We are slowly working our way up to the summit of Mount Hight in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire on an oppressively hot day in June. Our slow pace is partly due to us not being in the best hiking shape, but it’s also because the temperature has tipped over 90 degrees and the humidity is as dense and heavy as the packs on our backs. We are soaked in sweat and, to add insult to injury, our slow pace is allowing the black flies swarming all around us in thick, dark clouds ample time to feast on whatever bare skin surface they can find.

Still, for my hiking companion and me, there is no place we’d rather be.

I am 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 in Orono for her sophomore year. As we talk during our ascent, we realize 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, while walking along these ancient Appalachian peaks, we have discussed most of it. 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 of well-known 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 trips that he had taken with them individually every year. Some trips were simple and some trips were to exotic locations, but what struck me was how vivid the children’s memories were of their father while they were on these trips.

At the time of the memorial service, I was recently divorced and worried about how my two children would deal with it. After hearing Glickman’s children talk about their father, the idea hit me: I need to do some kind of annual one-on-one trips with my kids.

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

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


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

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

Over the years, both of us have found that walking on a trail in the mountains is an excellent conduit for conversation. For us, no question or discussion is off the table. Her questions have ranged from the reasons for the divorce to why girls in middle school are so mean to what my life was like when I was a teenager. I have discussed boyfriends, birth control and the importance of being passionate about what you do in your work.

Another connection we’ve made on these trips is with people we’ve 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 friends out of complete strangers.

In 2019, while on a multiple-day hike known as the Presidential Traverse, Corinna and I noticed three girls and their father staying in the same hut as us on the first night of our trip. A conversation revealed that he was recently divorced and they were on a father-daughters hike, just like us. We hiked with them for the rest of the trip and have stayed in contact with them, joining them for other hikes.

A part of these trips over the past decade that we’ve come to appreciate is 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 was darn good).

We have learned things like the importance of planning and being prepared. Even in summer, weather in the White Mountains can turn nasty quickly and people have died of exposure above the tree line. Also, the importance of kindness: it can be something as simple as stepping aside 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 impressed upon us the need to lighten our impact on the environment as much as we can in the hope that these mountains will still be pristine wild places for Corinna’s children to hike with their kids someday.

This year’s lesson, though was far less sweeping but still critical in its practicality: We agreed it would be best to schedule next year’s father-daughter hike after the end of black fly season.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.