On a treeless tundra plateau deep in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park, we stop before a bouncy suspension bridge over a snarling whitewater river. I shoot a glance at my 75-year-old mom. In a tone that contains more fatalism than enthusiasm, she reminds me, “I’ve never crossed one of these.”
I nod and calmly, maybe a little enthusiastically, assure her, “You can do this.” But the flushed look on her face tells me she’s not buying that line. I don’t need reminding that I planned this weeklong trek—and convinced my mom she’d be OK. “Trust me,” I’d said, “I know you can make it.”
My confidence is not unfounded. I like to refer to my mom as The World’s Toughest Grandma. She didn’t even start hiking until her late 40s, when I first got her on the trail. After early forays up New Hampshire’s Mt. Monadnock, we moved on to bigger adventures together, ranging from a hut traverse of the Presidential Range to backpacking in the Grand Canyon. But she’s never attempted anything as long or hard as this 60-mile trek.
It’s day two of our hut-to-hut journey through Jotunheimen, and we’ve been hiking for five hours across a rugged, Arctic-looking landscape vibrantly colored with purple mosses and yellow wildflowers. Cliffs and mountains look like they were chopped from the earth with an axe. Lichen blankets glacial-erratic boulders. It’s beautiful, to be sure, but rain and near-freezing temperatures have also made it a trial; the weather alone would be hard on anyone. Now here’s this swaying bridge—which must feel like a wobbly slackline to my septuagenarian mother—over a raging river.
Our multi-generational group eyeballs the span. In addition to my mom, Joanne, the crew includes my wife, Penny; our 11-year-old son, Nate, and 9-year-old daughter, Alex; plus friends Jeff Wilhelm and his 20-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
The others get moving. Nate deliberately bounces the bridge like a diving board as he crosses. (Not helping, Nate! I want to yell.) Alex inches cautiously across. My mom still looks like she might turn around and march in the other direction.
I recall another hike when I saw that same unhappy expression. On a trip to Yosemite, when she was a youthful 58, she and I sat at the base of the cable route on Half Dome while she contemplated scaling several hundred feet of dizzyingly steep granite. We sat for half an hour in silence. Then she jumped to her feet and declared, “OK, let’s go.” A little while later, we stood atop Half Dome, her anxious grimace replaced by a beaming grin of disbelief.
On this trip, I hope to see that smile of triumph again. Now I wonder: Have too many years gone by? Can she still make that leap of faith?