IDEA #72. Climb a mountain (or a hill) or hike a trail. You may be able to find a nearby trail by consulting a local hiking or mountain club. If you can get to the Rockies, or the Alps, so much the better. Whenever you’re hiking, be sure to take a map and whatever else you need to stay safe and on-track—and don’t go hiking alone!
Hiking is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the experience of completing a trail or summiting a significant peak—significance being relative; for beginners even a good-sized hill is a notable accomplishment—is hard to beat. Along with the physical elements of the hike, there is also the matter of navigation that may require good observation skills and perhaps some map-reading. In addition, there are things to see: plants, landscape, rocks, or even elements of the built (man-made) environment if the trail is in a developed area.
Hiking trails are everywhere, and if you haven’t been aware of those in your general area, a few inquiries should bring you to a trailhead. Local jurisdictions, local hiking clubs, and even the federal government maintain tens of thousands of miles of trails, including the Appalachian Trail that extends from North Carolina to Maine and the Pacific Crest Trail that covers the length of California, Oregon, and Washington State; there is even a coast-to-coast trail being developed.
Trail safety is sometimes more than common sense. Many hiking clubs or outdoor-gear retailers have tips on their websites regarding basic equipment (maps, good shoes, a light, water bottle, a first-aid kit) for hiking.
The hiking experience can be enriched in any number of ways. Go with friends, for one, and take along a good (and current) trail guide; the best of these not only explain routes but also remark on notable natural and historical sights to be seen along the way. A field guide to plants, trees, or birds can be useful, as can a pair of binoculars or a lightweight telescope. The literature of the outdoor life is extensive, with almost anything by Henry David Thoreau being good trail reading; Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums may be the classic hiking novel for high school-age readers, familiar to anyone with a commitment to mountain climbing in particular.
Ever since European literati and painters began poking around in the wilderness for fun in the nineteenth century, hiking has been something of an intellectual endeavor. Whether the trail is in the Alps or an urban industrial corridor, the act and the reflection will provide plenty of food for thought.
In case the youngster or a member of the hiking party has limited mobility, there are an increasing number of adaptive trails in various parts of the country that accommodate hikers in wheelchairs or who have severe sensory impairments.