Trails for everyone, forever
Kai Tatineni has been hiking since he was 4. We love his enthusiastic trip reporters and excellent treat suggestions so much that we met him for a hike | By Dawn Hammer
Kai Tatineni, aka WTA trip reporter dmkr, peeks out from the driver’s-side window of his dad’s car, eyes sleepy and hair mussed, to offer a shy smile and quiet “hello.” Kai and his dad, Dinakar, have just arrived at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater after driving several early-morning hours en route to their first-ever hike on the Sunrise side of Mount Rainier National Park.
Trip reporters are an invaluable component of WTA’s hiking community: They offer up-to-date information on trails and the roads leading to them, serve as advocates for our stellar public lands and inspire other hikers to get outside. We were so inspired by Kai’s enthusiastic trip reports (and snack recommendations) that we decided to meet him in person to learn a bit more about what motivates this young hiker to get outside as often as he does.
Kai is a bit of a wonder. At the ripe old age of 7, he tries to hike every weekend, encouraged by his dad’s relentless pursuit of outdoor adventure. Kai has successfully completed several of the most popular — and some would say challenging — hikes along the I-90 corridor, including Mailbox Peak and Granite Mountain, which Kai says is his absolute favorite hike because of the boulder-climbing opportunities near the summit.
Kai started hiking when he was 4 years old. His first hike was to Mount Pilchuck, a relatively short yet demanding trek to a fire lookout along the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades. Kai remembers the hike being very hot, very dry and mostly rocky. According to Kai, rocks are a requirement for a trail to actually be considered fun — as are lots of trail snacks. Luckily, our planned hike up Burroughs Mountain offers plenty of chances for Kai to try out his rock-hopping skills.
Kai is well prepared for the hike. He’s tackled an impressive list of what many would consider quite difficult trails. His longest hike to date is Mailbox Peak at 9.4 miles roundtrip, while the hardest he’s encountered was a trek to Camp Muir from Paradise at Mount Rainier.
“It just gets steeper and steeper, and when you add snow on top, it gets tiring,” Kai laments.
On this mild July morning, Kai is still a little sluggish from the early start and long drive. He starts the hike slowly, but takes in the burgeoning flora and glorious mountain vistas with a child’s wonder and curiosity. He listens patiently to some tips on Leave No Trace principles and learns a little about the subalpine wildflowers he sees, announcing later that his favorite is mouse-on-a-stick, otherwise known as the seedhead of a western anemone.
Kai’s mom, Megumi, and dad, Dinakar, encourage Kai and his 4-year-old sister, Rina, to get outside as much as possible. While getting in shape on trail himself, Dinakar fell in love with the mountains and has been an avid hiker ever since. His passion for trails was infectious, and now Megumi, Kai and Rina regularly join him for outdoor adventures of all lengths and levels of difficulty. Only partly in jest, the couple say they love food so much that hiking helps them 'earn' their meals, a philosophy that spills over into other aspects of home life: If the kids want McDonald’s, they have to walk with their parents to get it.
Kai embodies one very important truth: No matter our age, ability or personal predilections, if we decide we want to commit to something and surround ourselves with people who support us in our endeavors, we can be unstoppable. Yes, Kai chooses to get outside as often as he can and likes to challenge himself with hard hikes. But he also uses encouragement and, sometimes, a bit of bribery to get him to the top of his mountains.
Farther up the steep trail toward Third Burroughs, Kai began lagging behind, shuffling his feet a little more slowly and asking for frequent snack breaks, which consist of a medley of sour candies, homemade quesadillas and, perhaps the most flavorful treat of all, Japanese jelly beans (much juicier and sweeter than American Jelly Belly candies). Dinakar is by turns encouraging, insistent and, in one particularly brilliant bit of parenting acumen, distracting. As he approaches the summit and the novelty of playing in the snow wears off, Kai is noticeably less than enthused about pushing on. So Dinakar starts a conversation with Kai about his other great love — video games. Kai becomes instantly animated again, hiking with new vigor as he chats in one seemingly endless breath about his gaming friends and accomplishments. He doesn’t even notice as he crests the ridge that, just a few minutes ago, he had refused to climb.
When Kai finally stops for a well-earned rest, he talks about his future hiking plans. He wants to summit Mount St. Helens and hike Mailbox Peak again “to stay in hiking mode.” In response to a question about why he likes hiking so much, Kai lifts his glossy head, gazes through his eyeglasses at the stunning panorama of Rainier’s north face sprawled before him, spreads his arms wide and says, “This. All of this I get to look at. There’s just so much to see.” Indeed there is, Kai. Indeed there is.