Hiking with my son on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is (obviously) a day to celebrate dads. Being a father, I feel like it’s my day; a day when I am king and should be able to do pretty much what I want. Going in to this Father’s Day I had a few things that I wanted to do. I wanted to go out for breakfast, start building two outdoor stools for the hot tub table I built, and (if the weather cooperated) I hoped to go for a hike and go swimming.

There was rain in the forecast, so I wasn’t sure how my plans would work out. Ashley, the kids, and I did start the day with a nice breakfast at Peg’s Place. We hung around at home for a bit after that before I went into the garage and started working on the wooden stools. I had recently built new corner steps and two table/bars for our hot tub. I built one stool the previous week and wanted to make two more like it. I cut the curves in the seat supports, sanded them down and then worked on cutting and attaching seat slats to them.

Noah came out and joined me in the garage when I was almost done. He wanted to see what I was doing, but he mostly just wanted to spend a little time outside. It was raining, but not too hard. So, he put on his helmet, hopped on his bike, and rode around in the driveway and on the sidewalk in front of our house in the rain. I’m not a huge fan of being out in the rain, but it sure didn’t seem to bother him much.

He came back into the garage and I mentioned that I would like to go for a hike together, but the weather really wasn’t cooperating. He told me he would like to hike and didn’t care about the rain. I figured that if he could handle the rain I certainly couldn’t say that I couldn’t. We agreed to hike in the rain. I said I just had to do a little more work and then clean up in the garage.

Soon we put on our raincoats and boots, and then hopped in my truck. I didn’t want to do anything too long or strenuous since it was raining and we were having company in a few hours. I decided we could go to Chestnut Ridge Park, where we could hike around the big pond/small lake by the Commissioner’s Cabin. We had hiked the short trail there before, but not in at least a year. It’s a simple hike, probably less than a mile long. The trail is level and easy, but it does traverse uneven tree roots for much of its length.

Just before we entered the park we passed the parking area for the Eternal Flame hike and I pointed it out to Noah. He said he wanted to hike there, too. I thought two rainy hikes with a five-year-old might be a bit much for one day, but I told him we could see how we felt after we finished our first short hike. If he was still interested in hiking to the flame afterwards, we would.

I parked my truck near the fishing pier and me and Noah hopped out and started hiking right away. It was still raining a little, but it was pretty light. We both had our rain coats on and I also wore a hat, but Noah said he didn’t want one. The path ran adjacent to the lake for most of the hike. We walked along the narrow trail at a relatively quick pace. The water was nearly still below the cloudy sky. The rain stopped early on, but it sprinkled here and there throughout our hike.

We saw a handful of people fishing, a few on the pier, and a couple more from the shore. I stood between Noah and the water whenever the path got narrow or the ground sloped toward the water. Most of the time Noah wanted to lead the way, though. He moved quickly and confidently. Frankly, I was impressed. His balance had greatly improved over the past year. Being the worrying dad that I am, I kept telling him to be careful beside the lake and when he swiftly maneuvered over the many wet tree roots. I thought he’d fall for sure, but he actually had no problems.

Once we wrapped up our short hike Noah said he still wanted to continue and hike to the Eternal Flame. We made the short drive to the parking lot at the primary trailhead. Considering the weather and the fact it was Father’s Day there were only five or six cars in the lot. I knew the trail had to be pretty muddy and figured the creek would be running at a high level. Based on that I wasn’t sure if we’d successfully make it all the way to the flame, but I figured we might as well give it a try since Noah wanted to. Noah had on his snow boots, so I knew he’d be fine in the mud.

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I was right about the mud. Our boots and the bottom of our pant legs were covered in mud within minutes of beginning. The rain had increased again, too, but once we were in the forest the tall bushy trees kept us pretty dry. Once again we had to negotiate a ton of tree roots. This time we also had to deal with considerably more hilly terrain with the occasional steep ascent and descent. The small mud ponds required some thought to navigate around them without getting too filthy. Noah was already muddy, so he typically opted to go straight through the muddiest areas despite my protests.

After a few minutes on the trail we reached a level wooded area. We hopped over a couple of downed logs and ran into a coworker of mine. She said her and her daughter made it to the flame, but that the water was high and there were some difficult spots. I expected as much, but Noah and I figured we’d go as far as we could (we actually had to turn back the last time we came because the water was high, cold, and we didn’t have great footwear).

There were some times when I held Noah’s hand because the terrain was especially steep or slippery, but for the most part he moved confidently and sure-footed. He was starting to remind me of myself on the trail. I love hiking with Noah and I especially loved how much fun he was having on the trail with me. We were commenting on different things we saw in nature. I showed him a spot on the trail where we could carefully creep up close to the edge to get a preview of the waterfall below (I stayed between him and the ledge). We could hear the water rushing before we even saw the fury with which it flowed.

We continued down the trail and Noah pointed out each of the trail markers as we progressed. They had a picture of a flame and a number on it. There were definitely more markers than necessary, considering we could sometimes see three or four at once.

Soon we got to the steep descent. I held Noah’s hand for most of it and I led the way. I’d step down, making sure the muddy leaves were stable and then help him down behind me if he needed assistance. Before I knew it we were down beside the creek. It was really rushing, maybe more than I had ever seen before. Despite that, we continued on. We stayed on the left side of the creek for as long as we could, and then finally crossed by walking across a couple of thick wobbly tree branches.

Sometimes if there was a shallow area on the outskirts of the creek Noah walked straight through, but normally we stayed out of it. We stopped beside a tall cascade, which Noah insisted on climbing up a few feet so he could pose next to it. A couple minutes later we encountered several downed trees that amounted to a large dam spanning the creek. Noah asked how we could possibly get past it. I told him not to worry, we would figure it out. We found a spot on the side where we ducked under a log and then climbed over another. I helped Noah through the obstacle, but besides for getting our hands dirty it wasn’t difficult.

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After that, it was a relatively simple jaunt a short distance to the Eternal Flame and the thundering waterfall above it. There was so much water careening down the cataract that I actually found it a little intimidating. This is a waterfall that I used to climb up and then proceed up the roots beside the top of the waterfall. This was back when I used to hike here a few times a year, probably between ten and twenty years ago. I’d hike with a big heavy pack to try to warm up for my National Park road trips out west. Sometimes I even went as far as timing how fast I could climb up and out of the gorge (ascending the waterfall and roots), I’d make it in a couple of minutes, sometimes less. I don’t do that anymore. There are also tons of signs posted now prohibiting climbing and warning about falling and danger. The main reason I don’t do it now though is because I have a family now and it would be stupid to put myself in harm’s way for no reason.

Noah and I had made it to the flame, but we were actually in one of the more dangerous areas of the trail. The trail ends there, but the ground slopes steeply and the rock is very smooth and extra slippery thanks to the waterfall. We admired the flame and waterfall and Noah posed for some photos by the fire before we turned back. We were actually alone at the base of the waterfall, which was pretty cool. In my experience, the hike has been very popular the last few years. Most times I’m on the trail I share it with many others. I’m sure the iffy weather helped.

Having successfully made it to the flame, we knew what we had to deal with on the hike out. I knew where we had to cross the creek and I knew where I would have to keep a close eye on Noah. We didn’t have any problems finishing the creek part of the hike. The steep ascent was much easier than going downhill through the muddy mess. The rest of the hike went smoothly, too, until the muddiest section near the end of trail. At that point, Noah got a little cocky and walked straight through the deepest, sloppiest puddle of mud. His boots got stuck. He ended up having to lean over into the mud and then pushed against the muddy ground in order to get his feet moving again.

We were both pretty tired by the time we got back to my truck at the trailhead. Noah was physically exhausted and I was mentally tired from keeping Noah safe throughout the entire hike. All in all Noah and I had a couple of great short hikes together. It was great to get home and spend the rest of my day with my family, but the highlight of my Father’s Day was definitely my hikes with Noah.

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