Lessons learned with the young women

I’ve somehow become known as an avid hiker (weird, right?)  So when my friend Sheree, the Young Women’s President in our ward, asked me for hike recommendations, I jumped at the chance to take the group of girls (ages 12+) to one of my favorite hikes in Denver’s Front Range. However, an hour before departure, storms raged in south Denver, east Denver had tornado sightings, and as we were driving toward the mountains, a light drizzle surrounded us so we debated bagging the whole thing. When we arrived at the trailhead, the weather had cleared to cool, overcast conditions that are perfect for hiking so we bit–hard.

Though Hadley is not yet old enough to be in Young Women’s, I brought her along on the hike and she trekked with her friend Alex, my friend Lisa’s daughter who, too is underage but who goes on activities because Lisa is a leader.  We followed a seasonal stream up a pretty valley for about a mile, followed by two forks in the trail, the latter of which led us up some steep terrain to the summit with stunning views of Mount Evans and Continental Divide. We were having a great time chatting and laughing in the outdoors!

When we were going up, the girls were great about staying together and waiting for everyone to get caught up. But as we started descending, Hadley and Alex (the fleetfoots in the group) took off. There were enough winds and turns that I didn’t realize it until we reached the second fork in the trail and they were nowhere to be found. Then panic set in. Had they seen the not-so obvious turnoff? It was growing dark and I can honestly say it was my first major freakout moment in the outdoors with my kids.

We dispatched Sheree and Lisa’s daughter Whitney to run ahead on the wrong trail to see if they’d followed it while another leader Kayla took off the mile down the canyon toward the parking lot. Lisa and I spread out in between them all. Echoes of our pleas reverberated off the canyon walls. “Hadley. ALEX.” I blew my emergency whistle, all of which was met with stone-cold silence. I had a mix of emotions that vascillated between anger and fear. She knows better. How many times have we been hiking and she has been told to stay within sight of the group? And then, guilt. It was my kid who wasn’t even supposed to be here who is causing this horrible emergency. What happens if we can’t find them and we have to call 911? What could happen out here at night?

It was the most panicked half-hour of my life. As I rounded the bend to the parking lot, relief set in as we saw Hadley and Alex sitting there absolutely clueless of what they’d put the entire group through. My anger washed away to relief as I hugged her and let loose a verbal scathing like no other. It was only then that she realized the seriousness of her trespass. Jamie later said he thought we were overreacting but it was nighttime that motivated our sense of urgency.

Remorseful, she apologized to the group. I started to hike back up to find Lisa, Whitney and Sheree and she asked to come along. It was completely dark by this time so I brought out the flashlight I always keep in my backpack until we met up with them. Back in the parking lot, we shared a prayer of gratitude that they were safely found. Stories abound in the news like the little 5-year-old Colorado City boy who wandered off from his family’s campsite this week and was found dead a few days later.

One of the other girls commented, “You see, this is why I don’t like hiking. It’s too scary,” which made me sad because it’s one of the most joy-filled ways to connect with nature. But I didn’t correct her.  We’ve spent so much time hiking and camping lately that it is easy to become comfortable–too comfortable. Last night was a sobering reminder to respect the outdoors, always stay together and to never take it for granted.

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