Seduced by tales of free range kids, we let our kids hike the Frankenstein Cliff Trail in New Hampshire on their own. Mind you, we let our ten-year-old go off with the same mature teen who forgot to pack her hiking boots for a backpacking expedition.
Despite her forgetfulness, we had good reason for our complacency. Both kids are experienced, confident hikers; and this trail did not seem like it would hold much of a challenge.
The first leg of the hike to Arethusa Falls lulled us into thinking that all the trails were marked and well-maintained. It appears that the falls, the highest in the state, are a tourist destination and the short 1.5 mile hike does not dissuade even the least likely hikers. The trail was reminiscent of rush hour traffic, and the falls themselves were nearly as packed as a Kodak Picture Stops at Disney Theme Parks.
After eating our sandwiches by the falls, and inadvertently feeding the chipmunks, we decided to take the 3 mile loop trail via Frankenstein Cliff, instead of the more popular option of doubling back. The kids wanted to take the shorter route, and they only agreed to go on the longer loop on the condition that they could run ahead to the car without having to wait for us.
I guess I should have realized that this trail might pose some hazard when the entrance was blocked by a fallen tree. But no, we gave them the go ahead, and they were out of sight before we realized just how different this trail was from the other.
For one thing, there were almost no passersby. We ran into one couple early on, and that was it. For another, this was more of an adventure course than it was hike. When we weren’t climbing up, we were climbing down. Nothing in between. In addition to the steeps, there were all kinds of obstacles. We climbed over and under trees, roots, and rocks. The bouldering was fun, until we had to traverse rock surfaces slick under a stream of water.
None of this fazed us, and I wasn’t worried about our kids’ ability to navigate tricky terrain. No, we weren’t at all concerned until we completely lost the trail. At one point, we stopped to look past a massive downed tree onto what we thought was a scenic overlook. But, when we looked around, we couldn’t find the next trail marker. We kept heading down in the general direction of where our trail should’ve been, further and further from the last marker, but with no luck. Finally, we pulled out the GPS, and used that to guide us back onto the trail.
It was frightening. We were bushwhacking through a dense thicket of trees that were so closely spaced that I feared not being able to squeeze past. I emerged scratched and bruised, with twigs and webs caught in my hair. And none of that was nearly awful as wondering how or our children had fared with no GPS, or even maps to guide them.
It was at least an hour of marching on through challenging terrain before we found out. The kids were fine, and they’d been waiting for us at the car for at least an hour. They basically hopped, skipped, and ran through the entire course. My eldest warned the younger child when she spotted danger, and they cooperated to find the lost trail.
Today, they earned our respect on the trail.