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Backpacker Magazine – March 2010

Higher Love: Father & Daughter Climb Mt. Chamberlin

On a remote Arctic peak, a father and his teenager encounter the hardest of all human challenges.

by: John Harlin III

The author's daughter leads the way on Summit Ridge.
The author's daughter leads the way on Summit Ridge.
Caribou lope past Lake Peters.
Caribou lope past Lake Peters.
Siena jumps a crevasse.
Siena jumps a crevasse.
The Harlin's start the tough 40-mile exit hike.
The Harlin's start the tough 40-mile exit hike.
A game of summit frisbee.
A game of summit frisbee.
A moment of low anxiety.
A moment of low anxiety.
Siena lands a whopper.
Siena lands a whopper.

photo icon  PHOTO GALLERY: CLIMBING MOUNT CHAMBERLAIN
  See Harlin's photo journal of the trip in this gallery.

One of my favorite childhood pictures shows me holding a Frisbee at age 13. There's a rope tied to my waist. Behind me, the ice-encrusted summit of Mt. Chamberlin–at 9,020 feet the highest peak in the Brooks Range on Alaska's North Slope–rises through the clouds. A huge grin spreads across my face. I appear to be the happiest kid on earth.

But, to be honest, I remember the peak as a grinding climb. At the spot where the picture was taken, I recall having the impression that the summit was still a long ways away. I'm sure the smile in the photo was genuine, but it is far from my happiest memory of this trip. No, that came when we found my leather ski glove a few days later. Not because I particularly missed the glove, but because now it had two fresh holes in it, spaced just right to be the fang marks of a wolf pup. The glove still hangs on my wall as one of my most cherished possessions. Mountains I could (and did) climb back home in Washington. What I really wanted in the Arctic was to see wolves, and these fang marks meant they were close.

So why, 40 years later, am I so intent on taking my own 13-year-old–my daughter, Siena–to the summit of Mt. Chamberlin? She's always been afraid of heights, and yet here we are on an exposed ridge, moving together without a rope. I look back and notice a pinched expression on her face. I toss out casually, "Anytime you'd like the rope, just let me know."

"Didn't you hear me earlier?" she responds, her eyes moist daggers. "I asked twice about the rope. This is freaking me out." I hadn't heard a word. A chemical wash of shame flows over me. As a former guide, I'm supposed to be attuned to my charges. Yes, I know that in the end most people remember and cherish the moments when they felt pushed–just enough but not too much. A little fear sharpens the experience. But as a dad, I know that Siena needs no more anxiety than she's already feeling. This is her first mountain. Her first long backpacking trip. Her first big adventure away from Mama. She didn't ask to be pushed so hard. She's here living out my dream, not hers. And now I've brought her to tears. Again.




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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Dave
Apr 13, 2010

fantastic story of an honest, patient father. good job dude

Steve
Apr 01, 2010

Wonderful Read!

Naomi
Mar 28, 2010

Isnt this the same thing as parents wanting their kids to be doctors and lawyers just because either they themselves are or couldnt be?
Just because your idea of adventure is standing on a high peak does not mean that the child or your child enjoys that as much or should be pushed in that direction unless it is on a slow pace. I find this sense of always looking for an "adventure" a very Western concept. Children can find that same sense of adventure in undertaking projects that they show interest in-volunteering, growing an organic gardner, helping with environment projects etc

Nice
Mar 28, 2010

Its not about hiking. I believe we should first open them to the beauty of nature and then slowly get them to participate in finding that beauty around them in hikes, kayaking, climbing etc. This is so rewarding then as they discover the world around them.

Dan
Mar 28, 2010

I have a 3 year-old daughter that loves camping, mountains and just got introduced to skiing. I cherish that but also realize that she is very cautious, mildly introverted and liked sitting close to me on the chairlift as much as skiing. Thank you for this article, it's a bluntly honest assessment of the reality of parenthood and how it changes your priorities. But also thank you for showing the way to those of us that dream of big adventures with our kids but fear how they will receive them.

John
Mar 26, 2010

I know some will nay-say but, I have a close friend that permanently soured his son on hiking by taking him out and pushing him too soon. He only grudgingly goes on long walks now, let alone share his fathers love of hiking.
Be very careful about pushing your love of the sport on loved ones that are not ready.

Jim D
Mar 25, 2010

As a single father of 3 girls I have to admit this article choked me up quite a bit. I am an avid backpacker and want desparately to share the outdoor experience with my daughters (the ex hated camping so no support there). There are things you learn about yourself and your place in the world that only mother nature can teach you. But I constantly fight that battle expressed by the author "Is it for me or them I do this? Is the right thing to lead, hope they follow, or push?" We all want our kids to have experiences that make them stronger and create cherished memories. As parents, we just hope we can be a part of the making of them.

Gary
Mar 25, 2010

I have six adult children. From age ten on We started climbing the High Peaks in the Adirondacks We have climbed most of the 46 and several high points in some of the western states. This has been a great strength for my family. Our family is scattered all over the US persuing lives and careers. We still manage to get together, we enjoy remembering our time together in the wilderness and plan new trips. Last year we had a family reunion in the Adirondacks with all our children their spouses and our grandchildren we rented two houses. Some of my sons and I are planning a canoe trip to the Boundry Waters as a family we are stil creating these out door memories and they are sweet.

Jason Kuehn
Mar 09, 2010

I just finished reading this article in the magazine. What a wonderful story! I have an 18 month old boy who already shows lots of adventure spirit and I can't wait until we can go backpacking together. This great article made me look forward to it even more!

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