Grand Door Peak
When I was little, I would switch back and forth on who my favorite parent was. Sometimes I felt a strong pull toward my dad, who knew all the answers to my endless questions, who spoke calmly, who let me sip his wine at dinner, who brushed my hair back when tucking me into bed. Whenever my mom punished me during a "Dad" phase, I would slam the door to my room and cry out, "I want my Dad!" knowing with complete certainty he would reason with my mother regarding her clear error in judgement. But then there were the times when it was only Mom who could understand my concerns, only she who was able to say the right thing at the right time and comfort me in times of deep, adolescent sorrow. When I disappointed my father or he was angry with me for some reason or another, I would quiver my bottom lip and think "I want my mommy!" She could soften Dad’s frustration and would sometimes even whisper that there would be "something special" for me when she picked me up from school the next day...usually a Subway chocolate chip cookie.
As I grew older, I began to hear fragmented pieces of my parent's lives before they had me. I heard stories about failures, past partners, Caribbean trips, and family dynamics that existed long before I entered the world. Slowly, I began to see my parents not as megalithic structures, but just humans like any other praying they pick the correct path.
The first time my parents visited us after moving to Salt Lake, Nick and I were impressed by their enthusiasm for hiking and overall ability to handle higher altitudes and steepish grades. Their sense of accomplishment was contagious. For their most recent visit, we suggested a more challenging hike that would be the main event. Grandeur Peak via Church Fork is a 6 mile round trip hike, ascending ~2600ft. This trail is a butt burner in some sections, but I thought both my parents would be fine, perhaps just a little slow.
Crisp air swept my face as we pulled up to park. An upper parking lot exists about a quarter of a mile up from the road, which unfortunately was full. I felt guilty hearing Dad already sounding out of breath as we started hiking saying, “You mean that this is only the pre-hike?!” I laughed nervously, hoping that steady state would kick in, and he would be successful in this endeavor. Mom was cruising alongside Nick, speaking normally.
We trotted along through the golden cottonwoods and fiery maples, hearing the creek bubble beneath us. I was starting to get cold, but thought to myself how nice it was to inspect all of the fall colors since I was moving more slowly than my normal speed when trying to chase Nick. Once we pulled ourselves out of the more densely forested section and into the sun, I noticed Mom began trailing behind. She didn’t seem particularly short of breath, but began taking very short strides and was coming to a full stop after every 10 steps or so to rest. I looked ahead and saw Dad and Nick pulling away. I called for them to stop and asked Mom if she wanted to lead. At first she seemed embarrassed.
“No, you guys go ahead.”
“I really think you should lead so we can all stay together,” I explained.
“Fine,” she said as she trudged up the incline.
Nick and I exchanged glances like maybe this wasn’t the best trail to pick after all. For a while, my mom got into a rhythm in the front of the pack. We played the Alphabet Game where the four of us took turns naming bands that started with different letters of the alphabet. This kept us entertained along the winding switchbacks and I began to feel a little more encouraged. With a little over a mile left, my mom suddenly stopped and leaned forward over her hiking poles.
“I need to sit down,” she said. “I’m feeling a little dizzy.”
We waited for a few minutes until she pulled herself up. We made it another 1/10 of a mile before she had to stop and rest again.
“If you’re feeling like this, maybe we should turn around?” I suggested. We still had the steepest section yet to come and Mom seemed to be moving so slowly on even flat sections.
“No, I’m fine,” she huffed. And pulled herself up again.
Over the next hour, I treaded behind her setting small goals along the way. Okay, Mom, you have to stay on your feet for the next 0.10 miles…Nope, no stopping…Keep going…Okay, now you can rest. Occasionally, I mentioned how beautiful the fall colors were, but mostly we stayed silent. On one of her breaks, a woman about my age passed us on her way down. She looked at my mom and said, “You’re crushing it!”.
“I don’t feel like I’m crushing it,” she said a little dejected.
“No way, my mom would have told me to fuck off right at the bottom if I told her to do this.” My mom cracked a smile and pulled herself up again.
Finally, the last half mile was in view. I told her that this was going to be tough and quite steep. She slowly, but methodically stuck her poles into the rock then allowed her feet to follow. Pole, pole, foot, foot. Pole, pole, foot, foot. And on it went. No need for encouragement, just slow and even steps. I thought back to a clip of that movie Evan Almighty. One character says, “God does not grant you patience. He grants you opportunities to practice patience.” My feet burned to go just a little faster, to get to the top and run back down to get a beer just a bit sooner, but the rhythm was set. Pole, pole, foot, foot. I pondered the opportunity before me witnessing my mother pull herself up time and time again to ascend this peak. I settled into the pace and followed behind her smiling.
I met Dad and Nick on top as I ran ahead to get a video of her cresting the last few steps. The same rhythm was still in place as she continued to trudge up the last 10 feet. Once she reached the summit, Dad held out his arms to embrace her, but instead she walked right past him and abruptly sat onto a rock. I giggled to myself. I think he thought this would be a touching family moment. I watched them take a few photos and re-fuel, while Nick pointed out various features of distant mountains.
“Here we are on top of Grand Door Peak,” I heard Mom say while taking a video.
“Mom, it’s Grandeur, not Grand Door,” I shouted.
“Oh, Hannah, please.”
I don’t remember the exact moment I realized that the time together with my parents was finite. As a child, I thought my mom was 46 for a very long time, and even as she aged (she is 66), I never considered her as “old.” Even now when I look at her, I see smooth, glowing skin and soft hair still suggestive of youth and potential. Watching her hike Grandeur from behind felt like an uncomfortable reminder that one day I will have to care for her. Even more uncomfortable, that I will one day require the same level of patience and assistance. Though these existential thoughts swirled in my head, I quickly set them aside and instead let myself enjoy the present. I saw Mom smile as she took panoramic videos. Dad stood welling with pride over his accomplishment, screening the vista. And I felt Nick wrap his arm around my shoulder. I exhaled and felt gratitude for a day on Grand Door Peak.