King Of The Mountain
A couple of Sundays ago my son Ivan became the youngest person in the history of people to hike to the summit of Table Rock Mountain. “Hike” is actually an understatement because in reality he ran, no, sprinted all the way up the trail carrying a 50 pound backpack. He also fought off a bear and three mountain lions on his way up to the summit.

In other news, the previous paragraph is almost entirely BS.

The one truth is that he really did hike to the top of Table Rock and Chris and I are insanely proud of the little guy.  I am not sure, however, if we are as proud of him as he is of himself. We talked about this trip for a couple of years but for a variety of reasons we waited until now to stop talking and start hiking. We knew it would be a tough day for a slightly apprehensive seven year old but the reward far exceeded all of our expectations.

Hiking has been a big part of my life as far back as I can remember. Therefore there was never any question that I would share this activity with my own son. I will never forget Ivan’s first trip into the woods when I carried him in one of those silly front-pack baby carriers down to Riley Moore falls on my birthday when he was just two months old. 

Ivan was two when his mother and I separated and hiking became an even bigger part of our time together. Actually, on my first official weekend as a single dad we hiked to King Creek Falls at Burrell’s Ford and Ivan left with a black eye after crashing into a low hanging tree branch while he was perched on my shoulders. I am sure the folks at Montessori saw that as a ringing endorsement to my abilities as a single dad but DSS never came calling so I suppose it all worked out…

Over the next few years we kept exploring the woods and eventually found an amazing companion in our adventures when we met “Ms. Chris”. Our hiking team was officially complete when Ivan and I found the best wife and step-mom a couple of guys like us could ever ask for. For the last four or so years the three of us have spent countless weekends hiking to every waterfall within driving distance and conquering every Upstate trail we thought his little legs could handle. He has rarely complained about the difficulty of a trail and every trip we make brings our little family even closer together than we were at the start of the trail.

As a family the three of us have been to at least 15 Upstate waterfalls and probably hiked a few hundred miles of trails along the way. A summit like Table Rock has always seemed a little daunting, though. Sure, I have hiked it half a dozen times by myself and Chris and I have shared great “date days” at the tops of Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountains. However, the idea of taking a little kid straight up a mountain trail for 3.6 miles just seemed like a challenge none of us were ready for. I am not sure what finally changed our minds and made us quit procrastinating but I am glad we did.*

The morning of the hike Ivan was apprehensive to say the least. He was shuffling around his room, playing with Legos, and mumbling things like “I’m not sure I really want to go hiking today”. I guess we watch a little too much History and National Geographic Channels because I think he might have been anticipating a climb to the snowy peaks of Mt. Everest. We assured him that everything would be just fine and that we would turn back if things got too difficult. I might have also told him that “plenty of girls younger than him” have made it to the top of Table Rock and that he needed to “man up”. Motivation comes in all forms, I suppose, because he immediately started looking for his hiking boots.

I doubt we were at the first mile marker of the trail when he asked “Is the whole hike going to be this steep?” It was less than a mile later when Mr. Diplomatic decided to hold a vote: “Raise your hand if you’re ready to turn back.” His was the only hand raised so we continued our ascent.

His tune changed dramatically when we hit the first overlook. It was clear that Ivan had never seen the mountains from this perspective and the little shelter with benches allowed him to rest for a few minutes and take it all in. Here his complaints turned into quiet determination until we reached Governor’s Rock about a mile from the Summit. After scaling an immense bald rock with footholds carved into it Ivan looked out at the view with a look of wonder that only a child can express. 

From here “quiet determination” gave way to arrogant resolve. He started randomly yelling out things like “You won’t beat me Mr. Mountain!” while shaking his fist and picking up his pace any time his legs looked like they wanted to slow down. When I told him that I could see the summit marker about a few hundred feet ahead he broke into a sprint that Chris and I had no desire to match. As he reached the sign he celebrated like he had just won The Super Bowl, World Series and Heavyweight Championship at the same time.

The real treat, though, was about a quarter mile past the summit of Table Rock. The trail continues to an overlook of the Greenville County Reservoir and the best views the Upstate has to offer. Here silence fell again and he sat and actually took it all in. I had no idea what level of appreciation my seven year old would have for the view but we certainly did not expect him to sit silently for an ample amount of time before quietly saying “I didn’t think it would be this beautiful”. 

As adults we hike for the exercise, the break from our hectic schedules, and for an appreciation of the much bigger world that surrounds us. For Ivan, we hope to teach him that there are great experiences outside of the playground, Lego sets, and funny videos on YouTube. We hope to share with him an appreciation for how big the world is and how rewarding it can be to explore it with his family. He has always enjoyed our adventures in the woods but I think this particular hike took his appreciation for the world around him to another level.

Halfway back down the mountain Ivan stopped and asked if we could go back up. Waning daylight and increasingly wobbly legs dashed this request but he was happy to settle for a certificate from the ranger’s office commemorating his accomplishment. He also asked that I e-mail pictures from the hike to his 2nd grade teacher so he could share them with his classmates the next day. This request was much easier to satisfy and he was the proudest kid in the world to show off his triumph to his friends. 

Obviously Ivan is not the first seven year old to complete the 7.2 mile round trip to the top of Table Rock Mountain. We encountered smaller kids returning from the peak on our way up and even a met a family carrying a newborn baby down from the peak (and if you ask me, they deserve a bigger pat on the back than anyone else on the mountain that day). For our little family, though, it was a momentous occasion in the life of our favorite little man on the planet. We are proud of him for making it to the top and even prouder that he saw the hike for what it what it is: a symbol of Nature’s beauty that makes you feel a million miles away even though you are only 30 minutes from home. 

Now that he knows his legs can handle it and, more importantly, he knows what is at the end of the trail, Ivan is a new “man”. He cannot wait to get back to the top of Table Rock but he also wants to see what things look like from Sassafrass, Pinnacle, Little Pinnacle and every other big view of the Upstate he has been missing out on over the years. 

To say we are proud of him and excited to see what summer brings is an understatement. He just opened up a whole new chapter in his life and we cannot wait to share it with him.

* Actually, I do remember. It was Chris saying “The weather will be nice this weekend. Let’s quit talking about it and take Ivan to the top of Table Rock already!” There really is no argument to this sort of proposal.