothers fretted about insufficient clothing and high winds, I shrugged and said we’d take a five minute walk then retreat to the car. Below, the girls head out into a landscape of burned trees and grey skies.
Where have I seen this picture before? Ah yes. Two hobbits prepare to cross the plains of Gorgoroth, to chuck a troublesome ring in the fires of Mount Doom. For the first fifteen minutes, my two little hobbits had fun climbing fallen trees and looking for flowers. I was supposedly following a .6 mile loop trail. After three or four junctions and a sinking feeling we weren’t wrapping back around the hill to the car, I turned back. Brief appearances of the sun teased us into thinking it was going to warm up. The snow on the hills said otherwise.
For the return leg, one girl rode on my shoulders, the other nestled into my chest as I carried them. Seventy pounds felt like nothing as I trotted back up the trail as the wind whipped away all the heat left in our three-person bundle. The back half of the loop trail led us not the starting point (Silly me! I thought loops actually looped!) but to the park entrance. I hadn’t felt my cell phone ring twice, the mothers now in full panic, imagining crumpled bodies at the bottom of ravine, perhaps, or some calamity involving coyotes and ripped clothing. I apologized, we warmed up in the car, and had grilled cheese and apple pie for lunch.
What’s there to learn from my mistake here? Oh, plenty. First, though I was equipped to handle the cold, the girls weren’t. Second, leave the trail exploration for a warm and sunny day. Third, little girls like apple pie. Finally, keep your ringer on high volume when there are worried mothers about.