The Ties That Bind: A Decade of Father-Daughter Hikes in the White Mountains

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We slowly make our way to the summit of Mount Hight in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest on a sweltering June day. Our slow pace is partly because we’re not in the best shape for the hike, but it’s also because the temperature has spiked over 90 degrees and the humidity is as dense and heavy as packs. on our back. We’re drenched in sweat and, to add insult to injury, our slow pace gives the black flies swarming all around us in thick, dark clouds ample time to feast on any surface. bare skin they can find.

Yet for my hiking buddy and I, there’s no place we’d rather be.

I’m climbing this peak with my daughter, Corinna, and we’re squeezing this hike in between her busy summer schedule before she returns to the University of Maine at Orono for her sophomore year. As we chat during our climb, we realize that this is the 10th annual trip of our father-daughter hikes in the White Mountains. A lot has happened in our lives over those 10 years, and as we hiked along these ancient Appalachian peaks, we discussed most of them. Along the way, we have met many wonderful people and learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship.

The idea for these hikes came to me while covering the memorial service for famed philanthropist Albert Glickman in Portland in the spring of 2013 as a photographer for the Portland Press Herald. During the service, his children recalled the journeys he had taken with them individually each year. Some trips were simple and some trips were to exotic locations, but what struck me was how vivid memories the children had of their father during these trips.

At the time of the memorial service, I was recently divorced and worried about how my two children would cope. After hearing the Glickman kids talk about their dad, the idea came to me: I have to go on some kind of annual one-on-one trip with my kids.

Self-portrait of Gregory Rec with his daughter Corinna on the Falling Waters Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains during their first father-daughter hike in 2013. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer) Gregory Rec / Personal Photographer

That fall, I decided to hike Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire with Corinna, who was 10 at the time. We hiked the Falling Waters trail to Little Haystack Mountain, crossing the Mount Lincoln ridge to Mount Lafayette. It was Corinna’s first time above the tree line in the mountains and she was in awe of the world in the alpine zone.

Corinna recalled this memory recently: “I was exhausted climbing the steep path and was ready to give up,” she told me. “But when we got above the tree line, the view motivated me and gave me purpose. I carry that sense of purpose with me to this day.

We could have done the hike in a day, but chose to spend the night at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut, about a mile below the summit of Mount Lafayette. Spending the night among the mountains added to the experience, giving us an elevated view of the sunset and then crystal clear starry skies. It was memorable, and as we descended the mountain the next morning, we decided that all of our future father-daughter hikes should include at least one overnight stay.

Over the years, we’ve both found that walking a mountain trail is a great conversation starter. For us, no question or discussion is out of place. Her questions range from reasons for the divorce to why college girls are so mean to what my life was like when I was a teenager. I discussed boyfriends, birth control, and the importance of being passionate about what you do in your job.

Another bond we made on these trips is with the people we met on the trails. The shared experience of working hard to climb a mountain and then reveling in the beauty of majestic vistas can make perfect strangers friends.

In 2019, on a multi-day trek known as the Presidential Traverse, Corinna and I noticed three girls and their father staying in the same hut as us the first night of our trip. A conversation revealed that he had just gotten a divorce and they were on a father-daughter trek, just like us. We hiked with them for the rest of the trip and kept in touch with them, joining them for more hikes.

Part of those journeys over the past decade that we’ve come to appreciate are the lessons we’ve learned along the way. In fact, the lessons learned from our time in the mountains and how they apply to everyday life became the subject of Corinna’s college essay (which this biased dad thinks is damn good).

We learned things like the importance of planning and being prepared. Even in summer, the weather in the White Mountains can quickly turn bad and people have died of exposure above the treeline. Also, the importance of kindness: this can be something as simple as standing back for other people walking the trail or checking in with hikers if they seem distressed. Perhaps most important of all, our love of being among the mountains has made us realize the need to lighten our impact on the environment as much as possible in the hope that these mountains will remain pristine wild places for children from Corinna can go hiking with their children one day.

This year’s lesson, however, was much less drastic but still key in its practicality: we agreed that it would be best to time next year’s father-daughter hike after black fly season was over.


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